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Associate Professor Elisabetta Porcu

Elisabetta Porcu was born and raised in Sardinia (Italy), studied in Italy, India and Germany where I completed my PhD in the study of religions with a specialization in Japanese religions (University of Marburg, 2006). Before coming to UCT in 2015, I taught and conducted research in various universities in Kyoto (2004-2010) and taught Japanese religions at the University of Leipzig (2010-2014). I have been Visiting Research Scholar at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken) in Kyoto (2013-2014), Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Hawaii (2013), and Visiting Professor at Kyushu University (2016-2017).

I am the founding editor and current editor of the peer-reviewed Journal of Religion in Japan (Brill), the Director of the Center for Asian Religions (CSAR) at UCT, and currently the Vice-President of the Association for the Study of Religion in Southern Africa (ASRSA).


Research interests:

- Religion in contemporary society

- Secularization

- Japanese religions

- Buddhism, in particular Japanese Buddhism

- Religion, popular culture and the media

- Religion, manga and anime

- Religious festivals and rituals

- Religion and tourism

- Religion and the state

- Japanese religions and the arts


Current projects

My work combines a strong ethnographic component with theoretical frameworks based on the interdisciplinary field of the academic study of religions.

I am currently working on two book projects. I’m writing a monograph on the Gion Festival in Kyoto in contemporary perspective, which is based on a one-year intense fieldwork in one of the neighborhoods of the Gion Festival and analyzes various aspects of the relationship between religion and the secular in this famous festival.

My other ongoing book project on Japanese religions and popular culture focuses on the use made by religious institutions and individual leaders/priests of a language based on popular culture (in particular manga and anime) in the attempt to cope with the challenges of a globally-oriented, consumerist, and hyper-mediated society.


Selected Publications


Pure Land Buddhism in Modern Japanese Culture. Leiden, Boston: Brill (2008)


Edited volumes

Matsuri and Religion in Japan; Special volume of the Journal of Religion in Japan (9, issues 1-3), 2020. Edited with Michael Dylan Foster.

Journal of Religion in Japan (27 issues from 2012-present)


Articles and book chapters (select)

  1. “Gion Matsuri in Kyoto: A Multilayered Religious Phenomenon” Journal of Religion in Japan 9 (1-3). Special volume on Religion and Festivals in Japan (2020): 37-77. DOI:
  2. “Introduction: Matsuri and Religion in Japan.” Journal of Religion in Japan vol. 9, issues 1-3 (2020): 1-9. With Michael Dylan Foster. DOI: 
  3. “Toward a Pure Land Buddhist Aesthetics: Yanagi Sōetsu’s Muu kōshu no gan.” In Georgios Halkias and Richard K. Payne (eds.). Pure Lands in Asian Texts and Contexts. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press (2019), pp. 587-601.
  4. “Japanese Buddhisms in Diaspora.” In Richard Payne and Georgios Halkias (eds.), The Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Buddhism. London and New York: Oxford University Press (2018): 1-23.
  5. “Religion, Second Modernity and Individualization in Japan.” Journal of Religion in Japan 7/2 (2018): 126-144. DOI:
  6. “Tenrikyō’s Divine Model through the Manga Oyasama monogatari.Journal of Asian Humanities at Kyushu University (JAH-Q) (2017): 85-93.
  7. “Contemporary Japanese Buddhist Traditions.” In Michael Jerryson (ed). Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Buddhism. London and New York: Oxford University Press (2017), pp. 122-139.
  8. “Nihon no toshi shakai ni okeru shūkyōsei to sezokusei no yuragi ni kan suru kōsatsu 日本の都市社会における宗教性と世俗性のゆらぎに関する考察. 2016. [Translation into Japanese of “Observations on the Blurring of the Religious and the Secular” by request of the 21st Century Center for Excellence Program at Kokugakuin University, Tokyo- Series: Articles in Translations.]
  9. “Down-to-Earth Zen: Zen Buddhism in Japanese Manga and Movies.” Journal of Global Buddhism 16 (2015): 37-50.
  10. “The Religious-Secular Divide at the Community Level in Contemporary Japan.” In: Marian Burchardt, Monika Wohlrab-Sahr and Matthias Middell (eds.). Multiple Secularities Beyond the West: Religion and Modernity in the Global Age. Boston and Berlin: deGruyter (2015): 167-186.
  11. “Pop Religion in Japan: Buddhist Temples, Icons and Branding.” Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 26/2 (2014): 157-172. DOI:
  12. “Religion and the State in Contemporary Japan.” In Religion and Politics: European and Global Perspectives. Johann Arnason and Ireneusz Pawel Karolewski (eds.). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press (2014), pp. 168-182.
  13. “Staging Zen Buddhism: Image Creation in Contemporary Films.” Contemporary Buddhism 15/1 (2014): 81-96.
  14. “Sacred Spaces Reloaded: New Trends in Shintō.” In Matthias Middell (ed.). Self-Reflexive Area Studies. Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag/Leipzig University Press (2013), pp. 279-294.
  15. “Observations on the Blurring of the Religious and the Secular in a Japanese Urban Setting.” Journal of Religion in Japan 1/1 (2012): 83-106. DOI:
  16. “On- and Off-line Representations of Japanese Buddhism: Reflections on a Multifaceted Religious Tradition.” In Pacific World 32/1 (2010): 91-107.
  17. “Speaking through the Media: Shin Buddhism, Popular Culture, and the Internet.” In The Social Dimension of Shin Buddhism, Ugo Dessì (ed.). Leiden, Boston: Brill (2010), pp. 209-239. DOI:
  18. “Anniversaries, Founders, Slogans, and Visual Media in Shin Buddhism.” In Japanese Religions 34/1 (2009): 53-73.
  19. “Glimpses of the Pure Land in Wartime Italy.” In The Pure Land ns 25 (2009): 71-86.
  20. “Jōdo Shinshū no gendaitekina hyōshō” 浄土真宗の現代的な表象 (Modern Representations of Jōdo Shinshū). In Bukkyō Bunka Kenkyūjo Kiyō 仏教文化研究所紀要 47 (2008): 109-119.
  21. “Aesthetics and Art in Modern Pure Land Buddhism.” In Japanese Religions 32/1-2 (2007): 53-68.


Important links:

My Academia site

Journal of Religion in Japan