“Spiritual Apostasy” in Contemporary Japan: Religion, Taboos and The Ethics of Capitalism

Ioannis Gaitanidis

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12775/sijp.2019.60-61.3


In the last decades, supirichuariti, the katakana word that refers to the concept of “spirituality,” which is generally understood as a post-1970s phenomenon in Japan, has been used to argue for the return of religiosity in domains outside “traditional religions.” The first decade of the twenty first century even saw what was termed a “spiritual boom” which was mostly fuelled by an increased visibility on television and popular magazines of alternative therapies and selfdevelopment theories, resembling the spiritual-but-not-religious (SBNR) interests in other parts of the world, but basing themselves on an explicit boundary work with established religious practice. The spiritual, however, has, like the so-called “cults” since the Aum affair, been the target of attacks by media and scholarly discourse for its allegedly “dangerous” religiosity and fraudulent money transactions. The religion vs spirituality debate seems therefore to hide another debate, good spirituality vs bad spirituality, where taboo-discourse in relation to religion thrives. This paper introduces a recent phenomenon that adds yet another layer of attacks on spirituality in Japan. In the last 5 years, criticism against supirichuariti (sometimes termed datsu-supi, “ditching spirituality”) seems to have risen from among the ranks of the spiritual’s most fervent followers, to attack an ideology that has become “too self-centred” as its critics argue. This type of rhetoric seems, at first glance, to reiterate the anti-cult, pseudo-nostalgic narrative that considers money transactions to be “taboo” in the case of “proper religion.” Yet, I argue, that the taboo-ization of spirituality as object of business transactions by those whom I call “spiritual apostates”, reveals a more subtle critique, which is centred on capitalism rather than on religion. Spiritual apostasy, contrary to the anti-cult rhetoric, is, first and foremost, about what “good” capitalism is; not what “good” spirituality is.

Słowa kluczowe

spiritual apostasy; taboo; capitalist ethics; consumer fraud

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