Fabio Rambelli

Associate professor of semiotics of culture and Japanese religions and intellectual history at the Department of Cultural Studies, Sapporo University, Sapporo, Japan

Research

My main research area is the religious and intellectual history of medieval Japan (11th through 15th centuries), especially the esoteric Buddhist tradition. In particular, I am interested in the ways in which Japanese esoteric Buddhism dealt with semiotic issues, and in the relations between semiotics and ideologies. Normative structurings of signs are always related to operations of policing of meaning, which can be in turn related to the establishment of hegemonic formations and cultural identity politics. I am also interested in issues concerning the materiality of religion (and the sacred in general), especially in East Asian traditions.

Dissertation

Doctoral dissertation:
“Segni di diamante. Aspetti semiotici del buddhismo esoterico giapponese di Kakuban”, 2 vols. (“Adamantine Signs. Semiotic Aspects of Kakuban’s Japanese Esoteric Buddhism”). Naples: Oriental University Institute, and Venice: University of Venice, 1992. Available at the Italian National Library in Rome and Florence.

Degree thesis:
“I segni del vuoto. Segni e linguaggi nel buddhismo esoterico di Kukai con particolare riferimento allo Shoji jisso-gi” (“Signs of the Emptiness. Signs and Languages in Kukai’s Esoteric Buddhism, with Special Reference to the Shoji jisso-gi”). Venice: University of Venice, 1988. Available at the Department of Indological and East Asian Studies, University of Venice.

Teaching

Graduate school of Cultural Studies:
Semiotics of culture: The semiotic status of objects and materiality
Japanese religion: Objects and materiality in Japanese Buddhism

Department of Cultural Studies:
Semiotics of culture
Religious studies
Japanese religion seminar
Religious studies seminar

Publications

Cover issues such as Japanese intellectual history, Buddhist semiotics, and the semiotics of culture.

Recent titles (2000-2001)

Fabio Rambelli and Patrizia Violi, eds., Reconfiguring Cultural Semiotics: The Construction of Japanese Identity. Special Issue of Versus (Quaderni di studi semiotici) 83/84 (May-December 1999, actually published in December 2000).

“Bukkyo no furontia: Abi jigoku e no tabi” (“The frontier of Buddhism: A voyage to Avici Hell”), Hikaku bunka ronso 5, March 2000, pp. 7-26.

“Tantric Buddhism and Chinese Thought in East Asia,” in David G. White, ed., Tantra in Practice, pp. 361-380. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.

“Watashi wa gaijin desu ka. Aidentiti no kiki kara kikitekina aidentiti e” (“Am I a foreigner? From identity crisis to critical identity”), Hikaku bunka ronso 6, September 2000, pp. 19-29.

“Introduction: Semiotics and Japan,” by Fabio Rambelli and Patrizia Violi, in Reconfiguring Cultural Semiotics: The Construction of Japanese Identity. Special issue of Versus: Quaderni di studi semiotici 83/84 (May-December 1999, actually published in December 2000), edited by Fabio Rambelli and Patrizia Violi, pp. 3-13.

“The Empire and the Signs: Semiotics, Cultural Identity, and Ideology in Japanese History”, in Reconfiguring Cultural Semiotics: The Construction of Japanese Identity. Special issue of Versus: Quaderni di studi semiotici 83/84 (May-December 1999, actually published in December 2000), edited by Fabio Rambelli e Patrizia Violi, pp. 15-40.

“Shukyo no monogatari-sei” (“The narrative nature of religion”), Hikaku bunka ronso 7, March 2001, pp. 153-175.

“Shinto and Japan’s Cultural Identity”, ANAIS. XI Encontro Nacional de Prefessorer Universitarios de Lingua, Literatura e Cultura Japonesa; I Encontro de Estudos Japoneses. 1 e 2 de Setembro de 2000. Brasilia: Universidade de Brasilia, Instituto de Letras, Departimento di Lingua Estrangeiras e Tradução, 2001, pp. 55-71.

“Seizo hakai, kigohakai, seiseihakai: Seinaru mono no hakai koi ni kansuru ichikosatsu” (Iconoclasm, semioclasm, hieroclasm: Considerations on the destruction of sacred objects), Hikaku bunka ronso 8, September 2001, pp. 15-43.

Books

Itariateki kangaekata. Nihonjin no tame no Itaria nyumon (“The Italian Way of Thinking.  An Introduction to Italy for the Japanese). Tokyo: Chikuma shobo, 1997 (6th reprint 2001).

Reconfiguring Cultural Semiotics: The Construction of Japanese Identity. Special issue of Versus: Quaderni di studi semiotici 83/84 (May-December 1999, actually published in December 2000). Edited by Fabio Rambelli and Patrizia Violi.

Articles

“La musica strumentale giapponese,” in Kishibe Shigeo, ed., Strumenti musicali giapponesi-Japanese Musical Instruments. Venezia: Istituto internazionale di studi musicali comparati, 1989: pp. 17-24 (with English abstract)-book chapter.

“Il gioco linguistico esoterico. Per una teoria del linguaggio del buddhismo giapponese ‘shingon'” [The Esoteric Language Game. For a Theory of Language in Shingon Japanese Esoteric Buddhism], Versus. Quaderni di studi semiotici (Milan: Bompiani), September-December 1989, No. 54: pp. 69-96-refereed journal article.

“Il potere karmico della parola. Elementi per lo studio della concezione del linguaggio nel Nihon ryoiki” [The Karmic Power of Words. Elements for the Study of the Concept of Language in the Nihon Ryoiki], Annali di Ca’ Foscari (Serie orientale) [Journal of the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures of the University of Venice, Oriental series], Vol. XXIX N. 3, 1990: pp. 271-289-refereed journal article.

“Shugyo to junrei” [Ascetic Practices and Pilgrimages], in Kokusai kachi kaigi  repoto-1989 International Conference on Human Values. Tokyo: Nihon IBM, 1990: pp. 46-47-paper abstract.

“Re-inscribing Mandala. Semiotic Operations on a Word and Its Object,” Studies in Central and East Asian Religions (Copenhagen and Aarhus, Seminar for Buddhist Studies), Vol. 4, 1991 (published 1992): pp. 1-24-refereed journal article.

“Sounds for Thought,” The Semiotic Review of Books (Toronto Semiotic Circle), Vol. 4.2, May 1993: pp. 1-2-refereed journal editorial article.

“‘Piante e alberi diventano buddha’. La natura nel paradigma hongaku tendai” [‘Plants  and Trees Become Buddha.’ Nature in the Tendai Hongaku Paradigm], in Atti del XVI convegno Aistugia, Auronzo, 1992 [Proceedings of the 16th annual meeting of the Italian Association for Japanese Studies, Auronzo, October 1992], 1993, Aistugia: pp. 95-112-book chapter.

“The Semiotic Articulation of Hosshin Seppo: An Interpretive Study of the Concepts of Mon and Monji in Kukai’s Mikkyo,” in Ian Astley, ed., Esoteric Buddhism in Japan, pp. 17-36. Copenhagen and Aarhus: The Seminar for Buddhist Studies, 1994-book chapter.

“True Words, Silence, and the Adamantine Dance. On Japanese Mikkyo and the Formation of the Shingon Discourse,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 21/4 (December 1994): pp. 373-405-refereed journal article.

“Buddhist Semiotics,” The Semiotic Review of Books (Toronto Semiotic Circle), Vol. 6.2, May 1995: pp. 11-12-refereed journal article.

“Letteratura giapponese e buddhismo” [Japanese Literature and Buddhism], in the Catalog of the exhibition Cipangu monogatari: pagine di letteratura [Cipangu monogatari: Pages of Literature], National Museum of Oriental Art, Rome (November 1995-January 1996), 1995: pp. 95-101-book chapter.

“Buddhismo, vita quotidiana e sistemi di dominazione nel Giappone medievale” [Buddhism, Everyday Life, and Systems of Domination in Medieval Japan], in Atti del XIX convegno Aistugia, Urbino, 1995. [Proceeding of the 1995 Annual Meeting of the Italian Association for Japanese Studies, Urbino] Venice: Aistugia, 1996, pp. 215-246-book chapter.

“Religion, Ideology of Domination, and Nationalism. Kuroda Toshio on the Discourse of Shinkoku,” in The Legacy of Kuroda Toshio, edited by James C. Dobbins, special issue of the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies Fall 1996 Vol. 23/3-4, pp. 387-426- refereed journal article.

Kuroda Toshio, “The Discourse of the ‘Land of the Kami’ (shinkoku) in Medieval Japan. National Consciousness and International Sensibilities,” in The Legacy of Kuroda Toshio, edited by James C. Dobbins, special issue of the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies Fall 1996 Vol. 23/3-4, pp. 353-385-refereed journal annotated translation.

Entries on “Buddhism,” “Mandala”, “Mantra,” “Zen Gardens,” “Daoism” in the Encyclopedia of Semiotics, ed. by Paul Bouissac. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998-encyclopedia entries.

Book reviews

Miyazaki Ninsho, Shidoso Kukai. Tokyo: Kawade shobo shinsha, 1991-Sapio (Tokyo: Shogakukan), June 27, 1991, p. 68.

William M. Bodiford, Soto Zen in Medieval Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993-Journal of Asian Studies , Vol. 53/1, February 1994: pp. 191-193.

Allan G. Grapard, The Protocol of the Gods. Berkeley-Los Angeles: University of  California Press, 1992-Studies in Central and East Asian Religions (Copenhagen and Aarhus, Seminar for Buddhist Studies) Vol. 5/6, 1993-1994: pp. 172-175.

Francisco J. Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch, The Embodied Mind. Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge, Mass., and London: The MIT Press, 1991-Versus. Quaderni di studi semiotici (Milan: Bompiani), 70/71 (January-August 1995): pp. 180-182.

Brian Victoria, Zen at War. New York-Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1997- Journal of Buddhist Ethics vol. 5 (http://jbe.la.psu.edu/).

Ian Reader and George J. Tanabe, Jr., Practically Religious. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1998-Journal of Buddhist Ethics 7 (2000): 63-66 (http://jbe.la.psu.edu/).

Mark Teeuwen and John Breen: Shinto in History: Ways of the Kami. London: Curzon Press, 1999-Monumenta Nipponica, 56/2, Summer 2001, pp. 279-282.

“Dismantling stereotypes surrounding Japan’s sacred entities”: review of Mark Teeuwen and John Breen: Shinto in History: Ways of the Kami. London: Curzon Press, 1999-The Japan Times, July 15, 2001 (abridged version of the review published in Monumenta Nipponica, 56/2, Summer 2001, pp. 279-282).

Forthcoming

Vegetal Buddhas: Ideological Effects of Japanese Buddhist Doctrines on the Salvation of Inanimate Beings. Kyoto: Italian School of East Asian Studies.

“Buddha’s Wrath: Esoteric Buddhism and the Theology of Divine Punishment”, Japanese Religions.

“The Emperor’s New Robes: Processes of Resignification in Shingon Imperial Rituals” (to be published in the proceeding of the 1999 Stanford conference on religion and culture in medieval Japan).

“‘Just Behave as You Like; Prohibitions and Impurities are not a Problem’: Radical Amida Cults and Popular Religiosity in Premodern Japan”, in Richard Payne, ed., The Cult of Amitabha (University of Hawai’i Press).

Projexts/Work in progress

The Ideology of Mandala:
I have completed a book manuscript, tentatively entitled “Poetics and Politics of Mandala”, in which I examine Japanese Buddhist mandalas from the point of view of the semiotic strategies involved in their production and the ideological effects it generated. The manuscript is currently under review.

Honji suijaku and combinatory religiosity in premodern Japan:
I have edited, together with Mark Teeuwen, a collective volume on honji suijaku combinatory religiosity in premodern Japan. The various essays we have selected show various ways of conceiving, organizing, and interacting with the sacred in premodern Japan. The manuscript is now ready for publication.

Destruction of religious objects in East Asia:
I am working on a manuscript, together with Eric Reinders, on the destruction of religious objects in East Asia. In particular, we focus on the ways in which religious destruction (a category that we envision as going well beyond traditional discussions of “iconoclasm”) was conceived of and enacted as a discursive formation, a form of “practical textuality” indicating several, and competing modalities of interaction with the sacred.

Other projects

In addition, two other manuscripts are well on the way. The first deals with specific issues of materiality in the Japanese Buddhist tradition; the second is about the ways in which Japanese Buddhism envisioned and represented its own boundaries and its own outside.