The Origins of Soka Gakkai: Tracing the Transformation of an Educational Reform Society into Japan's Largest Religious Organization

CJRC Lecture Series

Lecture by Levi McLaughlin, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at North Carolina State University

Soka Gakkai, literally the “Value Creation Study Association,” is a lay organization rooted in Nichiren Buddhism that rose in the postwar era to become the largest religious organization in Japan, and most likely the largest religious group in Japanese history. Perhaps ironically, Japan’s largest religion did not begin as a religion at all but instead started in the 1930s as a small collective of schoolteachers and intellectuals committed to educational reform. Drawing on rare primary sources and interviews with veteran adherents, this presentation will trace Soka Gakkai’s foundation and will identify crucial points in its development by discussing how its twin legacies of medieval Japanese Buddhism and modern humanism conflated within the group’s practices – such as youth training, cultural activities, and political mobilization. Analysis of Soka Gakkai’s remarkable transformation into a religious mass movement will reveal distinctive aspects of “New Religions” that take shape in the context of modern nation-states.

This talk comprises portions of Prof. Mclaughlin's forthcoming book Soka Gakkai: Buddhism and Romantic Heroism in Modern Japan.