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


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 was in Japan for fieldwork, during which I conducted archival research, primarily at Eizan bunko, in Sakamoto. I was affiliated to Waseda university, where Prof. Ōkubo Ryōshun was my supervisor.

I am currently teaching an introductory module on Japanese religions at Bristol University.

PhD Research

The identities of medieval Japanese deities (by which I mean their agency and origins, their physical aspect, correct worship and geographical location), are often vaguely and contradictorily defined. I think that this vagueness (and sometimes outright confusion) is the result of specific semiotic and affective processes, and I aim to find a way of talking about kami identities that preserves this complexity.

Sannō shintō is the name we now give to a wealth of narratives, doctrinal analyses and artistic depictions 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, which is a Buddhist school founded in Japan by the monk Saichō (767-822) in the eighth century, and based chiefly (but not only) at the Enryakuji, on Mt Hiei, arguably the wealthiest and most influential monastic complex of medieval Japan.

Sannō shintō is a somewhat misleading label: clumped together under the same name, these multifarious narratives might be read as a unified, coherent theological system (possibly also created and diffused “top-down” by powerful religious institutions). Such a reading would however hide the fact that, at least in the middle ages, these narratives were manifold and often in contrast with each other, produced by numerous institutions and lineages which used the identity of the Hie deities to “situate” themselves in the fluid religious world of medieval Japan.


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


  • February 2020: Postgraduate Forum, CSJR, SOAS
    Invited public lecture: "“A small country called China”: sannō shintō and the development of honji suijaku"

  • 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), Student Assistant
  • UKABS (UK association for Buddhist Studies), PG representative
  • BAJS (British Association for Japanese Studies), member
  • EAJS (European Association for Japanese Studies), member