Faking Liberties: Religious Freedom in American-Occupied Japan

Jolyon Thomas

2019

University of Chicago Press

Religious freedom is a founding tenet of the United States, and it has frequently been used to justify policies towards other nations. Such was the case in 1945 when Americans occupied Japan following World War II. Though the Japanese constitution had guaranteed freedom of religion since 1889, the United States declared that protection faulty, and when the occupation ended in 1952, they claimed to have successfully replaced it with “real” religious freedom.

Through a fresh analysis of pre-war Japanese law, Jolyon Baraka Thomas demonstrates that the occupiers’ triumphant narrative obscured salient Japanese political debates about religious freedom. Indeed, Thomas reveals that American occupiers also vehemently disagreed about the topic. By reconstructing these vibrant debates, Faking Liberties unsettles any notion of American authorship and imposition of religious freedom. Instead, Thomas shows that, during the Occupation, a dialogue about freedom of religion ensued that constructed a new global set of political norms that continue to form policies today.

 

“A powerful study of warring rhetoric on religious freedom within and between Japan and the United States, Thomas’s work presents a model analysis of debate on a foundational concept, minutely clarifying the stakeholders, the stakes, and the consequences of the argument. This book shows the Allied Occupation of Japan in an entirely new light and unprecedented detail through its examination of policy as hammered out by the occupiers and the occupied, on the basis of a rich heritage of thought in both countries on the meaning of religious freedom.”

- Helen Hardacre, Harvard University, author of Shinto and the State, 1868-1988

 

Faking Liberties is a brilliant intervention in a burgeoning literature on the historical coercions of religious freedom. Thomas compares religious freedom regimes in Japan under pre-WWII Meiji rule and the postwar US occupation, exploding myths of Japanese exceptionalism (both negative and positive) and revealing how this freedom served in both cases as a project that defined and disciplined the limits of religion.”

- Tisa Wenger, Yale University, author of Religious Freedom: The Contested History of an American Ideal

 

“Jolyon Thomas has written an original and enthralling account of the ideal of ‘religious freedom’ in the Allied Occupation of Japan. By tracing competing political, ecclesiastical, and academic discourses, Thomas shows that the ideal of religious freedom came to favor some groups at the expense of others and often resulted in the ossification of religious difference. The work is a timely and dazzling intervention with broad implications.”

- Jason Josephson-Storm, Williams College, author of The Invention of Religion in Japan