21st Century COE Program Archive


Date: October 30, 2004
Location: Kanbaikan, Imadegawa Campus, Doshisha University
Title: (Open for the public) Monotheism and Polytheism: Towards A New Dialogue of Civilization
Speaker: Shinichi Nakazawa (Political Science, Chuo University)
  Today, especially after 9/11, the problems concerning monotheism and polytheism evoke much controversy in the world of scholars and journalists in Japan. In their articles, one finds many opinions to the effect that Semitic monotheism abuses an exclusive form of justice because of belief in only one god while, on the contrary, Japanese polytheism is peaceable because of a worldview of gods who coexist peacefully, so that the latter is preferable from the point of view of cultural tolerance. But the dualism of ‘monotheism versus polytheism’ as a premise of these opinions isn’t scientifically valid. At the meeting, this dualism was examined critically, and new viewpoints about monotheism and polytheism were suggested in order for future discussion to be constructive.
  According to Dr. Nakazawa, the concepts 'monotheism' and 'polytheism' were established in the modern period and, actually, there is no pure monotheism or pure polytheism. Indeed, all religion has elements of both monotheism and polytheism. Dr. Nakazawa illustrated this idea with the examples of Saiva in Hinduism and the Islamic concept of tawhid from the viewpoint of the discipline of religious studies. Furthermore, he argued, this synthetic system of ‘one’ (mono) and ‘many’ (poly) is found in the old religion of the Paleolithic era. In the system of this religion, monotheistic thought intended a transcendent and abstract ‘high’ god.* (example of a ritual that was performed in a cave), while polytheistic thought intended the concrete, multifarious and viable Existence, which gives an image of the female power of birth (example of a ritual that was held in the open setting of nature); the two complemented each other. These examples prove that the principle of monotheism and the principle of polytheism are not antithetical concepts, but two moments that constitute a condition of the intellectual ability of mankind. Furthermore, Dr. Nakazawa pointed out the contribution of Christianity to the formation of capitalism. He thinks that the Western Church had, uniquely, taken the polytheistic moment into its monotheistic doctrinal system, so that the possibility of today's global economy was created. For instance, Jesus Christ has characteristics both of humanity and divinity, contrary to a theory of god which refuses mediation between the Absolute and human. This Christology led to the acceptance of money, which has abstract value and reality. Also, the Holy Spirit and its procession (Filioque) in the Trinity led to the concepts of a ‘system’ and the ‘increase of value’ (interest). Religion is apt to be seen as a superficial element in economics, but Dr. Nakazawa thinks, in fact, that economy is one form of religion. In the roots of the global economy, the Trinity, in the form of secularization, and the Christian acceptance of a polytheistic moment into a monotheistic moment, continue acting secretly.
   Dr. Kohara enumerated articles from various kinds of documents in Japan which insist on the superiority of polytheism over monotheism. If it is considered that these opinions began to be argued at the time of the collapse of the 'bubble economy' and increased especially after 9/11, they can be understood as messages intended to provide simple reassurances about contemporary society, which is full of confusion. However, such an easy dualism cannot lead to improvement of the situation, but rather, it increases misunderstanding and negative prejudice. Dr. Kohara tried to deconstruct this dualism. First, according to theology and the discipline of religious studies, the idea which really contradicts monotheistic faith is idolatry. Idols include not only material things, but also, for example, 'the golden calf' in Exodus (32)-systems, images, and self-reproductions created by human desire. So, the terrorism of 9/11 can be understood as an act intended to destroy systems or idols which invent economic difference and 'structural violence.' Next, Dr. Kohara pointed out that polytheism may not always be peaceful. If it is considered that Shinto forced people to visit Shinto shrines in the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere during World War II, followed by the destruction of overseas Shinto shrines at the end of this war, it is hard to think that polytheism is always culturally tolerant. In conclusion, Dr. Kohara insisted that we must not fall into Occidentalism in regard to monotheistic faiths or reverse Orientalism in relation to polytheistic religion. But we must pay attention to the serious oppositions between the moderates and the radicals, between the acceptance of diversity and the desire for maintenance of a single strong value within many religious groups and nations today.
   Other topics were discussed in the meeting. Among them were reconfirmation of the theory of God in Islam, a report on the current state of religious affairs in India, and the examination of methodology in order for future argument to be constructive.
*This God is called "Taka-Gami' in Japanese. "takai' means high, and "Kami(Gami)' means God.
Kiyoshi Uehara
(COE Promoted Researcher / Graduate Student of School of Theology, Doshisha University)