California scholars Allan Georges Grapard and Fabio Rambelli create America’s first Shinto study book series.

Bloomsbury Publishing has become the first publishing house outside Japan to have a book series on the Shinto religion. Written by Allan Georges Grapard, a Japanologist, and a Professor (emeritus) of East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies (EALCS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). The book series will act as a guide for graduate students and scholars who are interested in the Shinto tradition.

Until now, there has only been limited information available about Shinto. The series editor is Fabio Rambelli, an Italian academic, editor, and author. He is also a professor in the Religious Studies department at UCSB. Rambelli said that he has been wanting to create a book series on the Shinto tradition for a long time. The first book in the series, Mountain Mandalas, was published in February.

Shinto is the ethnic religion of the people of Japan. It is also called Kami-no-Michi. It is the largest religion in Japan, with about 80% of the Japanese population practicing. However, most of them do not identify themselves as Shinto. The reason for that is because there are different versions of the meaning of Shinto in Japan. People go to Shinto shrines for worship, but they do not confine themselves to the religious institution. Shinto basically focuses on carrying out ritual practices to establish a connection between the past and the present Japan. There are around 81,000 Shinto shrines and 85,000 Shinto priests in the country. The Shinto tradition has aspects mediated from Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and even from the Western religious culture as well.

When compared to Buddhism, the United States never considered Shinto as a serious subject of study. The ultra-nationalism associated with Japan during the Second World War has been a barrier. Rambelli says that now is the ideal time for scholars to learn more about the history, complexity, rituals, and arts associated with Shinto. He hopes that the new generation of scholars will develop the field further. Between the year 1850 and 1940, Shinto was the spiritual and ideological pillar of the aggressive militaristic Japanese state. Many of the modern Japanese people still relate Shinto to that period. Rambelli further said that contemporary Japan is made up of a society that is highly secular, that can be characterized by a lack of public discourse about religion, especially Shinto.

Bernard Faure at the Columbia University, a Professor of Japanese Religions, said that the book will be a landmark in the study of Japanese religion. James Robson, a Harvard University (USA) professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, said that the book is a brilliant exploration of Shugendo, that is, thought-provoking.

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