Jolyon Baraka Thomas
’s Faking Liberties: Religious Freedom in American-Occupied Japan
(University of Chicago Press, 2019) challenges the commonsensical notion that the Japanese empire granted its subjects no religious freedom—that, despite the legal provision in the Meiji Constitution of 1890 affirming freedom of worship, “State Shinto” was the law of the land—and that it was the American-led occupation which finally granted freedom of conscience and worship to the benighted Japanese. Thomas shows first that this vision of history obscures internal debates about religious freedom in both Japanese and American circles, but also that while the narrative in which religious freedom was bestowed upon Japan by the US was in fact strategic and deeply embedded in a particular historical moment and geopolitical context, it has had a long tail of consequences for our understandings of religion after 1945. Faking Liberties
is divided into two deliberately paralleled parts, the first treating what Thomas calls the Meiji Constitutional Period (1890-1945), the second examining the occupation (1945-1952) and the long-term consequences of the rhetorical moves made by the occupiers for the way that religion has been understood in the postwar period. The book argues that the particular political circumstance of the Japanese occupation was instrumental in defining the religious-secular and “good-bad” religion binaries, as well as the idea of religious freedom as a human right that has become hegemonic in much of the postwar West. Faking Liberties
is a challenging intervention into not only the historiography of modern Japan, but religious studies more generally.