Organized Panel Session
After the destruction of Buddhist institutions following the Meiji dissociation of kami and buddhas (shinbutsubunri), Japan’s Buddhists employed an array of strategies to rebuild and renew. An early strategy was active participation in the government’s Great Teaching Institute (Daikyōin), an initiative to spread Shinto doctrine. The Great Teaching Institute was a training center for Doctrinal Instructors (kyōdōshoku). These evangelists included not only Shinto priests but also Buddhists, new religionists, national learning scholars, and entertainers. Though the Daikyōin is largely understood as a failed experiment in nationalist propaganda, its brief five-year existence left a mark on modern Japanese Buddhism. This was especially apparent in Buddhist education, as many of the Buddhist Doctrinal Instructors were student-priests studying at sectarian universities. Based on archival research at three Buddhist universities founded in the early Meiji period, this paper finds Daikyōin participation offered a unique opportunity for student-priests to reassert their usefulness by actively linking Buddhism to the modernizing Meiji state and its institutions. Following years of anti-Buddhist sentiment, this was a chance for Buddhists to challenge their critics who accused them of laziness and corruption. This paper explores how student-priests learned to articulate the case for Buddhism’s compatibility with modernity to imperial subjects and subsequently translated this skill into developments within Buddhist higher education in the Meiji period. My research draws from Hardacre’s work in content and in method: her groundbreaking work on Shinto and the state and her research on religious institutions through a study of Edo and Meiji period gazetteers.