Karma and Punishment: Prison Chaplaincy in Japan. By Adam Lyons. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2021. 400 pages. $59.95 (hardcover). ISBN 9780674260153.
Adam Lyons begins one chapter of his volume, Karma and Punishment: Prison Chaplaincy in Japan, with a joke he says he heard regularly among kyōkaishi, a Japanese role he translates as “prison chaplain”: “Why did you become a prison chaplain? ‘Because I did something terrible in a past life to deserve it’” (p. 216). The wry joke encapsulates some of the heavy and complex stressors that the position entails. Adam Lyons’ volume skillfully navigates the complex tensions involved in the role at present and how it developed since the late 1800s. Karma and Punishment takes the reader on a historical journey to show the origins of kyōkaishi; he shows both how they changed and what stayed consistent through different periods of history. Along the way, Lyons ties these developments to a valuable discourse on the religion-state relations and the evolving laws that oversee those connections.