Given its contextual and perspectival malleability, the notion of ‘authority', and even more so of ‘religious authority’, is challenging to define and to study. In today’s interview with Paulina Kolata, Dr Erica Baffelli discusses the notion of authority and charismatic leadership in the context of her research on New and ‘New’ New religions in contemporary Japan.

About this episode

Given its contextual and perspectival malleability, the notion of ‘authority’, and even more so of ‘religious authority’, is challenging to define and to study. In October 2014, a number of scholars working on both ‘traditional’ and new modes of authority gathered for the Religious Authority in Asia: Problems and Strategies of Recognition workshop, which was funded by the Dr Erica Baffelli who in today’s interview with Paulina Kolata discusses the notion of authority and charismatic leadership in the context of her research on New and ‘New’ New religions in contemporary Japan. It seems that the most problematic issue in discussions on authority in the Japanese religious context and beyond is the very recognition and identification of its existence and its impact on communities at trans-national, national and local levels. The assertion of authority can be perceived through the prism of the scholarly discourse on religions, relationships between religious specialists and their supporting communities, and the state-religion interface. There are two watershed dates – 1946 and 1995 – and the events associated with them can be considered as crucial in shaping the socio-economic and political conditions of the religious power struggle in Japanese society in post-war Japan. The first date is linked to the promulgation of the new post-war constitution which sanctioned freedom of religious belief, and separated religion and the state.  The second marks the date of an act of domestic terrorism – the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway – perpetrated by members of new religious group Aum Shinrikyō led by a charismatic figure of Asahara Shōkō. Listen to Erica Baffelli talk charisma, leadership and the media in assertion of religious authority in the context of New Religions in Japan. Listeners might also be interested in our previous interview with Pauline Hope Cheong on Religious Authority and Social Media. You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost buying books, pet food, socks, digital radios, action figures, and more.

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Since the 1980s, social and economic pressures to stay within mainstream society have become more prominent, and spiritually minded individuals often seek more limited, loosely bonded participation in New Age-style modes of thought. The question of charismatic and spiritual authority has become ever more relevant in present day Japan, which is an exceedingly “non-religious but spiritual” nation.

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