Christopher Mayo

Professor in Communication, Kōgakkan University (Japan)
Faculty Adviser: Martin Collcutt

Mobilizing Deities: Deus, Gods, Buddhas, and the Warrior Band in Sixteenth-Century Japan


This dissertation examines religion and warrior culture during Japan's sixteenth century. It views the period from the perspective of the Otomo warrior band, which provides an ideal case study, because its members supported not only cultic sites established for the veneration of traditional gods (kami) and buddhas (hotoke), but also ones for the Christian God (Deus) as well. It demonstrates how the incorporation of Christianity's innovative and disruptive elements into the military organization affected Japan's encounter with Europeans and Christianity. In particular, it connects the initial acceptance and eventual rejection of missionary efforts to issues of religious practice. The career of Otomo Sorin (1530-1587) illustrates the potential for change that Christianity brought to Japan after it was introduced in 1549. The leader of the Otomo warrior band first embraced Buddhism as a lay monk in 1562, and then was baptized as a Catholic in 1578, before finally experiencing a postmortem reversion back to Buddhism at the hands of his son in 1587. On the one hand, he represents the religious stance of a typical military leader; during most of his life he patronized multiple temples and shrines in order to align himself strategically with important religious and political centers, while also seeking to mobilize the deities housed at these sites to support him. On the other hand, he was a visionary; in the last decade of his life he retired and attempted to establish a Christian kingdom in Japan that would operate according to Western customs without the assistance of gods and buddhas. Previous research on Japan's sixteenth century has focused on the commercial interests of Christian lords like him in order to account for the initial appeal of the foreign faith. It has also emphasized the ideological fears that authoritarian warlords had of organized religion in order to explain their later rejection of it. Yet, scholarship thus far has had little to say about religious practice. Through an exploration of conditions in the Otomo warrior band, this dissertation exposes some of the relatively unexplored religious fault lines that could disrupt military organizations.