Andrea Castiglioni, Fabio Rambelli and Carina Roth's edited volume Defining Shugendo: Critical Studies on Japanese Mountain Religion (Bloomsbury, 2020) presents the newest studies on Shugendō-related practices and traditions from both Japanese and non-Japanese scholars. Contributors in their chapters explore how Shugendō constructed topologies and invented chronologies, how their practitioners were imagined and fictionalized, as well as how the tradition was reflected through materiality and visual cultures. The book also delves into the intellectual history of Shungendō studies in Japan, at the same time reflecting on how mountain beliefs in Japan have been studied in the West.
Part One of the book features a chapter by Suzuki Masataka on the formative processes of Shugendō as an institutionalized religious tradition from a historiographical perspective. Suzuki traces how different generations of scholars have presented Shugendō, taking into account the influence of concepts such as "ethnic religion" and "ethnic culture" in the Meiji period and the subsequent reinterpretations of Shugendō with nationalistic overtones in the first half of the Shōwa period.
Part Two looks into premodern regional variations of Shugendō institutions and religious practices as four different cultic sites: the Kumano Sanzan area in the Kii Peninsula, Mount Togakushi in Nagano prefecture, Mount Haguro in Yamagata prefecture, and Daigoji in Kyoto. The chapters of this section show how Shugendō centers regulated complex networks based on symbiotic interactions between Shugendō professionals, Buddhist monks, lay members of religious confraternities, and lay devotees.
Part Three investigates how narrative strategies were set up to support Shugendō groups and identities in the premodern period. This section examines the foundational narratives of temples and shrines (jisha engi) of the medieval period, as well as how Shugendō practitioners were depicted in Edo period literary sources such as vernacular fictions and dramas.
Part Four highlights the role of material and visual culture related to Shugendō, such as copper statues, devotional paintings, stelae, mounds, and paper talisman. The chapters of this section demonstrate that Shugendō materiality allowed for a network of religious interactions between humans (Shugendō practitioners, lay devotees, artisans) and nonhuman agencies (sacred objects) for the formation and diffusion of shared Shugendō discourses in society.
Daigengna Duoer is a Ph.D. student at the Religious Studies Department, University of California, Santa Barbara.