Fragile families : kinship and contention in a community temple
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Drawing on fieldwork conducted in Ishimura, a small town in Japan’s rural northeastern Iwate Prefecture during the summer of 2012, this thesis pursues two objectives. (1) Building on observations found in recent Western scholarship on the nature of Japanese religious institutions (Covell 2005, Rowe 2011), this thesis contends that Japanese Buddhist temples operating in close-knit rural communities are, in addition to religious and social spaces, inherently domestic spaces characterized by familial networks that link the temple to the parish through real and imagined kinship relations. Family networks also define the internal structuring of temple leadership, consisting of actual nuclear or multigenerational families that live and work at the heart of a community temple. Importantly, these temple families directly influence the community perception of the temple as a religious and social institution. In short, this thesis contends that family defines and families represent community temples. This thesis demonstrates the domestic and familial characteristics of community temples by examining the families at the center of Ishimura’s three Buddhist institutions, Kamidera, Shimodera, and Nakadera. (2) This thesis then turns to explore the contentious nature of community temples as domestic spaces. Specifically, this thesis contends that the familial dynamics that define temple leadership carry potentially “disruptive, disintegrative, and psychologically disturbing” ramifications for temple leadership and parish families. Drawing on the case of Tatsu, the troubled and troublesome vice priest of Nakadera, this thesis seeks to understand how the failed succession of a head priest can generate dysfunction across the broader familial networks that constitute a community temple. The case of Tatsu and Nakadera ultimately illuminates the vulnerabilities inherent to community temples as family-mediated, domestic institutions.