Similarities and Differences Regarding Religious Beliefs: Medieval Europe and the Shogunate Japan

Medieval Europe and the Shogunate Japan have both similarities and differences regarding Religious beliefs and practices. Today I am going to compare and contrast these significant times so you can better understand why these similarities and differences existed.

First of all was religion even important?

Religion played a major role in Medieval Europe as churches influenced many aspects in the lives of people. We see that the church greatly influenced the lives of individuals as rituals marked important moments (such as marriage, baptism, confirmation, etc.) and teachings underpinned mainstream beliefs (like the meaning of life and life after death.)

What life was like in the age of chivalry is a book containing primary sources and useful information that also contribute to the significance of religion in Medieval Europe. “Here is hell and the angel who closes the gate” is a 12th-century painting that visually represents the underworld as a monster that will devour the souls of the damned. The painting uses dark red tones and excretes detail to exploit this idea, this source is relevant as it constructs the idea that hell is a place we definitely don't want to be. Therefore, the people were instructed to give and stay close to the church and its teachings to receive eternal salvation and escape the terror of hell.

The main church that most people belonged to was the Roman Catholic Church (a form of Christianity). Due to the cultural diversity in Europe during this period other religions were also practiced such as Islam, Judaism, Paganism, and monistic life.

Much like Medieval Europe religion was very significant and played a huge role in aspects of the Japanese culture and life. As we can see over time it has helped to shape the social & political structures and Japanese festivals and celebrations were also mostly based on religion were practiced. On New Year’s Day, many people would visit Buddhist temples or Shinto shrines to pray for good fortune in the upcoming year. Some examples would include the Tea ceremony: where Buddhist monks would drink tea from a single bronze bowl in front of their founder in an act of worship. Or the star festival where people would write their wishes on colorful pieces of paper called tanzaku, to celebrate the meeting of the deities.

At this point in time, Japan had two main religions that the majority of Japanese residents would consider themselves to be, Buddhist which was imported from the mainland during the 6th century or Shintoism, which is as old as the Japanese culture. Shinto believed that they had to live in harmony with their environment and needed to be cleansed of any belonging impurities such as illness. Whilst Buddhism believes in reincarnation.

To conclude my comparison, it is very clear that many similarities and differences existed after contrasting both of these periods.

The obvious similarities existed as we can see during both of these times the importance of religion is both just as equal and that almost everybody belonged to a church or could associate themselves with a religion. We can also see that the significance of religion in the everyday lives of both societies is very similar as religion-based rituals/festivals were both practiced.

However, there is a fine line between the beliefs of Christianity vs Buddhism and or Shintoism. In fact, they are completely different. As mentioned earlier, Buddhism and Shintoism both did not believe in an afterlife with God. Whereas Christianity we believe in one God and that after a death we will go to heaven and be at peace with our heavenly father.

With limited access to other societies, it was very hard to communicate. Until missionaries managed to spread Christianity across the world. In the 16th century, a missionary from Spain introduced Christianity to Japan. However, the Japanese government did not like this and decided to prosecute all missionaries leading to the death of the 26 Martyrs. Perhaps this is why the differences existed. With only limited access and knowledge about the Christian faith, how are supposed to believe?

To conclude,

We have understood the important relevance religion had during the shogunate Japan and Medieval Europe periods. We have investigated the similarities and differences between the two. And finally, we've discovered why these have or may have existed.

07 July 2022
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