Levi McLaughlin


Levi McLaughlin



Download Full Text (2.1 MB)


Soka Gakkai is Japan’s largest and most influential new religious organization: It claims more than 8 million Japanese households and close to 2 million members in 192 countries and territories. The religion is best known for its affiliated political party, Komeito (the Clean Government Party), which comprises part of the ruling coalition in Japan’s National Diet, and it exerts considerable influence in education, media, finance, and other key areas.

Levi McLaughlin’s comprehensive account of Soka Gakkai draws on nearly two decades of archival research and non-member fieldwork to account for its institutional development beyond Buddhism and suggest how we should understand the activities and dispositions of its adherents. McLaughlin explores the group’s Nichiren Buddhist origins and turns to insights from religion, political science, anthropology, and cultural studies to characterize Soka Gakkai as mimetic of the nation-state. Ethnographic vignettes combine with historical evidence to demonstrate ways Soka Gakkai’s twin Buddhist and modern humanist legacies inform the organization’s mimesis of the modern Japan in which the group took shape. To make this argument, McLaughlin analyzes Gakkai sources heretofore untreated in English-language scholarship; provides a close reading of the serial novel The Human Revolution, which serves the Gakkai as both history and de facto scripture; identifies ways episodes from members’ lives form new chapters in its growing canon; and contributes to discussions of religion and gender as he chronicles the lives of members who simultaneously reaffirm generational transmission of Gakkai devotion as they pose challenges for the organization’s future.

Readers looking for analyses of the nation-state and strategies for understanding New Religions and modern Buddhism will find Soka Gakkai’s Human Revolution to be an especially thought-provoking study that offers widely applicable theoretical models.



Publication Date

Fall 12-31-2018


University of Hawaiʻi Press




Asia, Japan, history, religion, Buddhism, anthropology, cultural anthropology, social anthropology, social science


Asian History | Buddhist Studies | Religion | Social and Cultural Anthropology


  • "Based on years of fieldwork study, this engaging and acutely perceptive study introduces the idea of ‘mimetic nation’ to analyze Soka Gakkai’s internal structure, its motivational system, and its aspirations. McLaughlin’s extensive ties among the membership bring to life the spectrum of beliefs, practices, and attitudes to the organization, so that the reader can understand how and why Soka Gakkai has become a major force in Japanese society and politics. Highly recommended!"
    —Helen Hardacre, Harvard University
  • "McLaughlin draws on two decades of intimate friendships with Soka Gakkai members to present a penetrating scholarly picture of the largest of Japan’s modern religions. McLaughlin never became a member, but he read the Nichiren texts in the original, passed the introductory doctrinal exam, played violin in the orchestra, and became friends with many of the 200 members he interviewed throughout Japan. He provides a fresh framework for viewing the Soka Gakkai as an organization that imitates the nation-state."
    —Ezra Vogel, professor emeritus, Harvard University
  • "This book is well-sourced, well-organized, and well-written. McLaughlin has been immersed in the Soka Gakkai for many years, and his data base is rich not only documentarily, but also ethnographically, with dozens and dozens of illuminating statements by and personal experiences with members of the Gakkai. His thesis, that understanding the Gakkai requires recognition of its recapitulation of many of the institutional and symbolic features of the modern Japanese nation-state, is clearly and persuasively argued. It is the most well-rounded and comprehensive analysis of the growth and continuing strength of—and potential future challenges facing—the Soka Gakkai available today."
    —James White, professor emeritus, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Soka Gakkai’s Human Revolution: The Rise of a Mimetic Nation in Modern Japan