Horii, Mitsutoshi

I am an Associate Professor of Shumei University in Japan, and working at its overseas institution, Chaucer College Canterbury in the UK.

I completed my Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Kent in 2006. My study focused on Buddhist priests and temples in contemporary Japan, attempting to highlight their struggles to socially categorise and define themselves as ‘religious’. Whilst developing this study further (Horii 2006; 2012b), I began to feel increasingly restricted, within the existing discourse in sociology, to articulate effectively priests’ and temples’ discursive struggles over their social recognitions and self-identities as ‘religious’. This is partly due to the fact that existing sociological discourses on ‘religion’ give an independent ontology to the concept, as if it pre-exists as a universal aspect of human lives, whereas what I was trying to analyse were interests and desires of those who were actually using the term in particular ways, by treating ‘religion’ as an essentially empty signifier, whose contents and conceptual boundaries are always changing according to norms and the social context of its usage. This remains an on-going project.

I have also undertaken some studies in other areas of sociology – namely, sociology of risk and uncertainties. In this field I have published three articles (Horii 2014; Horii and Burgess 2012; Burgess and Horii 2012) as well as three books in Japanese, which discuss the issues in contemporary Japanese society such as women-only train carriages (Horii 2009), social anxieties over low fertility rates (Horii 2011), and surgical mask-wearing in public (Horii 2012a). This has brought me to the sociological issues of the (un)known, trust, representation, and meaning over existential problems, resilience and vulnerability in human lives. In the sociological discourse of risk and uncertainty, again, the religion-secular distinction often appears, and I found it very confusing, if not useless. This has led to my interest in the critical examination of the religion-secular distinction in sociological theories and the ‘secular’ self-identity of sociology.

Currently I am interested in critical examinations of the following issues:

  • Formation of the religion-secular distinction in Japan in the mid-nineteenth century, and its relation to the US international diplomacy.
  • The religion-secular distinction in contemporary Japan from 1945 to the present, at different levels from constitutional debates to everyday conversations.
  • The concept of religion in Sociology of Religion – focusing upon differences in the conceptualisation of religion between observers (i.e. sociologists) and subjects (ostensibly ‘religious’ people and institutions, who do not necessarily define themselves as ‘religious’)
  • The religion-secular distinction in (both classical and contemporary) sociological theories, including Marx, Weber, Durkheim, and the like – origins and consequences of their categorisation.
  • ‘Religion’ and ‘the secular’ in sociological discourse of risk and uncertainty.
  • The historical relation between 1) the formation of the religion-secular distinction, 2) the development of nation-states, 3) the emergence of probabilistic/statistical thinking (‘risk’), and 4) the emergence of social sciences in modern Europe.

Publications on ‘Critical Religion’:

  • Horii, Mitsutoshi. Forthcoming. Critical Reflections on the Religious-Secular Dichotomy in Japan, Chapter 10 in Making Religion, edited by Kocku von Stuckrad and Frans Wijsen. Netherlands: Brill.
  • Horii, Mitsutoshi. 2015. Critical Reflections on the Category of Religion in Contemporary Sociological Discourse. Nordic Journal of Religion and Society 28(1): 21-36.

Other Selected Publications:


  • Horii, Mitsutoshi. 2014. Why do the Japanese Wear Masks? Electronic Journal of Japanese Studies, article 8 in 2014: http://www.japanesestudies.org.uk/ejcjs/vol14/iss2/horii.html
  • Horii, Mitsutoshi. 2012b. Deprofessionalisation of Buddhist Priests in Contemporary Japan. In Timothy Iles and Peter Matanle eds. Researching Twenty-first Century Japan: New Directions and Approaches for the Electronic Age. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
  • Horii, Mitsutoshi and Adam Burgess. 2012. Constructing sexual risk: ‘Chikan’, collapsing male authority and the emergence of women-only train carriages in Japan, Health, Risk & Society 14(1): 41–55.
  • Burgess, Adam and Mitsutoshi Horii. 2012. Risk, ritual and health responsibilisation: Japan’s ‘safety blanket’ of surgical face mask-wearing, Sociology of Health and Illness 38(8): 1184-1198.
  • Horii, Mitsutoshi. 2006. Deprofessionalisation of Buddhist priests: a socio-industrial study of a religious profession. Electronic Journal of Japanese Studies, article 2 in 2006: http://www.japanesestudies.org.uk/articles/2006/Horii.html


  • Horii, Mitsutoshi. 2012a. Masuku to nihonjin マスクと日本人 [Trans: Masks and the Japanese]. Tokoto: SHI.
  • Horii, Mitsutoshi. 2011. Shoshika wa risuku ka 「少子化」はリスクか [Trans: Is a Low Fertility Rate a Risk?]. Tokyo: SHI.
  • Horii, Mitsutoshi. 2009. Joseisenyosharyo no shakaigaku 女性専用車両の社会学 [Trans: A Sociology of Women-only Train Carriages]. Tokyo: SHI.