Religion and Nothingness

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Religion and Nothingness
Religion and Nothingness.jpg
Cover of the English translation
Author Keiji Nishitani
Original title 宗教とは何か (Shūkyō to wa Nanika), "What is religion?"
Translator Jan Van Bragt
Country Japan
Language Japanese
Subject Nihilism
  • 1961 (in Japanese)
  • 1982 (in English)
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 366 (English translation)
ISBN 978-0520049468

Religion and Nothingness (Japanese: Shūkyō to wa Nanika; the original title translates literally as "What is Religion?") is a 1961 book by the Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani, in which the author discusses nihilism.[1] The book was published in English translation in 1982, and received positive reviews, commending Nishitani for his understanding of both western and eastern philosophy. The appearance of the English translation increased interest in Nishitani's ideas among philosophers.


Nishitani relates nihilism to what he sees as the problematic nature of modern science. For Nishitani, science as understood in the age of modernity involves an objectification of both the natural world and human subject, leading to depersonalization of both. This leads to an acute sense of alienation and derootedness in human consciousness, features of the nihil that cuts through human existence. The almost worship-like attitude with which science is regarded, a corollary to atheism, further aggravates the issue.[1]

Nishitani believes that the attitude of scientism is based on the classic but faulty epistemology that separates subject and object and tends to create the illusion of the subject as an independent entity separate from the rest of the world: this creates the rift in human consciousness that lies at the root of the nihilism confronting modern humanity.[1]



Religion and Nothingness first appeared in English translation in 1982, generating increasing interest in Nishitani's ideas among philosophers, theologians, and religious scholars.[1]

Mainstream media[edit]

The book received positive reviews from Donald L. Smith in Library Journal,[2] and J. N. Gray in The Times Literary Supplement.[3] Smith wrote that Nishitani "presents a subtle philosophical analysis of reality and a lively argument for resolving problems of being in terms of certain metaphysical principles of Zen Buddhism." Smith called the book "profound yet clearly written", and credited Nishitani with "erudite wisdom and understanding of both Eastern and Western philosophical traditions."[2] Gray wrote that Nishitani "achieves a remarkable cross-fertilization of the most profound and radical elements in Eastern and Western philosophy and spiritual experience", and that the book "will have the utmost value for all those who see in contemporary Western philosophy the unresolved issue of nihilism, and who are prepared to entertain the supposition that thought emerging from a tradition in which the experience of Nothingness was not threatening, and rather a benediction, may have something to teach us."[3]

Academic journals[edit]

The book was reviewed by Philip Blosser in Research in Phenomenology,[4] the theologian Thomas J. J. Altizer in Journal of the American Academy of Religion,[5] the Buddhist studies scholar Bernard Faure in The Journal of Asian Studies,[6] Thomas P. Kasulis in The Journal of Religion,[7] and Richard H. Drummond in Journal of Ecumenical Studies.[8] James L. Fredericks wrote in The Journal of Religion that Religion and Nothingness appeals to "a broad theologically or philosophically oriented readership."[9]

Evaluations in books[edit]

Graham Parkes called Religion and Nothingness Nishitani's masterwork, writing that in it Nishitani achieved a philosophical synthesis that matches the achievements of the philosophers Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Martin Heidegger in depth of insight.[10]



  1. ^ a b c d Habito 1995. p. 396.
  2. ^ a b Smith 1983. p. 133.
  3. ^ a b Gray 1983. p. 1023.
  4. ^ Blosser 1984. pp. 281-288.
  5. ^ Altizer 1984. pp. 198-199.
  6. ^ Faure 1985. pp. 402-404.
  7. ^ Kasulis 1985. pp. 436-438.
  8. ^ Drummond 1985. pp. 131-135.
  9. ^ Fredericks 1993. p. 141.
  10. ^ Parkes 2005. p. 660.


  • Habito, Ruben L. F. (1995). McGreal, Ian P., ed. Great Thinkers of the Eastern World. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers. ISBN 0-06-270085-5. 
  • Parkes, Graham (2005). Honderich, Ted, ed. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-926479-1. 
  • Altizer, Thomas J. J. (1984). "Religion and nothingness (Book Review)". Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 52 (March 1984).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Blosser, Philip (1984). "Religion and nothingness (Book Review)". Research in Phenomenology. 14.   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Drummond, Richard H. (1985). "Religion and nothingness (Book Review)". Journal of Ecumenical Studies. 22 (Winter 1985).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Faure, Bernard (1985). "Religion and nothingness (Book Review)". Journal of Asian Studies. 44 (February 1985). doi:10.2307/2055957.   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Fredericks, James L. (1993). "Nishida Kitar̄o (Book Review)". Journal of Religion. 73 (January 1993). doi:10.1086/489103.   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Gray, J. N. (1983). "The value of emptiness". The Times Literary Supplement (4199).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Kasulis, Thomas P. (1985). "Religion and nothingness (Book Review)". Journal of Religion. 65 (July 1985). doi:10.1086/487281.   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Smith, Donald L. (1983). "Religion and nothingness (Book Review)". Library Journal. 108.   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)