In Darwin, Dharma, and the Divine. Evolutionary Theory and Religion in Modern Japan
(University of Hawaii Press, 2017), G. Clinton Godart
(Associate Professor at Tohoku University’s Department of Global Japanese Studies) brings to life more than a century of ideas by examining how and why Japanese intellectuals, religious thinkers of different faiths, philosophers, biologists, journalists, activists, and ideologues engaged with evolutionary theory and religion.
How did Japanese religiously think about evolution? What were their main concerns? Did they reject evolution on religious grounds, or - as was more often the case - how did they combine evolutionary theory with their religious beliefs? These are some of the questions the book tries to answer, in a tour de force
that takes the reader from the Meiji Restoration to the contemporary period. And in doing so, the book makes a significant contribution to two of the most debated topics in the history of evolutionary theory: religion and the political legacy of evolution.
Since the introduction of evolutionary theory in the nineteenth century, Japanese intellectuals - including Buddhist, Shinto, Confucian, and Christian thinkers - struggled to formulate a meaningful worldview after Darwin. They often had opposing agendas, and so the debate was quite heated and long-lived: as Godart argues in his book, it took a hundred years of appropriating, translating, thinking, and debating to reconsider the natural world and the relation between nature, science, and the sacred in light of evolutionary theory. Eventually, the drive to find goodness and the divine within nature and evolution shaped much of Japan’s modern intellectual history and changed Japanese understandings of nature, society, and the sacred.
Roman Paşca is Assistant Professor at Kyoto University’s Graduate School of Letters, Department of Japanese Philosophy.