Sunday, January 31, 2010

Shinto: Existential vs. Essentialist

I've been reading the book "Shinto: the Way Home" by Thomas Kasulis. The writer makes a distinction between existential Shinto (and religion in general), which is, roughly, Shinto practice, vs. essentialist Shinto, which is the dogma. This is part of a distinction he makes between existentialist and essentialist religion in general.

Shinto, according to Kasulis, started out as a pluralist, local religion without set dogma. After the essentialist Native Studies philosophers created dogmas and fixed beliefs for it, Shinto went on to be used (as State Shinto) as a weapon for the militarized Japanese state.

I'd like to work out what this means for Quakerism but I'm too tired right now. But I think it is relevant to the controversy about "convergent Quakerism". I think a lot of the more conservative Quaker writers on the web want a more essentialist Quakerism; a lot of Quakers are content with the existential version. I'm happy to be a Quaker who just does Quaker stuff, and takes a Quaker approach to life. Kasulis sees Christianity as an "essentialist" religion, at least after Constantine. Some of the Quaker community seems to want to remake Quakerism in that form, more in line with mainstream Christianity.