Paris School semiotics, space, ethnosemiotics, Japanese religions, anthropology, history, Katsuragi Shugen, mountain asceticism, ritual enunciation, Actor-Network-Theory, topoi, body, nonrepresentational theory, social action
This article explores the possibility to investigate space in religious discourses from a semiotic point of view, by examining the theoretical potentials of this approach, and the methodological issues involved in addressing social and historical change. After a discussion of different theoretical scenarios, and of previous attempts to apply semiotics to the study of space, I will focus on the ethnosemiotic study of a Shugen community of ascetic practice in Japan, the Tsukasakō lay group affiliated to the Tenpōrinji temple on Mt Kongō, connected to the current revival of the pilgrimage to the twenty-eight sūtra mounds in Katsuragi (Katsuragi no nijūhasshuku kyōzuka). Through the semiotic analysis of this ethnographic case concerning a revivalist group of ascetics, I will try to challenge the still too common view of semiotics as a theory of timeless symbols and representation. On the contrary, following the works of Paris School semioticians like A. J. Greimas, P. Fabbri, M. Hammad, J. Fontanille and E. Landowski, and the material semiotic trend developed from their ideas by B. Latour, semiotics will here emerge as a theory of actions, passions, body and materiality, based on the conception of space as object of value and interacting subject, where social change is integrated into a sacred landscape through a practice of ritual enunciation performed by human and nonhuman actors.