Book: Exploring Shinto
Chapter: 3. On Writing the History of "Shinto"
This essay surveys recent approaches to writing “Shinto history,” and reflects on the problems that are inherent in this genre. Does the very notion of a Shinto history force writers to adopt a particular perspective on the past, due to the semantic and discursive structure of the concept of Shinto itself? Is it possible to write a Shinto history without constructing, once again and in new words, that same ideological concept – even while one is determined not to fall into this trap? Can the genre of Shinto history be reinvented and saved from this conundrum?
The second part of the essay seeks to gain a new perspective on Shinto historiography by comparative means. Shinto is part of a family of national-religious categories that gained prominence in the nineteenth century, and Shinto history is a modern genre that arose to supply that category with a venerable past. It may be enlightening to analyse the dynamics of Shinto’s modern conceptualization through the lens of another such category from another cultural and political context. The attempt is therefore made here to view Shinto through the lens of its distant cousin Hinduism.