SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Ms Emanuela Sala

BA (La Sapienza), MA (La Sapienza), MA (SOAS)


Emanuela Sala
Centre of Buddhist Studies

Research Student Member

Ms Emanuela Sala
Email address:
Thesis title:
Hermeneutical Strategies of Japanese Medieval Religions: The Yōtenki (working title)
Year of Study:
Internal Supervisors


I have a BA and an MA in Japanese studies from La Sapienza university, in Rome, and a second MA in Buddhist Studies from SOAS.

I am the assistant for the Centre of Buddhist Studies at SOAS, and the PG representative for the UK association for Buddhist Studies (UKABS).

In 2018-2019 I did my fieldwork in Japan. I conducted archival research primarily at Eizan bunko, in Sakamoto. I was affiliated to Waseda university, where Prof. Ōkubo Ryōshun was my supervisor.

From January to may 2020 I have taught an introductory module on Japanese religions at Bristol University.

I am one of the recipients of the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowships in Buddhist Studies 2020.

PhD Research

Sannō shintō is the name we now give to a wealth of narratives, doctrinal analyses and artisticdepictions related to the deities of the Hie (now Hiyoshi) shrines, in Sakamoto, near lake Biwa. The identity of these deities was conceptualised in a manner based the doctrinal and hermeneutical framework of Tendai Buddhism, and based chiefly (but not only) at the Enryakuji on Mt Hiei, arguably the wealthiest and most influential monastic complex of medieval Japan.

My thesis is the first step in a comprehensive study of Sannō shintō, on which is very little scholarship not only in English but also in Japanese. It focuses on one text, the Yōtenki, a collection of traditions on the Hie shrines, containing historical material such as the ranking of the deities and the foundation of shrines, as well as a great amount of mythological material. 

The focus of my thesis is to investigate the production of deity identities, (their enshrinement, physical form, their position in genealogies, their position within the honji suijaku paradigm and their role in the Ōtsu lake area and for the capital) through the study a mythical repertoire, which I explore by focusing chiefly on the Yōtenki. While the Yōtenki is nominally one text, it is in reality a collection, redacted by different lineages and various points in time. As such, it represents the full medieval repertoire on the Hie deities.

On a first level, the thesis allows me to introduce the object of Sannō shintō, the Hie deities (chiefly the ones of the seven Upper shrines) in a comprehensive manner and by seriously engaging with mythical material. On a broader level, I can contribute to the understanding of honji suijaku and illuminate the role of shrine priests in the production of deity identities. Finally, from a methodological perspective, I hope that my approach, informed by narratology, can be a useful framework to interface with origin tales and "messy" manifold deity identities without reducing these to a simple linear explanation, as has been done and continues to be done with the Hie deities.


Book review: "Mountain Mandalas: Shugendō in Kyūshū, by Allan G. Grapard", in Buddhist Studies Review, Vol 36, No 1, 2019, pp. 127-130.

"Sannō Shintō", Database of Religious History, Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia.


  • August 2020: UK Association for Buddhist Studies Summer online Conference 2020
    Paper delivered: "Internal Politics or International Conspiracies? Buddhist Identities of Deities in Medieval Japan"
  • February 2020: Postgraduate Forum, CSJR, SOAS
    Invited public lecture: "“A small country called China”: sannō shintō and the development of honji suijaku"
  • December 2020: Gesshin Ca'Foscari University, Venice
    Invied public lecture: "Il sannō shintō: le identità dei kami in un discorso medievale"

  • October 2019: Premodern Japanese Studies Conference 2019, McGill University, Montreal
    Paper delivered: “Negotiating Kami Identities in Medieval Japan: Sannō Shintō and
    the Hie shrine”

  • June 2019: The Twenty-third Asian Studies Conference Japan (ASCJ), Saitama University.
    Panel organiser, "What do We talk About When We Talk About Kami? Medieval Formations of Kami Identities".
    Paper delivered: "The Problem of Kami Identity: A Case Study from the Yōtenki".

  • May 2019: Kyūshū university.
    Invited public lecture: "The Sannō-sai: a Medieval festival and its Modern Interpretations".
    Translation Seminar: "Negotiating origins: readings from the Yōtenki".

  • April 2019: “Manabu”: Giornate di studio dei dottorandi, borsisti e ricercatori italiani in Giappone” (workshop for Italian postgraduate students and researchers in
    Japan), ISEAS, Kyoto
    Invited presentation of research project: “Il Problema dell’Identità dei kami nel Giappone medievale” (“The
    problem of kami identities in Medieval Japan”)

  • January 2019: Nanzan Seminar for the Study of Religion and Culture, Nagoya.
    "神のアイデンティティの問題:山王神道における一例" ("The problem of kami identities: an example from sannō shintō").


  • CBS (SOAS Centre of Buddhist Studies), PG committee member
  • UKABS (UK association for Buddhist Studies)
  • BAJS (British Association for Japanese Studies)
  • EAJS (European Association for Japanese Studies)