A university lecture by a professor of Comparative Religion

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Listen to audio recording and answer the questions.

Listen to part of a university lecture by a professor of Comparative Religion.

Professor: Good afternoon, class. In the course of this term, we've examined all the major contemporary religions of the world- Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, uh, Taoism, Hinduism- in depth. But before your final examination, I also want to spend a couple of classes looking at some of the more interesting minor religions, and I'd like to start with a very simple, harmless religion that managed to have a disproportionately large influence on world history. And that religion is Shintoism, or Shinto, which is the indigenous religion of Japan.

There was no historical founder of Shinto, like Buddha or Mohammad. And Shinto has no sacred texts. It has no images or icons, it has no laws or commandments. It emerged organically, from prehistoric nature worship- a sort of animism- and the ancestor worship, of the earliest Japanese people. And- with due allowance for the general advance of civilization- it has remained surprisingly unchanged from that primitive condition.

Its basic concept is that virtually every natural object is inhabited by a 'kami'- variously translated as a 'spirit' or 'god'- and that all kami are worthy of reverence and respect. One enterprising anthropologist has estimated that there are some 800,000 of these kami enshrined all over Japan. These spirits dwell mostly in nature, in the features of nature- in mountains and rivers, in waterfalls, in trees, in the winds, in the sun, in the sea, and so on. And also inhabiting these regions are the spirits of our deified ancestors. Showing respect to these kami and to our ancestors will be rewarded by their patronage and by good luck in the vicissitudes of life. And that's about it. That's all there is to the theology of Shintoism.

There are innumerable Shinto shrines established throughout Japan, and they're for the most part relatively very simple structures, usually located in a quiet natural setting- even if they're in the center of a city- usually hidden away within a grove of fine old trees. They're distinctively marked by 'torii', which are a traditional gateway. Torii are composed of two tall uprights and two crossbars at the top, and usually painted bright red. These gates set off the mundane world from the spiritual world. When you pass under the torii, you leave everyday life and enter the world of the kami. Different gods are enshrined in each shrine- a particularly fine old cedar tree, for instance, or a local hilltop, or, as in the case of the politically-sensitiveYasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, the spirits of the war dead.

Now, in the eighth century A.D., Buddhism arrived from China, along with many other aspects of Chinese culture, and it soon became established in Japan, both mixing with Shinto and also co-existing with it. Then later, in the long feudal period from the 17th to the 19th centuries, Buddhism, and also Confucianism, became tools of the shoguns, the powerful Tokugawa regime. However, with the succeeding Meiji Restoration in 1868- the restoration of political power to the emperor and the rapid social and technological modernization of the country- Japan's nationalistic scholars turned back to pure Shintoism as part of the unique Japanese identity, and in the 1880s, State Shinto was formalized as the national religion of Japan.

And this leads us nicely to what I mentioned before- the contribution of Shinto to world history. Now, the pre-eminent Shinto kami is Amaterasu Omikami, the sun goddess- she's on their national flag, you may have noticed- and Amaterasu Omikami is also traditionally considered to be the founder of the long dynasty of Japanese emperors. This geneology, of course, makes the emperor divine. And in the 1930s, this divinity of the emperor was used by the militarists and the ultra-nationalists to promote their agenda and to galvanize the Japanese people for the expansionist policy that ultimately led to the political and human disaster of the Second World War in the Pacific.

After the war, in 1945, Japan's new Constitution included articles both renouncing war and renouncing the divinity of their emperor, but today the emperor still remains as a figurehead of reverence for the people. Amaterasu Omikami's shrine, the shrine of Ise, is still a national magnet of pilgrimage for those who want to pay their respects to the emperor and, through him, to Japan.

Without religious commandments or a real theology, Shinto doesn't really impact morally on Japanese society, but its influence in daily life is still considerable. Special days of worship come at key points in peopole's lives- births, coming-of-age, weddings, rice-planting and harvesting, at house-raisings and at equinoxes, et cetera- and many shrines hold their own 'matsuri's, or festivals, to celebrate their foundation or their resident kami. And these are always occasions for eating and drinking, for entertainment and merriment, and for community socializing. Shinto, but a very benign version, is still very much alive in Japanese culture.


Based on this lecture, how would the professor most probably categorize Shinto?


According to one source, about how many gods does Shinto have?


Why does the lecturer mention Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine?


According to the lecture, which is NOT true of Amaterasu Omikami?


What is a 'torii'?


Which statement would the professor most probably agree with?