Religion and Risk: Pana-Wave Laboratory and the Risk Society

Friday, July 18, 2014: 9:15 AM
Room: Booth 52
Oral Presentation
Salvador MURGUIA , Miyazaki International College, Japan

This paper documents the rise and fall of a Japanese new religious movement known as the Pana-Wave Laboratory. Founded in 1977 by Chino Yūko, the Pana-Wave Laboratory was an eclectic form of spiritualism that adopted doctrines from the several religious traditions, as well as a host of pseudo-scientific conjectures about physics, environmental warfare and space exploration. 

Led by the aging Chino, a reclusive woman that rarely left the confines of her Toyota van, the Pana-Wave Laboratory established a compound for its religious and scientific practices atop Gotaishi Mountains in central Japan. Believing to have the ability to channel celestial figures and a special knowledge of a communist conspiracy to have her assassinated through electromagnetic weaponry, Chino depended entirely upon the assistance of some forty members of the Pana-Wave Laboratory for her survival. 

Through their view of the scientific process, Pana-Wave Laboratory members adopted images of themselves as “scientists,” taking on actual roles that contributed to their appearance and occupations as laboratory researchers.  Members constructed of a full-fledged laboratory, complete with instruments and data recording devices to manage their research agenda.  They then began to fashion white laboratory coats, engage in “scientific debates,” and profess their findings in their own “peer-reviewed journal.” In a dramaturgical sense, these Pana-Wave Laboratory members used the principles of scientific reasoning and props from a host of laboratory settings to create and re-create their images, while fortifying the legitimacy of the religious claims. 

Using a combination of Ulrich Beck’s “Risk Society” thesis, this paper explores one group’s experiment with creating a science and the consequences of doing so in the full purview of the Japanese media. Ultimately, I demonstrate the pervasive consequences of a religious community bound up in fear of human-manufactured risk, as well as the response of its members in averting their own demise.