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Premodern Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogues and the Formation of Comparative Concepts
How encounters between European missionaries and Japanese in the 16th and 17th centuries changed the conceptual world
Prof. Dr. Christoph Kleine, Institute for the Study of Religions, Leipzig University, Germany
As a scholar of religion, I am for various reasons interested in the intercultural encounter between Japan and Europe and the resulting intercultural comparisons as well as the problems of cultural translation that accompany it. From a disciplinary perspective, the question of how the contested category 'religion' was transformed from an emic descriptive category-or a "western folk category" -to an etic comparative concept  in the course of cultural encounters is of particular interest. This is because in recent years some representatives of religious studies have come to the conclusion that the concept of 'religion' is a specifically Western invention imposed on other cultures in the interest of asserting colonial interests and for the sake of establishing modern, liberal, secular nation-states all over the world. For this reason, it is argued, religion is not only useless and misleading if used as an analytical concept but even reproduces and reinforces a colonial or imperialist agenda. Therefore, it is asserted, the category 'religion' should be treated "as the object, not the tool, of analysis." 
I do not intend to reiterate the debate over the cross-cultural applicability  of the category 'religion' in any detail here. Let me just briefly summarise the vantage point of those colleagues who claim to do 'critical religion' by quoting Horii Mitsutoshi, a representative of this group himself:
Over recent decades, the concept of religion has been critically examined and deconstructed. Its usefulness as an analytical category has been questioned [...]. These scholars critically approach the use of the term from a postcolonial perspective, which was famously taken by Edward Said, and from a poststructuralist perspective, exemplified by Foucaultian discourse analysis. The category of religion, as the binary opposite of the secular, is a by-product of the specific historical and cultural circumstances of Western modernity [...]. When its Western imperial legacy is revealed, its cross-cultural applications attract postcolonial critiques [...]. In many parts of the world, there was no equivalent word for 'religion,' but the concept of religion was often imposed upon various cultures by Western colonial powers [...]. What these critical perspectives indicate is that 'religion' is a socially constructed category and that its social construction should be the subject of critical examination [...]. 
In short: 'critical religion' refers back to various postmodern trends and turns such as the particularism and relativism of French postructuralism (or its Anglo-American interpretation)  and deconstructionism as well as the politicisation and normativity of postcolonialism. The methodological focus lies on discourse analysis and genealogy or Begriffsgeschichte (conceptual history).
While there is nothing wrong with these positions in principle, the so-called critical approach suffers from a number of theoretical and empirical deficiencies-which I can only partly address in this paper. First of all, if applied strictly, it amounts to a sort of cultural particularism and incommensurabilism that leaves no room for comparative studies in religion at all-and, what is more, is prone to a new kind of ethnocentrism or 'Westernism', as my teacher Michael Pye would call it.  Because of their preoccupation with the historical contingency and cultural particularity of our tertia comparationis,  first of all the category 'religion', and the allegedly coercive character of their global diffusion, 'critical religionists' produce a number of blind spots. Unless we take a radical stance and conclude from the trivial fact that each and every historical event and empirical phenomenon is unique and at the same time overemphasise the postcolonial claim that the category religion is poisoned by its "Western imperial legacy" -which renders comparison impossible or inappropriate altogether and in principle-we can hardly claim that cultures cannot be compared. The question whether or not a generic term or comparative concept such as 'religion' can be meaningfully applied to different cultures and historical contexts for assignable purposes can only be decided after having compared these cultures thoroughly and systematically-something which the postmodern critics of comparative religion notoriously fail to do.
To be sure: I do not intend to downplay the merits of postcolonial and discursive approaches. They have contributed a lot to a critical self-reflection within our discipline and opened up new perspectives, both theoretically and methodologically. I simply suggest that we move forward and fill in the blank spots left by these approaches. This could, e.g., be achieved by applying the perspectives and methods of genealogical and discursive studies, favoured by postcolonialism, to premodern non-Western societies. The discursive formations and diffusions of descriptive categories, comparative concepts, knowledge regimes and related systems of classification, etc., are not only relevant for colonial and postcolonial contexts but for many societies at all times.
More importantly for the context of this paper, however, I propose that we take a closer look at cultural entanglements as one decisive factor in the formation of comparative concepts such as 'religion.' Recently, Michael Bergunder stated that Western comparative concepts are themselves products of cross-cultural entanglements.  In contrast to him, however, I maintain that these cross-cultural entanglements started way before 1800 and did not only shape the conceptual framework of the so-called West. In contrast, I argue that the European category 'religion' and related emic terms in Japanese are, to a considerable extent, the product of cultural encounters, comparisons and translations starting in the 16th century with the Jesuit mission in Japan.
In order to verify this hypothesis, I would like to propose two interrelated approaches, which might help to bridge the gap between comparative empirical or historical studies in religion on the one hand, and genealogical or discursive studies in religion on the other, which are often associated with 'critical religion'. The first approach I would tentatively label a comparative history of comparison, the second an entangled history of comparative concepts. Both approaches are closely related but emphasise different aspects.
I will exemplify the first approach - the comparative history of comparison - by referring to the mutual process of comparison and cultural translation that evolved from the encounter between European Christians and the Japanese in the 16th and 17th centuries.
As to the second approach- the entangled history of comparative concepts- I will try to demonstrate that the formation of the Western category 'religion' as a tertium comparationis is the product of precisely this mutual process of cultural comparison and translation.
In doing so, I intend to show that genealogical and comparative, discursive and historical approaches are by no means mutually exclusive. I posit that they should in fact be combined in order to overcome the extremes of a naïve ethnocentric universalism that has haunted many comparative studies in the 19th and 20th centuries on the one side and a logocentric cultural particularism or even incommensurabilism that is equally prone to ethnocentrism on the other.
2. Musings on the problem of intercultural comparison
As we have seen above, the critics of cultural comparisons in the study of religion primarily target the use of universalised categories such as 'religion' as analytical tools and tertia comparationis. Their arguments run roughly as follows: The term 'religion' is closely linked "to colonial agendas that imposed a Eurocentric view on non-Western cultures", and tends "to essentialise religion as something sui generis."  In Timothy Fitzgerald's words, "the separation of religion and politics has been exported from Western colonial powers such as Britain and America to different parts of the world as part of the logic of colonial control and global capitalism, as well as Enlightenment mastery."  Russel McCutcheon likewise stresses the political dimension of the global diffusion of these categories by maintaining that the classification of social spheres as either 'religious' or 'secular' is not only "constitutive of our modern living" but that the use of these categories was a precondition for the establishment of "the liberal democratic nation state."  Accordingly, the term 'religion' is by no means an innocent, purely academic category. Addressing the problem of cross-cultural comparison more directly, Michael Bergunder argues that "European history has been the prototype of the general terms for the social sciences", and that therefore "all non-European contexts face a structural handicap" , which renders cross-cultural comparisons "an inherent Eurocentric praxis" .
No doubt, many of these arguments are valid-to a certain extent. But is it imperative to deduce from this the consequence of renouncing comparative concepts such as 'religion'? More serious at this point, however, is the fact that all the authors quoted criticise Western claims to hegemony and the colonial heritage, but in doing so deprive 'the colonised' or 'subaltern' of sovereignty by denying them agency in the process of dealing with Western orders of knowledge. They suggest that non-Western cultures have been completely reformatted under the influence of Western colonialism and imperialism. But world history is not a one-way street.
Moreover, the critics of comparative studies tend to ignore the fact that comparison is an inevitable cognitive operation that neither scholars nor any human being can ever dispense with. For an academic discipline, that makes the claim to conduct empirical, historical and transcultural studies, and which is not only concerned with meta-reflections on its own epistemological preconditions-which would amount to a mere philosophy of science or epistemology-the abandonment of comparative concepts would prove fatal. Note that on the basis of such arguments Isomae Jun'ichi has already announced the death of the science of religion.
Furthermore, as Friedrich Tenbruck has shown, cultural comparison not only lies at the heart of all social sciences He deplores that sociologists have failed to notice that mutual cultural comparison is a constitutive factor in the formation and development of all societies.  Cultural comparison as a central praxis of social scientists was initially a reaction to the nationalisms of the 19th and 20th centuries. In order to overcome the subjective and ethnocentric emic perspectives that had hitherto only resulted in the establishment of prejudices, social scientists aimed at the development of an objective, scientific method of cultural comparison. Eventually, however, the targeted project of an objective scientific cultural comparison mutated into a cultural mission, since Western categories and societal developments were universalised and elevated to global yardsticks for social advancement. 
This corresponds with what the above-mentioned critics of a comparative science of religion say, but Tenbruck does not stop where they stop. In contrast to postmodern critical scholars of religion, he highlights the importance of premodern emic cultural comparisons for the formation of all societies involved in these comparisons. The mutual observation and comparison of two cultures inevitably changes both sides. Cultural comparison, according to Tenbruck, is the driving force of history without which there would hardly be any social progress. 
Since global or entangled history is not Tenbruck's business as a sociologist, after all, he does not explicitly address the question which concerns me here, namely: to what degrees are the universalised categories or comparative concepts used for supposedly objective scientific cultural comparisons the product of subjective pre- or proto-scientific cultural comparisons? With regard to the formation of the comparative concept 'religion', it is my hypothesis that this is, to some extent, the product of cultural comparisons between the European and Japanese cultural systems in the 16th and 17th centuries. I prefer to call these cultural comparisons proto-scientific rather than pre-scientific because they were already based on a kind of early humanistic universalism on both sides, which allowed for a high level of abstraction. 
One important implication of this hypothesis is that it grants non-Western societies historical agency within the process of the formation of our modern comparative concepts.  Let me sum up and refine my hypothesis:
The formation of the comparative category 'religion' is mainly the result of the cultural encounter between Europe and Asia, especially Japan, in the 16th and 17th centuries. This encounter necessitated an intense mutual observation and stimulated a process of cultural comparison and translation on both sides. This process was therefore by no means unilateral but bilateral. The Japanese contributed a lot to the development of a universalised concept and generic category 'religion'. At the same time, this mutual cultural comparison on both sides sharpened the notion of a global social system, as it were, that we habitually call religion.
Therefore, I strongly question the assertion that religion was "a concept that, in its precise contours , had not been expressible in Chinese, Japanese, or Korean" before the late 19th century, as Hans Martin Krämer claims.
3. The Premodern Cultural Encounter Between Japan and Europe - The Jesuit Mission
For lack of time, I cannot engage in any detailed discussion of the fascinating process of mutual cultural comparisons and translations that followed the first large-scale encounter between Europeans and Japanese in the 16th century. I will only mention a few pivotal figures active in this process who represent and, as it were, personify the entangled history of the formation of descriptive categories on both sides, which initiated the establishment of our modern comparative concept 'religion' and related concepts.
After the first Jesuits under the leadership of Francis Xavier (1506-1552) had set foot on Japanese soil in 1549 , they faced the challenge of translating European terms and concepts-including Christian terminology-into Japanese. It is important to note that Japan back then was anything but an inferior counterpart, easy to missionise or colonise. On the one hand, Japan was somehow worn out and disoriented after decades of power struggles between landholding military lords, the so-called daimyo 大名 (also involving powerful Buddhist monasteries), who waged constant war to defend or enlarge their domains; on the other hand, the so-called Warring States period (1467-1568) saw remarkable economic growth and a nationwide diffusion of culture. What is more, after the failed attempts of huge Mongol armies to conquer Japan in 1274 and 1281, the Japanese had developed a strong sense of national pride and self-confidence. In their self-perception, Japan had moved from the periphery to the centre of the civilised world. It had become the "nation of gods" (shinkoku 神國), the "nation of the Buddhas" (bukkoku 佛國), and even the "homeland of the Great Sun Buddha" (danichi no honkoku 大日本國) , the principle Buddha of esoteric Buddhism, Mahāvairocana. Accordingly, Anjirō, a samurai who had fled from Japan aboard a Portuguese merchant vessel because of a blood feud, depicted his homeland in a very favourable way, when he met Francis Xavier in Malacca in 1547. Anjirō's accounts of Japan, which had only just been 'discovered' in 1543 by the Portuguese explorer Fernão Mendes Pinto (c. 1509-1583), inspired and strongly encouraged Francis to spread the gospel there. Even after Francis had reached Kagoshima in 1549, he was convinced that 
Cultural Translations 1: The European Perspective
What is most relevant for our present topic is the fact that Anjirō launched a complex process of mutual cultural comparisons and translations not characterised by asymmetric power relations. Anjirō, who was baptised with the name Paulo de Santa Fé (Paul of the Holy Faith) in the Jesuit college of Goa, where he translated Francis' catechism into Japanese , first had to tell the "apostolic nuncio to the East" about the "religions and sects" in Japan. He probably did this in a pidgin Portuguese which he had initially learned from the merchants and sailors aboard the Portuguese vessel. Francis did not understand any Japanese and Anjirō, as a nobleman, could read and write Japanese, but no classical Chinese, the language of the Buddhist scriptures. In short, there were some serious language problems. Nevertheless, they were able to communicate about complex matters seemingly without much effort. Central terms and concepts such as religion (religión), sects (sectas), religious [virtuosos] (religiosos), seculars/lay (seculares), gods (diosos), etc., were mutually translatable, even though at some points difficulties arose. The most famous example is the problem of finding a Japanese equivalent of the term, or rather the concept deus, in the sense of an omnipotent creator of the world. Anjirō chose the above-mentioned name "Dainichi 大日," "Great Sun", i.e. the Japanese name of the principle Buddha Mahāvairocana. He probably did so because the sound somehow resembled that of deus, and-more importantly-the Buddha Dainichi comes closest to a creator god of everything Buddhism had to offer. 
The missionaries wrote their reports on the religious situation in Japan, which implied not only the lexical translation of Japanese words into Portuguese or Spanish but also the taxonomic classification of observed phenomena in accordance with a classification system that did not really exist until then but had to be established to meet the demands of cultural translation.
First of all: Valignano, as well as Francis and other Jesuits, refers to the "joint veneration  of the [Japanese] kami and the Buddhas" , as a "religión, and thereby put it under the same category as Christianity, the latter being the holy, the one and true religion, of course. The religion of the Japanese was differentiated into "diversas sectas,"  he notes, and both kami and fotoques, i.e. Buddhas, he classifies as gods (dioses). Valignano observed many similarities or family resemblances between his own religion and that of the Japanese, whom he classified as "whites" (blancos) which made them-in his eyes-susceptible to "reason."  The apparent similarities in ritual matters he assumes to be a trick of the devil to fool the Japanese, so that they think they have a true  In his view, for instance, 淨土) cult that promises salvation regardless of one's virtues, observations and good works "is the same doctrine that the demon, father of both Protestantism and Pure Land Buddhism, has taught Luther." 
Interestingly, however, Valignano and other Jesuits did not always use Spanish or Portuguese terms to denote Japanese phenomena. For instance, they mostly abstain from using the terms 'priest' or 'monk' for "los religiosos" who constitute the second among four "suerte de gente" or ranks of people. Valignano just states that they are called "bonzos" which is simply a phonetic rendering of the Japanese term "bōzu 坊主," and even constructing a feminine genus ("bomzas") unknown in Japanese. Eventually the term bonzo became an inflectable loanword. In his Portuguese letters, Francis speaks of a great number of men and women who profess to "religion", obviously meaning a "religious order" here, whom he calls "bomzos" and "bomzas" respectively and contrasts them with the "seculars"-which corresponds exactly to the way the Japanese distinguished between "sō 僧" and "zoku俗", a distinction that refers to concrete social groups, namely Buddhist monastics and laypeople. Likewise, Francisco Cabral speaks of the "monasteries of the bonzes who are the religious of the country" . Evidently, the missionaries preferred to use emic Japanese terms when it came to competing social groups. They probably did not want to see themselves and their "irmão" (brothers) put in the same category as the Buddhist monks who were their direct competitors or even enemies.
Cultural Translations 2: The Japanese Perspective
Obviously, the Japanese faced the same challenges in order to translate Christian concepts into Japanese and put them into a comparative framework. Let us take a look at them. While the missionaries called the Buddhist tera 寺 'monasteries', the monasteries of the Christians were called 'tera 寺' or "the tera of the Southern Barbarians" (nanbanji南蛮寺) by their Buddhist opponents in Japan . Furthermore, even the main objects of worship of both traditions were often regarded as functional equivalents. The scholar-monk Suzuki Shōsan 鈴木正三, for instance, called the Christian Deus (deusu でうす) a "Great Buddha" (daibutsu 大佛). 
In contrast to cultural encounters under colonial conditions, there were no asymmetric power relations which would have given a hegemonic position to either side. What makes the encounter so special is the involvement of individuals who were familiar with both cultural perspectives, simply because they had shifted loyalties once or more. In fact, the most interesting actors in the entangled history of mutual cultural comparisons and translations are, however, converts and apostates. Not only did they actively demonstrate by their conversions that they perceived Christianity and Buddhism as functional equivalents and representatives of the same type of socio-cultural formations, they were also forced to compare the two traditions, which could only work on the basis of given comparative viewpoints and generic terms. I assume that this kind of cultural comparison was easier for the Japanese than for the Europeans because the Japanese were already accustomed to comparing various imported socio-cultural formations and systems of cognitive and normative orientation- namely Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Brahmanism, and Shintō.
An outstanding example of a convert and apostate is, without doubt, Fukansai Habian 不干斎巴鼻庵 (1565-1621). Born in 1565, Habian became a Jesuit catechist in 1586 and served as an interpreter for the missionaries.  Because Habian had been a Zen-Buddhist monk before he converted to Christianity, "he was a perfect inter-cultural mediator and propagator of the Christian mission in Japan." In 1605 Habian finished a refutation of Buddhism, Confucianism and Shintō from a Christian standpoint in Japanese, the famous Myōtei mondō 妙貞問答-a fictitious dialogue between the two ladies Myōshū and Yūtei. He also engaged in inter-religious debates, e.g. with the famous Confucian thinker Hayashi Razan 林羅山 (1583-1657) and a monk of the Nichiren sect of Buddhism. Around 1608 or 1609, however, he apostatised and became a fierce critic of Christianity . In 1620 he published a famous anti-Christian pamphlet entitled Ha daiusu 破提宇子 ("Deus Destroyed").
Fukansai Habian, being well-versed in the Christian and the Buddhist doctrine, frequently uses the original European words when it comes to specific Christian terminology. In such cases, he explains their meanings instead of simply translating them by Japanese equivalents. Examples are: "inferno インヘルノ", "paraiso ハライソ", "anima アニマ" . He mostly uses the Japanese syllabary called katakana for a phonetic rendering of foreign words, as is customary even today, but sometimes in addition Chinese characters, e.g. "anjo 安女" (angel; アンゼルス), which hints at a certain degree of institutionalisation of Christian terms in the Japanese language .
When it comes to non-theological terminology, however, Fukansai Habian prefers the use of generic terms more appropriate for cultural comparison. I do not have the time to go into any details here. Suffice it to say that the Ha daisu in particular is like a dictionary of cross-cultural terminology used for the comparison of two systems of normative and cognitive orientation-i.e. Buddhism and Christianity. Christianity is classified as ashūshi 宗旨 or shū 宗, two traditional Buddhist terms denoting a doctrinal tradition. They have ikyō 依經 or authoritative scriptures, similar to the sūtras of Buddhism or the Confucian classics. They have a honzon 本尊, a main object of worship, similar to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas whom the Buddhists venerate. Their [mon]to [門]徒] or followers, we read, are hard to defeat. Although it turned out that the Christians preach a jasetsu 邪説, an evil teaching, and a kanja no hō 奸邪之法, a perverse and cursed faith, a jahō邪法, an evil dharma, Habian, so he confesses, had entered their mon 門 or community at an early age. Later he lamented his desertion of the daishō shōbō 大聖正法, the "true law/dharma of the Great Saint", i.e. the Buddha Śākyamuni . All terms he used to describe the "perverted" Christian doctrine and its "crooked" adherents, were well established terms in Buddhist discourses and worked perfectly well as translation terms.
Another pivotal figure in the process of mutual cultural comparison and translation was Cristóvão Ferreira (1580-1650) who has recently gained some prominence as he features in Martin Scorcese's movie Silence, represented by Liam Neeson . Ferreira (c. 1580-1650) was a Portuguese Jesuit born around 1580. He served as a missionary in Japan from 1609. By 1613 he had advanced to the ranks of Minister, Consultor and Admonitor of the Rector in the Jesuit residence in the capital. In 1633, however, Ferreira was captured and renounced Christianity after he had undergone five hours of "a new kind of torture", the ana-tsurushi [穴吊るし; "hanging in the pit"], generally called the pit, or fossa, in European reports."  He married a Japanese woman and changed his name to Sawano Chūan 沢野忠庵. In accordance with the laws of Tokugawa Japan, he registered at a Buddhist temple, became a member of the Zen sect  and thenceforth worked for the Japanese inquisition. Eventually, he wrote, or rather dictated, a fervent polemic against Christianity, entitled Kengiroku 顯儀錄, or "A Disclosure of Falsehoods" . In the introduction to his Kengiroku, in which he explains the reasons for his apostasy, Sawano Chūan writes:
Having been born in the Land of the Southern Barbarians I was ever immersed in evil paths and remained ignorant of the right way. Since my youth I have devoted myself to the teaching of Kirishitan, and having become a shukke (religieux) came to the Land of Sunrise, crossing thousands and myriads of leagues on the sea, with the ardent desire of propagating that teaching in Japan. Years and years I have worked on the propaganda in going and wandering east and west, enduring the hardships of hunger and thirst and other perils, hiding myself among the mountains and in the forests, at the risk of life and daring to evade the interdiction. But, having seen the life of the Japanese and learned the teachings of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism [Shinto?], and having gradually grasped a small fraction of this truth, I have repented my errors and given up illusions. I have finally abandoned the Kirishitan faith and adopted Buddha's doctrine. 
He thus explicitly subsumes Confucianism (儒), Buddhism (釋) and Taoism (道; Shintō?) under the same category as the shūshi 宗旨 of the kirishitan鬼利志端 . Obviously, for him, as for his Japanese contemporaries, Christianity, Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism [or Shinto?] served as functional equivalents-to a certain degree-and could thus be compared and described by using cross-culturally applicable generic terms. However, the only real functional equivalents were Buddhism and Christianity. In terms of classification, the other traditions belong to the same category but as they were not institutionalised in Japan, one could not convert from Buddhism or Christianity to Confucianism, Daoism, or Shintō.
As an apostate serving the Japanese government, Sawano Chūan translates "padres" (ハテレ) as "oshō [also: kashō] 和尚", which is a Chinese translation of the Sanskrit upâdhyāya (teacher, master) and a common designation for Buddhist priests in Japan. Even more so than Fukan Habian, he takes the trouble to translate Christian terms by Buddhist terms. To give an example, he summarises the Christians' doctrine of an afterlife in the following way:
That outside the Kirishitan religion there is for humans no salvation in the afterlife is Holy Doctrine. The place of salvation is called Paraiso [ハライソ] (that is to say, paradise [gokuraku 極楽]) and is above the heavens. In Paraiso shines brilliant light, and manifold delight abounds to fulfillment. But they who are not saved fall down into Inferno[インヘルノ] (that is to say, hell [jigoku 地獄]) and suffer the pains of water and of fire, and for endless kalpas into the future can never rest in peace. Thus they teach .
Let me now briefly summarise my arguments. To date, the vast majority of scholars dealing with cultural encounters and comparisons stress the Western impact on category formations in non-Western societies in the wake of colonialism. Very few have taken into account the impact of non-Western cultures on the history of concepts in precolonial Europe. Almost no one has ever looked at the impact of cultural encounters and comparisons prior to the colonial age on the history of concepts both in the East and in the West. Consequently, the entanglement of these conceptual histories has been largely overlooked. In order to escape the resulting empirical and theoretical deficiencies, I have suggested two interrelated approaches, first a comparative history of comparison, and second an entangled history of comparative concepts. By doing so, I hope to overcome the ethnocentrism entailed in both the naïve universalism of traditional studies in religion and in the cultural relativism and diffusionism of most postcolonial approaches.
I have argued that the formation of a comparative concept, which subsumed alternative systems of belief and practice, cognitive and normative orientation and the associated socio-cultural formations under descriptive categories such as the term 'religion' in European languages and 'shūshi', etc. in Japanese, on the basis of family resemblances as well as functional equivalence, resulted from the intense cultural encounter between Europeans and Japanese intellectuals in the 16th and 17th centuries. This encounter instigated a complex process of mutual cultural comparisons and translations, which changed the conceptual frameworks on both sides. In Europe, religion became a firmly established concept used for intercultural comparisons ever after. What has hitherto not been studied sufficiently, is the conceptual history of Japan after the first encounter with European culture. It is safe to assume, however, that this encounter consolidated and broadened an already existing comparative concept represented by a number of descriptive categories such as shūshi 宗旨 ('religion'), shū 宗 ('[religious] tradition'), dō 道 ('path [of cultivation]'), hō 法 ('normative system'/'moral order'), kyō 教 ('[religious] doctrtine'), or monto 門徒 ('followers of a [religious] institution').
Moreover, as "Kiri Paramore  has persuasively demonstrated [...] the anti-Christian discourse during the Edo and Meiji periods" was a formative ideological factor, most significantly in the nationalist kokutai 國體 ("national essence") discourse . This means that the Japanese had by no means forgotten the fact that there are a number of "shūshi 宗旨" ('religions'-including 'evil doctrines,' jahō, jakyō, such as Christianity) out there in the world besides the indigenous or indigenised traditions of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shintō, plus Daoism and Brahmanism. Therefore, neither the notion that the Japanese had no comparative concept equivalent to the Western category 'religion' before the late 19th century nor the claim that 'religion' is just "a by-product of the specific historical and cultural circumstances of Western modernity" is convincing in the light of a comparative history of comparison and an entangled history of comparative concepts.
It may be objected, however, that the changes in the respective conceptual frameworks were arguably stronger on the European side. I assume that there are two main reasons for that.
First, the Japanese already had a comparative concept much earlier due to the religious plurality of Japan. Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and Brahmanism, later also Shintō, had always been classified under a number of descriptive categories, a classification that presupposed something like a comparative concept . Nevertheless, the encounter with Christianity changed the conceptual framework significantly: unlike Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, Shintō and Brahmanism were not institutionalised in Japan, and as 'external ways' (gedō 外道), i.e. as systems of cognitive and normative orientation, they only theoretically figured as potential competitors. Christianity, however, was a real, ideologically, socially, and politically relevant competitor-a competitor that shared many similarities with Buddhism and did not easily fit in the traditional Buddhist schema of hierarchical inclusion. One could actually convert from and to Christianity. For the Christians, however, who had hitherto only been confronted with the genetically related traditions of Judaism and Islam, the encounter had an even greater impact in terms of coining religion as a universal category or comparative concept.
The second reason why the conceptual framework of the West changed even more dramatically since the 16th century was the fact that the European expansion went on. After the failed attempt to missionise and possibly colonise Japan, Europeans succeeded in other parts of the world. Consequently, cultural comparison and translation, and thus the establishment of universal categories or comparative concepts remained a constant challenge for the Europeans, which resulted in the development of an elaborate universalistic system of classification, a system that has become the basis of a modern globalised order of knowledge.
To Part 2