Preview Workflow

Viewing: RELS 079 C1: Religion of Anime

Last approved: Fri, 11 Jan 2019 15:34:28 GMT

Last edit: Thu, 06 Dec 2018 05:27:33 GMT

First Name Last Name Userid Title Home School Org Short Name
Jolyon Thomas jolyon ASST PROFESSOR A School of Arts and Sciences Religious Studies
Fall 2019 (Deactivations ONLY)
Fall 2018
Religion of Anime
Be it shrine maidens, gods of death, and bodhisattvas fighting for justice; apocalypse, the afterlife, and apotheosis… the popular Japanese illustrated media of manga and anime are replete with religious characters and religious ideas. This course uses popular illustrated media as a tool for tracing the long history of how media and religion have been deeply intertwined in Japan.
EALC 079 - The Religion of Anime
Every Other Term

Foundational Approach

Course usually offered in Fall term
Cross Cultural Analysis
Jolyon Thomas
Standing Faculty
Standing Faculty
This is an introductory course that provides students with an initial set of tools for understanding Japan specifically and East Asia more broadly. Many of the skills developed in the course can be applied to cross-cultural analysis in other fields outside of religious studies and East Asian studies.
This is a "spoonful of sugar" course that uses students' demonstrated interest in Japanese popular culture to introduce them to the deeper historical roots and broader sociological context of the media that many of them already love. For those students who are just looking for a fun course, it also shows them how concentrated attention can be rewarded.

Methods of Assessment

Three short papers (1500 words)
10 discussion posts during the term.

Cross Cultural Analysis

This course is first and foremost about Japan, and it addresses several fundamental values and points of concern for Japanese society past and present. These include understandings of cosmology, human relationships with nature and non-human animals, ways of mitigating the threat of violence, modes of commemorating noble individuals and honoring individuals' sacrifices, and nostalgia for pasts that probably never existed but serve importance legitimating functions for the politics of the present.
This is a course that is about religion, but because it pairs religion with media across 2000 years of Japanese history, it necessarily includes things like popular narratives, picture scrolls, the philosophical ideal of impermanence, modes of leisure, humor (including satire and parody), and the incorporation and rejection of technologies and ideas from abroad. On this last point, the quintessentially "Japanese" medium of anime that is the focal point of the course came into existence because Japanese filmmakers adopted foreign technology, while the very concept of "religion" that also appears in the course title only fits uncomfortably with Japanese conceptions of ritual and tradition. This course helps students begin to make sense of this complicated set of relationships, including pervasive claims about Japanese uniqueness.
Focusing primarily on illustrated media is an opportunity to talk about virtually everything, because creators of media forms liberally draw on mythology, history, and current events in making their stories. I show, for example, how contemporary anime directors reimagine ancient prose tales for new audiences, or how manga artists work through their own feelings about domestic terrorism through popular comic books. Similarly, focusing on "religion" is good because very few Japanese people cordon off "religion" from other aspects of social life. Studying Japanese religion is therefore necessarily the study of politics, economics, gender, and so forth.
The first third of the course focuses exclusively on formal media analysis. Students learn how to watch a film with a sense of how film is made, paying attention to camera angles, cuts, and the use of sound. They learn how to read a comic, knowing how techniques like composition and encrustation change the perception of the flow of time, for example, or how two different types of onomatopoeia in Japanese create a synesthetic reading experience. They also learn how the animation stand used in traditional cel animation creates a particular aesthetic quality simply by virtue of leaving the camera in place while moving layers of translucent cels, but they also learn that Japanese animation houses created a unique aesthetic through cost-cutting measures adopted during an economic downturn. Finally, by reading ethnographies of how manga and anime are made by teams of collaborators, they learn that art is never the work of a single genius, but actually reflects the amalgamation of a host of decisions by a team.

Cultural Diversity in the US


Quantitative Data Analysis


Formal Reasoning


Administrative Fields

Key: 832