Jolyon Baraka Thomas is a PhD Candidate in Religion at Princeton University. His interests lie in the field of modern Japanese religions; recent research projects have focused on religion and media and religion-state relations.
Jolyon’s dissertation, “Japan’s Preoccupation with Religious Freedom,” examines the implementation of the concept of religious freedom in Japan during the time that the Meiji Constitution was in effect (1890–1947). The dissertation charts a middle course between arguments commonly seen in foregoing scholarship on the subject—namely, that Japan either lacked “genuine” religious freedom during this period or that a unique “Japanese-style relationship between religion and the state” characterized it. The study focuses particularly on the role of ecumenical groups in negotiating religion-state relations. It uses ecumenical journals, parliamentary proceedings, diaries, private letters, official bureaucratic correspondence, speeches, lectures, transcripts of radio broadcasts, and police interrogation records to show that competing interest groups advocated diverse interpretations of religious freedom throughout the period in question. It also examines the role that the concept of religious freedom played in military conflict, war propaganda, and postwar reconciliation through an investigation of the Pacific War and the subsequent Allied Occupation of Japan (1945–1952).
Jolyon has also published extensively on religion and media in contemporary Japan, with a particular focus on religious aspects of the culture surrounding manga (illustrated serial novels) and anime (animated films). His 2012 book on the subject, Drawing on Tradition: Manga, Anime, and Religion in Contemporary Japan, is available from University of Hawai‘i Press. The book examines religious aspects of the culture of manga and anime production and consumption through a methodological synthesis of narrative and visual analysis, history, and ethnography. Jolyon shows that manga and anime not only contribute to familiarity with traditional religious doctrines and imagery, but also allow authors, directors, and audiences to modify and elaborate upon such themes, sometimes creating hitherto unforeseen religious ideas and practices.
Jolyon is seeking a tenure-track teaching position or a postdoctoral fellowship to begin in the 2014–2015 academic year. Prospective employers can find information about his publications and his CV here. A teaching statement, career statement, and some sample syllabi are available on request.