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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Room 8/9, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
Event date: 
Monday, 2 March, 2020 - 17:00 to 19:00

Trapped in Text: Redefinitions of women’s religious power in Taisho-era Okinawa

East Asia Seminar Series

Okinawa’s indigenous religious landscape – which centers on uganju 拝所 ritual sites where a system of religious practitioners dominated by women perform ritual practices – underwent radical transformations as it came into contact with aggressive mainland practices of kami worship and shrine Shinto following Japan’s annexation of the islands in 1879. Along with the establishment of new Shinto shrines, mainland Shinto spread through the appropriation of indigenous ritual sites and their conversion into shrines. What made these conversions possible? One factor was the intersection of the actions of Japanese state agents and local Okinawans who cleaved to mainland agendas. Equally important, however, was a series of epistemological transformations that unfolded over different moments which made Okinawa’s indigenous religion’s appropriation by mainland Shinto imaginable as unproblematic.

This talk focuses on one of those moments of epistemological transformation when a sustained vilification of shamanistic religious women filled the pages of Okinawan newspapers for several weeks in 1913 and argues that the representations which emerged from this moment affected more than the women defined as “yuta shamans,” extending to thinking about Okinawa’s indigenous religion as a whole. First, these representations marked a profound shift in gender power relations within Okinawa’s indigenous religion in which male intellectuals, deploying the power of textual representation, abrogated for themselves the right to intervene in a sphere of life that had customarily been dominated by women. Second, they played a crucial role in destabilizing categories of thought around the role of female religious practitioners and their customary power in society. This talk explores how these representations became discursive anchors that made it possible to imagine the displacement of religious women from their customary positions of power, a necessary tactical step that helped to naturalize the symbolic violence of transposing Okinawa’s ritual sites into the universe of mainland shrine Shinto.

Tze M. Loo is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Richmond. She is the author of Heritage Politics: Shuri Castle and Okinawa’s Incorporation into Modern Japan, 1879–2000 (Lexington Books, 2014).