Thematic Programs

Workshop 1: Natural Disaster and Religion/Mythology


Natural disasters such as earthquake, flood, drought or eruption have been a great threat to the existence of the human beings since beginning. Different measures have been resorted to in time of need including engagements of religious practitioners. In Indonesia as well as in Japan, religious belief has played a significant role after the devastating flood in 2004 and 2011 respectively. The memory of terrible events has been handed down often in form of mythological narratives, thus reminding people of possible preparations and managements. Such was the case in ancient civilizations including China, Mesopotamia, India, Greece, in nonliterate cultures in Siberia, Oceania, Africa, and in contemporary societies like Japan. At least two local legends from Tohoku District recorded in the 20th century have precisely warned against a potential flood and instructed where to find a safe shelter. This local and indigenous knowledge is now being reevaluated from modern scientific methodologies and insights, as potential treasure mine for future policies on environmental management. On this background, this workshop focuses on 1) how religions have coped with natural disasters in terms of belief and practice, 2) how catastrophes have been described in oral narratives as well as in literary sources, 3) how this traditional knowledge can be estimated from modern scientific perspective, and finally 4) what lessons can be drawn from these insights for future environment management.

Date and Time

June 5, 2018 13:00 – 18:00


TOKYO ELECTRON House of Creativity 3F, Lecture Theater, Katahira Campus, Tohoku University [Access]


Lihui Yang(Beijing Normal University)
Michael Witzel (Harvard University)
Yuri Berezkin (European University at Saint Petersburg)
Marcin Lisiecki (Nicolaus Copernicus University)
Deming An (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)
Akira Goto(Nanzan University)
Kazuo Matsumura (Wako University)
Masataka Ando (Shizuoka University)

Time Schedule  [Jun. 14, 2018 Updated]

Opening remark
13:15 – 13:35
Michael Witzel (Harvard University)
Versions of the Flood Myth
13:35 – 13:55
Yuri Berezkin (European University)
The A.D. 536 Event and the Folklore/mythological Links between Fennoscandia and the Caucasus
13:55 – 14:20
14:20 – 15:20
Keynote speech: Lihui Yang (Beijing Normal University)
Destructions and Reconstructions of the World: Natural Disasters in Chinese Mythology
15:20 – 15:40
Akira Goto (Nanzan University)
Tsunami, Volcano and Ominous Star: Mythicizations of Disaster in Hawaiʻi (Polynesia) and Japanese Archipelago
15:40 – 16:00
Marcin Lisiecki (Nicolaus Copernicus University)
Water, Wind and Earth. Motives of Natural Disaster in Folk Tales in Poland
16:00 – 16:20
Kazuo Matsumura (Wako University)
Natural Disasters and Indo–European Mythology
16:20 – 16:40
Deming An (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)
Interpreting and Approaching the Disaster with Symbolization: Belief and Ritual Practice of Praying for Rain in Villages at Tianshui, Northwest China
16:40 – 17:00
17:00 – 17:20
Masataka Ando (Shizuoka University)
Can Myths Tell Us about Past Earthquakes and Tsunamis?
17:20 – 17:40
Comments by Hitoshi Yamada (Tohoku University)
17:40 – 18:00
General discussion

Abstract  [Apr. 9, 2019 Updated]

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Hitoshi Yamada (Tohoku University)
Toshiaki Kimura (Tohoku University)

Contact  [May 15, 2018 Updated]

Department of Religious Studies,
Graduate School of Arts and Letters, Tohoku University
TEL: +81–22–795–6022


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