Date of Award

8-2015

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department

Comparative Religion

First Advisor

Dr. Stephen Covell

Second Advisor

Dr. LouAnn Wurst

Third Advisor

Dr. Brian C. Wilson

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access

Abstract

This thesis offers an examination of modern Japanese amulets, called omamori, distributed by Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines throughout Japan. As amulets, these objects are meant to be carried by a person at all times in which they wish to receive the benefits that an omamori is said to offer. In modern times, in addition to being a religious object, these amulets have become accessories for cell-phones, bags, purses, and automobiles. Said to protect people from accidents, disease, loneliness, failure, computer viruses, among many other things, these objects are one of the few material aspects of religion that are a component of everyday life in contemporary Japan.

Acting as both accessory and amulet, omamori offer a clear representation of the power of the public to dramatically alter an established religious object, as well as the religious institutions` ability to re-appropriate such alterations for their own benefit. Through a discussion of the ways that aesthetics from popular culture have been incorporated into omamori designs and advertisements, alongside more “traditional” elements, subjects, and motifs, I will show how these institutions are creating economically viable religious objects which are as appealing to the general public as possible, while still being identifiable as boundaries of sacred space. An analysis of the relationship between Japanese society, religion, and modernization through the lens of a practical and material object like omamori offers new ways of understanding how religion maintains relevance in a modern and scientific world and how an object can serve as a manipulable bridge between these groups.

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