Fabio Rambelli

Fabio Rambelli


International Shinto Foundation Chair in Shinto Studies

Ph.D., University of Venice and Oriental University Institute, Naples

Specialization: Japanese Religions and Intellectual History, Buddhism, Shinto, Semiotics

Office: HSSB 2258


My main field of research and teaching is Japanese religions and intellectual history, and especially the esoteric Buddhist tradition. In particular, I have been studying the interactions between Buddhism and local cults in several Asian traditions on the one hand, and the history of the development of the Shinto discourse in Japan on the other. In particular, I envision late medieval and early modern Shinto as the result of complex processes involving both the localization of Buddhism (as a translocal religion) in Japan and the opening of the Japanese tradition to several Asian intellectual trends (such as Neo-Confucianism and Daoism from China, but also Neo-Brahmanism from India), together with an enhanced awareness of cultural identity and particularities. I am also working on the impact (often downplayed or ignored) of Indian cultural elements on pre- modern Japan. Furthermore, I am interested in issues of cultural identity (especially in Japan and in Italy, and on the representations of Italy circulating in Japan), more general themes of the history of religion (such as iconoclasm, syncretism, and economic aspects of the sacred), and cultural semiotics.

I am currently working on a series of interrelated projects dealing with geopolitical factors in premodern Japanese culture and religion. The first is a study of the ways in which premodern Japanese envisioned Asia beyond China and Korea, with special focus on India, the Islamic world, Southeast Asia, and imaginary peoples in outlying regions. The second is a monograph on the impact of Indian culture in premodern Japan. The third is a revisionist history of Shinto from the standpoint of interactions with other cultures and the underlying (and resulting) geopolitical factors. In the meantime, I have almost completed a manuscript on issues concerning boundaries, the outside, and transgression within the Buddhist soteriological discourse in Japan, which also deals with issues of localization of ideas and practices. I am also writing an introduction to the intellectual world of Japanese classical Buddhism (in Japanese) and a textbook on Japanese religions.


  • Zen Anarchism (Berkeley, Calif.: Institute for Buddhist Studies, 2013)
  • A Buddhist Theory of Semiotics (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2013)
  • Buddhism and Iconoclasm in East Asia: A History, by Fabio Rambelli and Eric Reinders (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2012).
  • Tabunka kōryū jidai e no chōsen 多文化交流時代への挑戦, by Mitarai Shōji 御手洗昭治, Ogasawara Haruno 小笠原はるの, Fabio Rambelli ファビオ・ランベッリ (Tokyo: Yumani shobō, 2011).
  • Buddhas and Kami in Japan: Honji Suijaku as a Combinatory Paradigm (London and New York: Routledge, 2002).
  • Buddhist Materiality: A Cultural History of Objects in Japanese Buddhism (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2007).
  • Itariateki: Minami no miryoku 『イタリア的—「南」の魅力』 (Tokyo: Kodansha 講談社, 2005, 2nd reprint, 2007)
  • Minami no shisō 『南の思想』(Tokyo: Kōdansha 講談社, 2006): Japanese translation of Franco Cassano, Il pensiero meridiano (Bari: Laterza, 1996)
  • Buddhist Semiotics (Web publication) www.semioticon.com = CyberSemiotic Institute = Buddhist Semiotics or http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/epc/srb/cyber/cyber.html, completed August 2003).
  • Vegetal Buddhas: Ideological Effects of Japanese Buddhist Doctrines on the Salvation of Inanimate Beings (Kyoto: Kyoto: Italian School of East Asian Studies (Occasional Papers 9), 2001).
  • Itariateki kangaekata: Nihonjin no tame no Itaria nyumon 『イタリア的考え方:日本人のためのイタリア入』(Tokyo: Chikuma shobo 筑摩書房, 1997 (8th reprint, 2005))
  • Reconfiguring Cultural Semiotics: The Construction of Japanese Identity. Edited by Fabio Rambelli and Patrizia Violi. Special issue of Versus: Quaderni di studi semiotici nos. 83/84, May-December 1999 (published December 2000)

Selected Articles

  • “The Dangerous Kami Called Buddha: Ancient Conflicts Between Buddhism and Local Cults and Medieval Attempts at Resolution,” Pacific World, Third Series, n. 12, Fall 2010, pp. 147-169.
  • “Sémiotique bouddhiste: perspectives et questions ouvertes,” Protée, 39/2, Automne 2011, pp. 9-18.
  • “Sada Kaiseki: An Alternative Discourse on Buddhism, Modernity, and Nationalism in the Early Meiji Period,” in Roy Starrs, ed., Politics and Religion in Japan: Red Sun, White Lotus (London: Palgrave MacMillan, July 2011), pp. 104-142.
  • “Uchinaru tabunkashugi” 内なる多文化主義. In Mitarai Shōji 御手洗昭治, Ogasawara Haruno 小笠原はるの, Fabio Rambelli ファビオ・ランベッリ, Tabunka kōryū jidai e no chōsen 多文化交流時代への挑戦. Tokyo: Yumani shobō, 2011, pp. 132-184.
  • “‘Dog-men,’ Craftspeople, or Living Buddhas? The Status of Yamabushi in Pre-modern Japanese Society,” Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie 17-18, 2009 (March 2011), pp. 123-140.
  • “Shinto and Esoteric Buddhism,” in Esoteric Buddhism and the Tantras in East Asia, ed. by Charles Orzech, Leiden: Brill, 2011, pp. 834-844.
  • “Home Buddhas: Historical Processes and Modes of Representation of the Sacred in the Japanese Buddhist Family Altar (butsudan),” Japanese Religion vol. 35/1-2, Spring and Fall 2010, pp. 63-86.
  • “The Story of Prince Rama in Japan: Sources and Transformations.” In Ramayana in Focus: Visual and Performing Arts of Asia. Ed. By Gauri Parimoo Krishnan. Singapore: Asian Civilisation Museum, 2010, pp. 28-37.
  • Re-positioning the Gods: “Medieval Shinto” and the Origins of a Non-Buddhist Discourse on the Kami,” Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie 16, 2006-2007 (Winter 2009)
  • “Before the First Buddha: Medieval Japanese Cosmogony and the Quest for the Primeval Kami,” Monumenta Nipponica 64/2, Autumn 2009
  • Fabio Rambelli and Eric Reinders, “What Does Iconoclasm Create? What Does Preservation Destroy? Reflections on Iconoclasm in East Asia,” in Iconoclasm: Contested Objects, Contested Terms. Ed. Stacy Boldrick and Richard Clay. London: Ashgate, 2007, pp. 15-33
  • “Buddhist Republican Thought and Institutions in Japan: Preliminary Considerations,” in Japanese Studies Around the World 2008, Special Issue “Scholars of Buddhism in Japan: Buddhist Studies in the 21st Century.” Kyoto: International Research Center for Japanese Studies, (March 2009), pp. 127-153.
  • “Nihon shisoshi ni okeru ‘Indotekinaru mono’ no saihyoka no tame” (Teigen) 日本思想史における「インド的なるもの」の再評価のため, Nihon shisoshigaku 『日本思想史学』vol. 38, September 2006, pp. 55-64
  • “‘Just Behave as You Like’: Radical Amida Cults and Popular Religiosity in Premodern Japan,” in Richard K. Payne and Kenneth K. Tanaka, eds., Approaching the Land of Bliss: Religious Praxis in the Cult of Amitabha. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2004, pp. 169-201
  • “The Ritual World of Buddhist ‘Shinto’: The Reikiki and Initiations on Kami-related Matters (jingi kanjo) in Late Medieval and Early-Modern Japan,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 29/3-4, Fall 2002, pp. 265-297
  • “Secret Buddhas (Hibutsu): The Limits of Buddhist Representation,” Monumenta Nipponica 57/3, Autumn 2002, pp. 271-307
  • “Tantric Buddhism and Chinese Thought in East Asia,” in David Gordon White, ed., Tantra in Practice. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000: 361-380
  • “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 23/3-4 Fall 1996, pp. 387-426
  • “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. Now reprinted in Buddhism (Critical Concepts in Religious Studies), vol. 6. Ed. by Paul Williams. London: Routledge, 2005

Courses Taught

Undergraduate Courses

EACS 7. Asian Values (Fruhstuck, Rambelli)

EACS 74. The Western Discovery of Buddhism

EACS 171. Buddhism and Local Cults in Asia

EACS 176. Buddhist Political Thought and Institutions

EACS 179. Visual Culture of Buddhism

JAPAN 73. Introduction to Japanese Religion: Texts, Concepts, and Representations

JAPAN 167A. Religion in Japanese Culture

JAPAN 175A. Shinto: Concepts and Practices in History

JAPAN 175B. Shinto Texts through the Ages

JAPAN 176. Advanced Readings in Japanese Texts

Graduate Courses

EACS 271. Buddhism and Local Cults in Asia

EACS 276. Buddhist Political Thought and Institutions

EACS 278. Buddhist Geography

EACS 279. Visual Culture of Buddhism

JAPAN 261. Graduate Seminar in Shinto Studies

JAPAN 275A. Shinto: Concepts and Practices in History

JAPAN 275B. Shinto Texts through the Ages

JAPAN 276. Advanced Readings in Japanese Texts