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Sacred heritage: Secularisation, sacralisation, and the production of heritage in contemporary Japan (completed)

In recent years, many religious sites in Japan have acquired World Heritage status. How does this development affect the place and perception of religion in the public realm?

A three-storied Pagoda with mountains behind.

Seiganto-ji, tempel in the Kii Mountains.

Photo: Tetsuhiro Terada, Flickr

About the Project

UNESCO World Heritage Sites are numerous in Japan. State and institutional actors in the country are actively involved with UNESCO applications, and sites that have achieved World Heritage status typically attract large numbers of visitors. The majority of these sites are religious organisations (temples and shrines), or natural areas closely associated with religious practice. The transformation of religious sites into heritage sites entails intense processes of negotiation, not least about the place of religion in the public sphere and the boundaries between the religious and the secular.

In Japan, these processes are taking place in a context of growing nationalism and international tension, combined with far-reaching demographic changes, and the demise of the social structures that have supported the institutions that are now being converted into heritage.


This project addresses the following questions:

  • How does the “heritagisation” of temples, shrines, pilgrimage trails and other places of worship affect institutional and devotional practices?
  • How does the reclassification of “religious sites” as “heritage sites” relate to wider processes of secularisation and sacralisation in Japanese society?
  • How do Japanese applications for World Heritage status relate to territorial claims, in particular with regard to its peripheral islands (e.g., Ogasawara, the Ryukyu Islands, Okinoshima)? How does the production of cultural and natural heritage in Japan reflect ongoing demographic, political and ideological Developments?


Affilated Project:

  • Shinto History


Tags: Japan
Published Feb. 18, 2016 12:54 PM - Last modified Apr. 29, 2020 8:41 PM