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History The Gates of Power: Monks, Courtiers, and Warriors in Premodern Japan

The Gates of Power: Monks, Courtiers, and Warriors in Premodern Japan

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The political influence of temples in premodern Japan, most clearly manifested in divine demonstrations - where rowdy monks and shrine servants brought holy symbols to the capital to exert pressure on courtiers - has traditionally been condemned and is poorly understood. In an impressive examination of this intriguing aspect of medieval Japan, the author employs a wide range of previously neglected sources to argue that religious protest was a symptom of political factionalism in the capital rather than its cause. It is his contention that religious violence can be traced primarily to attempts by secular leaders to rearrange religious and political hierarchies to their own advantage, thereby leaving disfavored religious institutions to fend for their accustomed rights and status. In this context, divine demonstrations became the preferred negotiating tool for monastic complexes. For almost three centuries, such strategies allowed a handful of elite temples to maintain enough of an equilibrium to sustain and defend the old style of rulership even against the efforts of the Ashikaga Shogunate in the mid-fourteenth century.

By acknowledging temples and monks as legitimate co-rulers, The Gates of Power provides a new synthesis of Japanese rulership from the late Heian (794–1185) to the early Muromachi (1336–1573) eras, offering a unique and comprehensive analysis that brings together the spheres of art, religion, ideas, and politics in medieval Japan.

About the author:


Mikael S. Adolphson (born March 10, 1961) is a Swedish historian of medieval Japan. Adolphson is the Keidanren Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Cambridge's Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies and a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. Adolphson's first academic appointment was at the University of Oklahoma from 1995 to 1999, and then Harvard University, where he was assistant and associate professor of Japanese History. In 2008 he joined the faculty at the University of Alberta as Professor of Japanese Cultural Studies and served as chair of the Department of East Asian Studies and associate dean in the Faculty of Arts. As associate dean, he founded the first pedagogical research unit for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, named the Arts Pedagogy Research and Innovation Laboratory, where one of his project-based courses is featured. Adolphson has been Keidanren Professor of Japanese Studies at Cambridge since January 2016; the post was held previously by Richard Bowring and Peter Kornicki. During his inaugural lecture at Cambridge in October 2016, Adolphson announced the launching of a new vision for Japanese Studies at Cambridge, entitled Japan and the World.

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Mikael S. Adolphson
University of Hawaii Press
Year of publication
August 2000
Number of pages
32.00 USD

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