The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

The Revival of Religion: Multicultural Situations, Transbordering, and Religious Practices in Inner Asia

Joint Research Coordinator FUJIMOTO Toko

Reserch Theme List


religion revival, transbordering, Socialism


The revival of religion is an important key to interpreting present multicultural situations that are characterized by increasing globalization.. This revival of religion has been attributed to numerous factors, including the cultural politics accompanying the advance of modernization, the revival of an Islam returning to its roots, and the rise of ethnicity and nationalism resulting from the collapse of socialist regimes. However, in today's contemporary society characterized by transborder conditions and fluidity, the question is why among all things should religion evidence such a strong revival trend. This, we believe, is a question that until now has not received sufficient explanation.

Based on this state of affairs, this research proposes to concentrate on the conditions in the multicultural societies of Inner Asia that have experienced systemic change and social transformations transcending borders so as to clarify the multi-dimensional mechanisms behind the religious revival. Specifically, we would like to elucidate the endemic historical-social and political-economic factors evident in the religious revival, the diverse relationship between transbordering and religious practices, and the meaning of the local/global revivals of religion to the people living in changing societies.

Research Results

Moving beyond the understanding that the shift from socialism gave rise to religious revival, this project explores the significance of religion in creation and reformation of social ties after the regime changes and subsequent border crossings. The following three topics were considered.

  1. Historical changes in religion in former and current socialist countries
    In Inner Asia, there are believers in an array of religions that include Islam, shamanism, Buddhism, and Bon. Since this region is divided into several countries, religion was affected differently by modernization, depending on the type of socialism adopted in each country. Modernization based on socialism frequently included anti-religious and collectivist policies, the details of which varied from one period or country to another. The rivalry or coexistence of religion and socialism assumed distinct forms, partly because some religions were recognized by the socialist governments, whereas others were not. Moreover, since there was little interest in standardizing religious practice in socialist countries, religion often continued to exhibit a rich variety of local forms.
  2. Cross-border migration leads to religious reconstruction - border crossing and localization
    Cross-border interactions increased during the subsequent period of regime changes. Differences created by being separated into different countries became sources of religious reconstruction. Interactions took two forms; those between (post-)socialist countries and those between (post-)socialist and non-socialist countries. Differences among geographically adjacent socialist, post-socialist and non-socialist countries may lead to reconstruction of religion within the same ethnic group. The formation of relationships with distant regions, like with the Middle East, leads to creation of new ties of believers between (post-)socialist and non-socialist countries. Through this process, border-crossing and localization occur in parallel: the global religion may come to display clear local differences, whereas local religions, which were believed in by particular ethnic groups, may acquire believers from other regions and ethnic groups.
  3. Religious movements create and reformulate social ties
    In everyday life religion is stimulated by changes in a group's social and economic foundations, and may become the medium through which close social ties are created and reformulated. Specific topics examined included religious knowledge transmitted from masters to disciples, practices of clerics and lay believers, perceptions of misfortune and death, views related to sacred ground, migrants' religious networks, rules governing marriage and divorce, funeral ceremonies, and healing rituals. It was also noted that since 2000 significant changes have occurred: the shifting focus of religious revitalization from the rebuilding of religious institutions to religious education, the decline in the importance of nationalism as a factor of religious revitalization, and the increasing importance of local religious practices in creation and reformulation of social ties in everyday life.

Some of these results were presented to the Japanese Society of Cultural Anthropology, at a panel on "Religious reconstruction after the experience of socialism: focus on the division/reformation of local societies and cross-border movements."