Individual Submission Summary

Direct link:

Is Buddhism Tolerant of Homosexuality in Japan? Toward a Contextual Understanding of Religion and Homosexuality

Sat, August 10, 2:30 to 3:30pm, Sheraton New York, Floor: Third Floor, New York Ballroom West


While the influence of religion on attitudes toward homosexuality has been extensively studied for Abrahamic religions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), the relationship between Buddhism, the world fourth-largest religion, and attitudes toward homosexuality as well as research in non-Western countries, in general, has not received much scholarly attention. This paper uses Japan, an East Asian society where it is often said that homosexuality had been historically tolerated because there was no religious authority that condemns same-sex sexuality and Buddhism traditionally tolerated male-male sexual behavior, to examine how Buddhist faiths shape attitudes toward homosexuality. To take the family-centeredness of the religious system in Japan into account, I treat individual followers of a religion and those who only have a household religion as unique groups in the analysis. Using the 2008 Japanese General Social Survey, the analysis shows that active followers of Buddhism, who follow Buddhism individually, are less tolerant of homosexuality than the non-affiliated, whereas nominal followers of Buddhism, who do not practice but follow Buddhism as a household religion, are as tolerant as the non-affiliated, suggesting that male-male sexual relations that were prevalent in the pre-modern Japanese Buddhism should not be seen as a form of homosexuality in the modern sense. The findings also suggest that some scholars may incorrectly claim that Buddhism is tolerant of homosexuality in Japan, because nominal affiliates of Buddhism constitute a large portion of Buddhists in Japan and the number of active affiliates of Buddhism, who are intolerant of homosexuality, is very small.