Religion overcoming religions

Suffering, secularism, and the training of interfaith chaplains in Japan

by MICHAEL BERMAN

Read Article

Interfaith chaplains responded to the suffering caused by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan by providing “care for the heart” in municipal funeral halls, temporary housing units, and hospitals. To gain access to those government‐run spaces, however, chaplains had to suppress outward signs of their particular religious traditions, including prayers and Buddhist robes. They were neither remunerated for their labor nor allowed to proselytize. Gathering around suffering, suppressing religious differences to recognize suffering, and sharing suffering led chaplains to create a form of religion that they called “religion overcoming religions.” Ironically, this form of public religion exhausted the particular religions that formerly sustained their compassionate work, thus reproducing the alienation that their engagement with suffering is meant to overcome.