A New History of Shinto

A New History of Shinto - John Breen, Mark Teeuwen Shinto is heralded as the indigenous religion of Japan - worshiping of the Sun Goddess and her descendants (e.g. an unbroken line of emperors). Of course it is much more complicated that that, and Breen goes about unpicking the details and the history of what has become Shinto.

After a review of the known history, Breen then concentrates on three specific manifestations of Shinto through specific examples: the history of the Hie shrine, The 'Cave' myth of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, and the ritual of Daijosai - the rite of imperial accession.

Breen also helpfully summaries the book in the conclusion, on the last page...


"Shinto is not a “tradition” of the kind that has been likened to a great river, flowing of its own accord through the plains of history while nurturing Japan’s culture and giving meaning to its past, present, and future. There is nothing either natural or inevitable about the spates of invention that have resulted in Shinto as we know it today. Our account of Shinto’s history differs fundamentally from the Shinto establishment’s emic understanding that kami shrines, myths, and rituals are, of their very essence, aspects of Shinto, and have always been so. We stress, rather, the agency of individual actors at every turn. Shinto, in our view, appears not as the unchanging core of Japan’s national essence, but rather as the unpredictable outcome of an erratic history."


While this book is entirely devoted to the history of the development of Shinto, one can't help but draw parallels with what could have happened if Christianity had not came along in the West. Indeed what can't help wonder how Christianity has been affected by the similar pressures which made Shinto a 'state religion' - the political, competition with other belief systems, how Christianity may have been molded by its environment.