Medicating the Gods: Kokugaku, Nature, and the Body in Mid-Eighteenth Century Japan

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This dissertation examines the relation between scholars of kokugaku (often translated as "nativism") and the rise of empirical rationalism as a paradigm for knowledge in Mid-Eighteenth Edo Japan. In particular, I trace the shifts in the ways language, the human body, and nature came to be intertwined in a complex network of relations that redefined the way knowledge came to be produced. By emphasizing the crucial relation between kokugaku and empirico-practical fields, such as the medical-pharmacological rise of honzōgaku (ch. bencaoxue) in the 1700s, I seek to show how anatomy and nature came to be central in the ways kokugaku scholars imagined the role of people in the world. Mindful of the immense changes occurring in Eighteenth Century Edo intellectual landscape, I argue that it is impossible to account for the rise of kokugaku without taking into consideration the shifts in social perception of the role of nature. Instead of anchoring kokugaku within the teleological paradigm of incipient nationalism – a relation foregrounded since the Meiji period, and later championed by philosophers in the decades of Japanese empire – my dissertation shows how the excess of nature, as a repository of conceptual and practical knowledge about the world, often guided these scholars’ philological archaeology of the "pristine" relation between language and the body.

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Asian history; Early Modern Japan; Early Modern Japanese Medical History; Kokugaku; Tokugawa Intellectual History; Wabun; Asian studies; Nature; Asian literature


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Union Local


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Committee Chair

de Bary, Brett

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Committee Member

Sakai, Naoki
Hirano, Katsuya
Monroe, Jonathan Beck
Bachner, Andrea S.

Degree Discipline

Asian Literature, Religion, and Culture

Degree Name

Ph. D., Asian Literature, Religion, and Culture

Degree Level

Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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