I have done a BA and an MA in Japanese studies at La Sapienza university, in Rome, before coming to London in 2015 for my second MA in Buddhist Studies.
Sannō shintō 山王神道 is what we now call the medieval and pre-modern wealth of narratives, doctrinal analyses and artistic depictions related to the deities of the Hie (now Hiyoshi) shrines, in Sakamoto (Ōtsu). The identity of the deities was conceptualised in a manner based on the vocabulary and semiotic framework of Tendai Buddhism, imported from China by Saichō 最澄 (767-822) in the 9th century.
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 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.
I am especially interested in how ritual experts specialised in kami worship which operated at the Hie shrines could use the Buddhist "language" on kami to justify their status as a lineage distinct from Buddhist monastics, and reach out to networks of similar experts operating in other shrines across the country.
I focus especially on a text called Yōtenki, a collection of traditions related to the Hie shrines composed between the 13th and the 15th century. The Yōtenki was redacted in part by monastic at the Enryakuji, but mainly by members of the Hafuribe, the main shrine lineage operating at Hie in the middle ages. The same narratives are thus presented in the text twice, from a monastic and shrine-centred point of view (the latter extremely rarely found in medieval material).
Close examination of this material leads me to expand a paradigm of Japanese religion which sees it centred on politically powerful temples, with shrines as satellites which depended on temples economically, administratively and ritually, and to advocate from a relative independence (although only ritual and narrative) of shrine lineages. I also aim to re-think definitions of kami as local entities; my research makes a case for seeing kami discourses as trans-local and centrifugal forces, both from a geographical and cultural point of view.
From a broader Buddhist Studies perspective, my research contributes to the study of interactions between Buddhism and "local" cults. This issue is at the centre of the study of Japanese religions, which has developed a mature methodology to grapple with it. This might be fruitfully exported to other areas of Buddhist Studies.
- January 2019, "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"). Nanzan Seminar for the Study of Religion and Culture, Nagoya
- 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