Levi McLaughlin, an associate professor of religious studies at NC State who specializes in Japanese religions, has published an important new book on one of the most influential religious movements in modern Japan. He has also accepted an invitation to take up a distinguished visiting position in Japanese Studies for the 2019-20 academic year.
These achievements extend a streak of successes beginning in Spring 2018, when McLaughlin was selected for the college’s Outstanding Junior Faculty Award in the Humanities in recognition of his outstanding scholarship, teaching and service. During the same semester, he was also approved for promotion to associate professor and awarded a Luce/ACLS Fellowship in Religion, Journalism and International Affairs to support his research on religious influences on Japanese politics and policymaking during the 2018-19 academic year. McLaughlin is now pursuing this project, which involves intensive embedded research in Japan, while on scholarly reassignment from NC State.
McLaughlin’s new book, Soka Gakkai’s Human Revolution: The Rise of a Mimetic Nation in Modern Japan, was published in December 2018 by the University of Hawaii Press, the leading publisher in East Asian Studies.
Soka Gakkai is the largest collective of active religious participants in Japan today. It claims more than 8 million Japanese households plus almost 2 million members in 192 other countries and territories. It is best known for its affiliated political party, Komeito (the Clean Government Party), which comprises part of the ruling coalition in Japan’s National Diet, and it exerts considerable influence in education, media, finance and other key areas.
Based on nearly two decades of fieldwork and archival research, McLaughlin’s book draws on primary sources not previously considered in English-language scholarship. It offers a comprehensive account of the rise of Soka Gakkai and turns to insights from religion, political science, anthropology and cultural studies to characterize Soka Gakkai as mimetic of the nation-state.
During the 2019-20 academic year, McLaughlin will serve as Toyota Visiting Professor in the Center for Japanese Studies at the University of Michigan. This rotating chair is awarded to leading scholars and public figures from Japan and countries other than Japan in alternating years. Toyota Visiting Professors engage in academic exchange and scholarship at the University of Michigan, where they present public lectures, offer graduate seminars, and conduct research on topics related to Japan.