On Qualifying Religious Literacy: Recent Debates on Higher Education and Religious Studies in Japan



This article describes and analyzes controversies in Japan brought about by an intercollegiate educational project on religion. The project team, consisting of selected members of the Japanese Association for Religious Studies and the Japanese Association for the Study of Religion and Society, has been planning a new system for qualifying undergraduates as “specialists in religious cultures” (shūkyō-bunkasi). It is anticipated that students with this qualification will be engaged in various occupations that require knowledge of different cultures. The project reflects an increased awareness that the academic study of religion should play a social role and be recognized as worthwhile by the public. This article will focus upon the academic and pedagogical challenges that the project members faced in the process of planning a system to assess and qualify students’ literacy in religious traditions. It will argue that religious literacy involves the dynamic ability to put knowledge into practice as well as to reflect continuously upon previously acquired knowledge.