Research background and objective

Religious movements exerted a widespread and lasting influence on society in the Middle Ages and the early modern period both in the East and the West. Religious movements spawned many factions (in Christianity, monastic orders, and in Buddhism, various sects) with their own code of conduct and membership, adding diversity to such movements. It should be noted that the history of religious movements has hitherto been studied mainly within the framework of these factions. This is particularly the case with Christian monasticism. However, the diachronic changes and the synchronic spread of cutting-edge religious movements cannot be fully grasped under such a fragmented approach, which may hamper understanding of religious movements from the standpoint of the history of civilisation.
The results from various fields adjacent to historical studies indicate that monks disseminated their religious beliefs using a variety of media, such as monastic codes of conduct and sermons in a written format, literary works, illuminated manuscripts, and cathedral decorations, in addition to such rituals as pilgrimages. However, a more systematic approach would be necessary in order to understand how these initiatives brought discipline and order to society or how they helped sustain society and made it resilient. Thus, in this new research field, temples and shrines of medieval Japan (temples and shrines) will be added to Christian monasticism as a research target. The religious culture of medieval Japan has certain similarities with that of Christianity. Temples and shrines created and utilised various media to promote cultural and ideological reform movements (for example, the Hokke Riot) while carrying out mundane activities in the secular world such as funeral and memorial services to exert their influence. In other words, the relationship between religious leaders’ pastoral/teaching activities and the diverse and innovative media that they inspired is universally observed regardless of time or geographical location, indicating the significance of the history of global civilisation that transcends any one cultural sphere.
Catholic monks, Buddhist monks, and Shinto priests, with their strong willpower and drive, may have contributed to the sustainable development of society and brought about an innovative worldview and an institutional framework to transform society through pastoral/teaching activities as they sought religious transcendence. The way in which religious movements and society dynamically influenced each other may be clarified once these phenomena are synchronically and diachronically compared as they occurred in different religious cultures. This perspective is shared among the four project teams in this domain, with each seeking to achieve the following three objectives to systematically explain the significance of religious movements in the history of civilisation:

  1. Identify the media (texts, icons, mechanisms, etc.) created and disseminated by those who led religious movements in the Middle Ages as they sought to promote communication inside and outside their religious community.
  2. Explicate the message religious leaders transmitted to those inside and outside the religious community using the above media (1), and the values and worldview they brought about.
  3. Find out how religious leaders pursued teaching, helped integrate society, and brought changes to civilisation through the above (1 and 2). This research domain is not simply an extension of comparative religious history. It deals with a larger issue of how religious movements impacted the sustainable development of a secular society even as tension remained between the two. The goal of this endeavour is to redefine religious movements as a source of wisdom practiced and inherited in society, and to create a new academic domain to explain in a comprehensive manner the significance of religious movements in the history of civilisation.

Research content

This is a comprehensive historical study that attempts to rewrite the history of civilization by identifying the new media, etc. (texts, icons, and pilgrimages) that religious leaders used in the Middle Ages for pastoral and teaching purposes, finding out the values and worldview that such media brought about in society, and explaining how they helped integrate that society. Four research teams have been established for this purpose. These are A01 ‘Contemplative Orders Team’, A02 “Mendicant Orders Team’, A03 ‘the Society of Jesus Team’, and B01 ‘Medieval Japanese Temple and Shrine Team’, with the first three teams dealing with Christian monasticism. These teams will hold their own study sessions while a separate research unit will be established to serve as a bridge among the teams as they pursue international joint research. Three disciplines within the humanities–history, art history, and literature–will collaborate to achieve comprehensive interpretation of texts and icons, diachronically and synchronically compare the characteristics of the media created by religious leaders, and present a fresh view of history regarding the dynamic relationship between religious movements and society.

Supervisory Team

Research Representative • Toshio Ohnuki (Tokyo Metropolitan University)
Research Team Members • Yuichi Akae (Keio University)
• Kazuhisa Takeda (Meiji University)
• Hitoshi Karikome (Shujitsu University)
Evaluation Committee Members • Tadaaki Kanzaki (Keio University)
• Susumu Uejima (Kyoto University)
• Minoru Ozawa (Rikkyo University)


  The supervisory team consists of four people: the representative of the research domain and the representatives of the project teams. The supervisory team, in addition to collaborating closely with each project team to compile research results, organises a research unit that cuts across all the teams and promotes cross-disciplinary research in order to achieve diachronic comparisons (for example, a comparison among contemplative orders, mendicant orders, and the Society of Jesus) and synchronic comparisons (for example, a comparison between contemplative/mendicant orders and medieval Japanese temples/shrines or a comparison of the Jesuit’s activities between Japan and Latin America) both within each team and among different teams. Under this grand theme, the supervisory team will proactively and aggressively promote and coordinate collaboration among research project teams, plan activities, pursue international joint research, integrate research results, foster young researchers, and disseminate compliance measures and ensure that such compliance measures are followed.