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2022/23 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

EAST3355 Death and Religion in Japan

20 creditsClass Size: 25

Module manager: Jieun Kim

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

Module replaces

EAST3702 Religion in Japan

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

This module explores how death opens up an arena where critical religious, ethical and social questions are raised and debated in Japan. Drawing on ethnographic and historical accounts, we learn how the uncertainties of death and the afterlife have been handled by various religious traditions and ritual practices in Japan. Special attention is paid to the ways in which particular forms of death, such as suicides, martyrdom, abortions, war deaths and street deaths, have been problematised or glorified by religious beliefs. The module then moves on to consider how religious organisations today cope with the diversifying demand for alternative funerals and burials to secure ‘good death’ in the context of super-ageing, globalisation and digitalisation. This exploration will lead us to critically reflect on how religious attitudes surrounding death and the afterlife betray concerns over social and cosmological orders and varying intentions to (re)settle them.


This module aims at understanding how death and the afterlife have been construed and handled by various religions and rituals in Japan through reading ethnographic and historical accounts. Introducing anthropological concepts to analyse religious rituals and beliefs concerning death and the afterlife, this module is designed to foster critical awareness of the role of religion in addressing concerns over the uncertainties caused by death.

Learning outcomes
1. identifing the key historical events, state policies, social changes and religious organisations and beliefs related to rituals and practices concerning death and the afterlife in Japan.

2. applying anthropological concepts to analyse religious rituals and beliefs concerning death and the afterlife.


This module covers a range of topics including conceptions of death and the afterlife, taboos related to death and blood, spiritual concerns over death and dying, religious practices of voluntary death and sacrifice, controversies over commemorating the dead, the changing roles of religious organisations and beliefs in death rites in Japan.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours180.00
Total Contact hours20.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

1. Background reading and preparation for seminars (5 hours per taught week, 50 hours)
2. Research and writing for the final essay (100 hours)
3. Preparation for seminar presentation (30 hours)

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Progress is monitored through performance in seminars. Once the essay assignment is set in week 4, students will also prepare an unassessed detailed outline (1 page) due in week 7. Feedback from this will help students work on the final essay.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay or Dissertation3,000 words70.00
PresentationDigital Presentation30.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 29/04/2022 15:23:31


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