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The Living Word: Buddhist Homiletic Practice and Print Culture in Meiji Japan

Sun, June 26, 5:00 to 6:50pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 106


With the looming model and challenge represented by Western rhetorical studies and the influx of Christian missionaries in nineteenth-century Japan, Buddhist homiletics developed apace, resulting in the reconceptualization of sekkyo, or preaching, as a crucial form of Buddhist social praxis that required formal training and discipline in refining the entire corpus of communicative tools at the disposal of the Buddhist preacher – from the body, to the spoken word, and finally also to the written text. In this paper, I explore attempts to resolve the perceived hermeneutical tension between oral modes of proselytism and written propagation reflected in mid-Meiji preaching anthologies and manuals. Buddhist theorists, in describing the mercurial landscape of Meiji religious oratory, understood printed sekkyo to be both spatially and temporally broader in scope than spoken language. Although the immediacy of the oral performance is diminished in the published text, commentators argued that the written mode serves as an important ancillary vehicle of proselytization and social communication by relaying to an audience through the use of performative cues the deictic awareness essential to the preaching event. The adoption of rhetorical techniques and stylistic conventions did not then just simply transform the extrinsic patterns of contemporary Buddhist preaching, but rather contributed to a significant rethinking of the nature and function of the printed text in relation to the spoken word wherein both could be seen as important tools for mass communication and religious propaganda, as ideally valuable as the modern press in effecting networks of communication.