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Research projects

The Archaeology of Ritual and Religion

Inspired by the exceptional Japanese religious art works in the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia, we have developed a number of initiatives in the area of the archaeology of religion and ritual. One highlight was a special conference at the Society of Antiquaries of London with archaeologists from Kokugakuin University, Tokyo, one of our main research partners, followed up with workshops organised with the European Centre for Japanese Studies in Alsace (CEEJA) and at Tubingen University. We worked closely with the Fukuoka Prefecture World Heritage Promotion Division on the bid to have the sacred island of Okinoshima and the associated sites of the Munakata region inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We are currently developing a new project with the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts investigating the adoption of Buddhism in Korea and Japan in comparison with the conversion to Christianity around the North Sea in the later first millennium, entitled Nara to Norwich: art and belief at the ends of the Silk Roads, AD 500 – 1000.

The archaeology of ritual and religion in Japan is a rich and fascinating field of study. The remains left behind by of prehistoric ritual practices include stone circles from the Jomon period and some of the largest burial monuments of the ancient world.

Our earlier collaboration with Jomon scholars is now forming the foundation for a new project with Stonehenge, with an exhibition planned to open in autumn 2021 on ‘Stonehenge and Jomon Japan’.

Our earlier collaborations in this area included with Kokugakuin University in Tokyo, which has long been at the forefront of the study of the archaeology of ritual and religion in Japan, producing scholars such as Oba Iwao whose work on Shinto archaeology was monumental in its own right. Since 2007 the Sainsbury Institute has collaborated with the Open Research Centre for the Study of Traditional Culture at Kokugakuin on a major project on the archaeology of religion and ritual. As part of this project, two symposia were held at which members of the project presented their research. The first was held at the Society of Antiquaries of London in November 2009, in conjunction with the Sainsbury Institute’s dogu project. The second was held in December 2011 at the European Centre for Japanese Studies in Alsace. The Open Research Centre project at Kokugakuin formally came to an end in March 2012.

Programme for Ritual Archaeology Workshop in Alsace: