Document Type



In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the Meiji regime (1868-1912) of Japan declared a mandatory separation of indigenous deities from Buddhist figures. The Meiji government sought to use indigenous rituals, instead of Buddhist rituals, to legitimize its power. It thus codified these beliefs as a national religion, today referred to as Shintō (神道), to emphasize their autonomy. Yet, in spite of its efforts to isolate these beliefs from all others, Japanese spirituality still bears traces of “extra-cultural” religious ideas. This is the result of a long history of religious syncretism (hybridity) in the region. An understanding of the geographic history of religious exchange between Japan and nearby countries, yields a necessity to reexamine the notion of a “pure” Shintō that is completely separate from not only Buddhism, but also from other spiritual traditions.

This project was an interdisciplinary survey of Japan’s history of religious syncretism from the fourth to sixteenth century. It focused primarily on Shintō’s relationship with Buddhism, which has had a substantial impact on Japanese political and social history. It sought to demonstrate that the close interactions between Shintō and Buddhism throughout this history resulted in their now inextricable quality. This interconnectedness is evident in the art historical developments that were concurrent with these interactions. For the purpose of this project, particular attention was given to developments in Japanese sculpture and painting as evidence of the broader narrative of Shintō-Buddhist syncretism. Works under both categories affected their contemporary religious climates by promoting the exchange of religious ideas among the general populace. The Edo Period (c. 1600-1867) folk painting tradition known as Ōtsu-e was studied as a prime example of this non-elite syncretism. Its existence in the realm of folk art, and therefore in the realm of the common people, validates it as an example of popular syncretism.


Art History

Thesis Comittee

Sean H. McPherson (Thesis Advisor)

Matthew Dasti

Andres Montenegro Rosero

Copyright and Permissions

Original document was submitted as an Honors Program requirement. Copyright is held by the author.