Cultural Identity and Modernization in Asian Countries


Committee for Kokugaku[Glossary: kokugaku]in University Centennial Symposium

The aim of the symposium on cultural identity and modernization in Asian countries is to deepen mutual comprehension between peoples by drawing attention to efforts made by Asian countries in the course of their modernization to rediscover their burgeoning cultural identities and seek a better tomorrow for their nations or peoples.

For Japan, modernization once meant Westernization. But behavior, the Japanese were determined to maintain their national independence, deeply rooted in their traditional culture. The double thrust of this determination was symbolized by the slogan, Kokugaku, or national learning is none other than the unearthing of the Japanese ethnic identity through the study of Japan's cultural heritage. It has played a constant role in modernization by defending the Japanese spirit of self determination.

The task we now face as kokugaku scholars is to critically examine the path of modernization to the present, and to defined our place in international society in the light of that path. Our scientific investigations must reestablish kokugaku on an open basis leading to the rediscovery of our cultural identity from a new perspective of international cooperation.

In our opinion, it is imperative for Japanese kokugaku scholars to learn from the research taking place in other Asian countries and to share the results of their research with other Asian scholars.

The themes we have chosen for the symposium are aimed at facilitating such activities. On the first day, we will deal with Religion and Secularization, on the second day, Traditionalism and Modernization, and on the third day, the Humanities and National Identity.

We hope first to reexamine the position and role of religion in the modernization of Asian countries against the commonly held view that the modernization of traditional societies is accompanied by secularization of the religion and sacred values that uphold culture. Next we will discuss the directions taken by the interrelated progress of tradition and modernization, focusing primarily on the mechanisms by which contacts between traditional culture (including religion) and modernization policies adopt synthetic configurations or encounter conflicting aspects today. Third, on the basis of these discussions, we hope to reveal the characteristics of research by Asian countries into their own cultures and to explore the contribution scholarship can make to the discovery of national identity. Finally we will consider the possibility of discovering a common basis for the work being conducted separately throughout Asia.

Our approach to the three themes is defined below.

Session A: Religion and Secularization

One of our primary concerns is the changes that occur in religions due to modernization together with the role religion plays in such modernization.

These questions were widely considered in the West during the debate on secularization, particularly in the 1960s. Different positions were taken, one view being that the functions of religion are gradually contracting, while the opposite being that religion, even while changing its modes of expression in line with social changes, still continues to play an important role in people's daily lives: finally there was the view that secularization itself represented a stage in the evolution of Christianity, which spurred modernization in the West.

In Asia, religions exist in great variety, and the place they occupy in society does not always correspond to that occupied by religion in Western society. As a result, the relationship between religions and democracy, socialism, Marxism, and other doctrines introduced in the process of modernization take forms unknown in the West. The secularization debate occurring in Western academic circles nonetheless offers many suggestions which stimulate religious thought in Asian countries today.

Thus in our discussion of the first theme we do not wish to adhere too rigidly to the established meaning of the word secularization but rather, in a broader sense, consider religions and secularity in Asian in terms of the impact of religion and sacred values on modernization and the reactions of religion to the challenges of morenization.

Session B: Traditionalism and Modernization

Modernization, with its roots in Western culture and science has forced Asian countries, for better or worse, to consider how they are to respond to Western culture. The combination of modernization and Westernization cannot fail to cause friction with traditional culture, rooted as it is in the unique history of each nation. Asia general rule, Westernization elicits the following three responses:

  1. Attempts to suppress or eliminate, if possible, traditional culture, which is viewed as an impediment to modernization.

  2. Bitter resistance to modernization, which is considered a threat to the traditional culture.

  3. Efforts to accommodate and develop both modernization and the traditional culture without destroying the latter, in the recognition that modernization is historically inevitable or otherwise indispensable to national independence.

In reality, of course, these three attitudes are complexly intertwined, and it is inconceivable for any one to be present alone. The difficulties encountered in pitting the third alternative into practice are not hard to imagine. Although it appears with the tradition from "wakon-kansai" (Japanese spirit, Chinese learnings ) to "wakon-yosai" that Japan succeeded, albeit somewhat painfully, in putting the third alternative into practice, it is undeniable that, in the process, many problems have been left to the modern age.

Nor must we assume that a traditional culture itself is an independent, recognizable entity. On the contrary, in the conflict with modernization, the problem of the existence of a traditional culture is posed anew, through its association with the spirit of the nation and its people. In this session we hope to discuss the value given in current modernization to Asian traditions in the areas of religion, art and scholarship, and the trends apparent in their conservation and development.

Session C: The Humanities and National Identity

Each of the people and ethnic groups in Asia possess their own unique and varied cultural traditions which form the basis for their social life. In fully evolved societies, what forms of national culture is able to act as a nucleus of cultural identity, capable of holding its own against the sudden and politically motivated influx of the Western world's completely alien institutions?

In this session we will use the findings and conclusions from Sessions A and B to reassess the traditional and the new, the native and the foreign, in the cultures of various peoples. We will then consider potential methods for the discovery and creation of "new national cultures."

We are anxious to receive materials on these topics which report on the history and present situation of each country and which compare and contrast differences and similarities in each country with a view to discovering fresh alternatives. The following types of presentations are sought:

  1. Reports which deal with the history, current situation and future trends of folk culture movements in different Asian countries and research by Asians into their own culture and religion.

  2. Reports analyzing such movements and research with regard to chanes or developments in academic theories or organizational policies as modernization progresses in the respective nations.

  3. Introductions to outstanding achievements, chronologies, bibliographies, and other basic materials written by or about the scholars, thinkers, religious figures, and leaders involved in the above movements and scholarship.

Kokugaku, which has played a large role in the rediscovery of Japanese folk culture in pre-modern times, and its academic evolution are in the process of being reexamined with the aim of creating a new form of Japanese culture. We believe that accurate assessment and comparison with the history and current situation of similar scholarly disciplines and cultural movements in Asia will contribute to the sound development of cultural identities, not only in Japan, but everywhere.