Of Matter, Spirits, and Places: Japanese Discourses on The Bodies of the Shinto Divinities (Kami)

Professor Fabio Rambelli

Venue: Room 1504, 1555 Century Avenue, NYU Shanghai
Date: Thursday, April 28, 2016
Time: 17:30 to 18:30 CST

One of the striking aspects of Shinto is the vagueness and multiplicity that characterize descriptions of the gods (kami). The general understanding today is that kami are spiritual (immaterial) entities that attach themselves to particular things (rocks, trees, mountains, etc.); however, there are also beliefs that natural objects are divine in themselves. In addition, human beings can, in certain cases, be deified as well. The notion of kami also shares some semantic elements with concepts such as mono (entity endowed with supernatural powers), tama (spirit), and kokoro (mind). In his talk, Dr. Fabio Rambelli will present some aspects of premodern Japanese discussions on the body of the kami (shintai), with their multiplicity and ultimate irreducibility. Nevertheless, he will explain that a shared feature of the theology of the kami throughout history is a constant oscillation (and indecision) between materiality and spirituality.

Fabio Rambelli, an Italian academic, author and editor, is the International Shinto Foundation Chair in Shinto Studies and professor in Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). He earned his BA in Japanese language and culture from the University of Venice and was awarded his PhD in East Asian Studies from the University of Venice and the Italian Ministry of Scientific Research. He also studied at the the Oriental Institute in Naples and the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. Dr. Rambelli’s main research and teaching focus is Japanese religions and intellectual history, especially the esoteric Buddhist tradition. He is currently working on a series of interrelated projects dealing with geopolitical factors in premodern Japanese culture and religion including a revisionist history of Shinto from the standpoint of interactions with other cultures and the underlying (and resulting) geopolitical factors. Recent publications are A Buddhist Theory of Semiotics: Signs, Ontology and Salvation in Japanese Esoteric Buddhism (London & New York: Bloomsbury, 2013) and Zen Anarchism: The Egalitarian Thought of Uchiyama Gudo (1874-1911) (Berkeley: Institute for Buddhist Studies, 2013).

Dr. Francesca Tarocco will introduce Dr. Rambelli and moderate the post-lecture Q&A.

Sponsored by the Center for Global Asia, this lecture is part of the Moving Objects: Authorship, Ownership and Experience in Buddhist Material Culture Symposium.

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