The newly named USC Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture (CJRC) was originally established at the University of Southern California (USC) in September 2011. The Center received a $6.6 million endowment gift from the Shinnyo-en Buddhist Organization, which has renamed the center in honor of Shinnyo-en’s current leader, Her Holiness Shinso Ito. Shinnyo-en’s support represents one of the largest gifts ever given to a center dedicated to the study of Japan in North America.
The USC Shinso Ito Center’s mission is to promote the study of Japanese religions and culture at USC and in the broader intellectual community of Japan Studies. We foster this area of study by funding faculty-led research projects; planning conferences, colloquia, and workshops; providing faculty and graduate student research support awards; and by hosting visiting scholars and postdoctoral fellows. CJRC is the first research center for Japanese religions on the West Coast of the United States, and only the second such center in the country (the first is the Columbia University Center for Japanese Religion).
The establishment of the USC Center for Japanese Religions and Culture was a significant milestone as it is the first and only Japan Studies center at USC. Before the establishment of CJRC, USC was home to three centers devoted to East Asian area studies: the East Asian Studies Center, the U.S.-China Institute, and the Korean Studies Institute. However, the university lacked a research unit devoted to Japan. The establishment of the Center for Japanese Religions and Culture thus signifies an important moment for scholarship in Japan studies at USC. In addition to filling this very conspicuous absence in the usual triad of East Asia studies centers, CJRC also seeks to serve the needs of, and to create research synergy among, the critical mass of USC faculty members who work in this area.
Given the significant number of Japan Studies faculty who work in Japanese religions, the USC Shinso Ito Center seeks to support studies that put religious change within the context of broader, trans-national and trans-Pacific historical trends. We will create opportunities for researchers working on different regions within Asia to engage in scholarly dialogue. Another primary concern of our center will be in cultivating greater dialogue between scholars of Japanese religions and theorists of religion, sponsoring and hosting events that put leading theorists of religion into conversation with scholars of Japanese religions. We are especially interested in encouraging studies of religion in contemporary Japan that actively engage broader conversations ̶ taking place in fields as diverse as Sociology, Cognitive Science, International Relations, Political Science, and Journalism, etc. ̶ about the role of religious thought and religious groups in contemporary global society.
While the USC Shinso Ito Center’s primary area of focus is Japanese religions, it will also function as the university’s center for Japanese culture. As there is no other Japan center on campus, CJRC will help to build the Japan Studies community at USC and support those faculty and students on a broader level, not limited to religious studies.