Tenri University Professor Presents Paper on Tenrikyo at International Conference

Professor Masanobu Yamada, 50, associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Tenri University and a minister (kyoto) belonging to Heishin Grand Church, delivered a presentation on the present situation of Tenrikyo in Brazil at the 30th Conference of International Society for the Sociology of Religion―held at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain from July 27 through 31. This academic society seeks to promote research on various religions in the world from sociological perspectives. In the first ever presentation on Tenrikyo at this society’s conference, Professor Yamada gave a detailed explanation of the meaning of “returning to Jiba.”

Santiago de Compostela is located in Galicia in northwest Spain and is known as one of the three major Roman Catholic pilgrimage sites. Ever since it was designated as one of the World Heritage Sites in 1985, Santiago de Compostela, famous for its cathedral, has attracted not only Christian pilgrims but also great numbers of tourists. Attending the international conference were more than 700 scholars of religion from all over the world. Under the theme “The Challenges of Religious Pluralism,” the conference included about 180 working sessions. “I decided to attend this conference in the spirit of kamina-nagashi (spreading the name of God the Parent) in order to spread the name of Tenrikyo to researchers overseas,” comments Professor Yamada.

It was in the session entitled “The Impact of Increased Religious Pluralism on the Secularization Process” that Professor Yamada gave his presentation on “Tenrikyo in Brazil from a Perspective of Globalization” in front of some 30 researchers. Professor Yamada first explained the meaning of “returning to Jiba” based on the concept of pilgrimage: “At Tenrikyo Church Headquarters, located in Tenri, Nara Prefecture, Japan, there is a place called ‘Jiba.’ It is seen in Tenrikyo as the place where God the Parent, the parent of all human beings, created humankind and which is thus considered as the home of all human beings. When Tenrikyo followers go to Jiba, they say they ‘return to Jiba.’ The followers return to Jiba in order to express their gratitude for being kept alive and well every day as well as to pray for the realization of the ‘Joyous Life,’ the world in which peace prevails.” Professor Yamada then shifted the focus to Brazil and described with concrete examples how Brazilians came to accept Tenrikyo and became followers. “There were many interesting cases,” said Professor Yamada. “In the beginning, these Brazilian followers had considered the faith in Tenrikyo as the ‘most spiritually mature’ stage in the religious values they had before becoming Tenrikyo followers. Many of these new followers eventually came to see Tenrikyo as the ‘true religion’ and began to passionately pursue their faith.”

After giving his paper, Professor Yamada went on to present a slideshow displaying scenes from the “Children’s Pilgrimage to Jiba.” “An event called the ‘Children’s Pilgrimage to Jiba’ is now being held at Church Headquarters,” said Professor Yamada. “Children from all over the world join this event, yearning for God the Parent and Oyasama, the foundress of the religion.” In a Q-and-A session that followed, a variety of questions were raised from the floor, including: “What is the proportion of non-Japanese followers in Tenrikyo in Brazil?” and “How do non-Japanese Brazilian Tenrikyo followers understand their conversion?” At the end of the session, three other presenters and Professor Yamada sat at the head table for an overall Q-and-A session. Projected behind the four researchers was a picture from the slideshow, displaying a scene of the Home of the Parent crowded with people during the Children’s Pilgrimage to Jiba.

Later, in expressing his feelings about the experience, Professor Yamada remarked: “I came to have a dream of going on an overseas mission when I was in high school and then learned Spanish at Tenri University. Now researchers from all over the world had a discussion against the backdrop of the picture of the Children’s Pilgrimage to Jiba here in Spain, which is well known for Christian pilgrimage sites and which has had a huge influence on the rest of the Spanish-speaking world―the focus of my missionary enthusiasm. I feel really delighted as a follower of Tenrikyo.”

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