We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Institute of Advanced Study

Professor Massimo Leone

“The IAS is one of the gems of the University. Directed by truly interdisciplinary and international scholars, it has provided me with wonderful research facilities, with a stimulating intellectual environment, with a perfectly balanced agenda of activities, and with the opportunity to interact with a group of brilliant scholars.”

Professor Massimo Leone, University of Turin

IAS Fellow at St Cuthbert's Society, Durham University (October - December 2016)

Massimo Leone is Professor of Semiotics, Cultural Semiotics, and Visual Semiotics at the University of Turin, and is Director of the MA Program in Communication Studies. His work deals with visual embodiments of religion and law. He is particularly interested in comparative research about the visual imaginary of equity and justice. He graduated in Communication Studies from the University of Siena, and holds a DEA in History and Semiotics of Texts and Documents from Paris VII, an MPhil in Word and Image Studies from Trinity College Dublin, a PhD in Religious Studies from the Sorbonne, and a PhD in Art History from the University of Fribourg (CH). His doctoral dissertations focused on representations of religious conversion in early-modern hagiography and iconography.

Massimo Leone has single-authored seven books, Religious Conversion and Identity: The Semiotic Analysis of Texts (London and New York: Routledge, 2004); Saints and Signs: A Semiotic Reading of Conversion in Early Modern Catholicism (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2010), Sémiotique de l'âme, 3 vols (Berlin et al.: Presses Académiques Francophones, 2012), Annunciazioni: Percorsi di semiotica della religione (Rome: Aracne, 2014), Spiritualità digitale: Il senso religioso nell'era della smaterializzazione (Milan: Mimesis, 2014), Sémiotique du fondamentalisme : Messages, rhétorique, force persuasive (Paris: l'Harmattan, 2014; Arabic translation in 2015), Signatim: Profili di semiotica della cultura (Rome: Aracne, 2015); he has edited more than twenty collective volumes, and published more than three hundred articles in semiotics, cultural studies, and visual studies.

Massimo Leone was visiting scholar at the CNRS in Paris, at the CSIC in Madrid, Fulbright Research Visiting Professor at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Visiting Professor at the University of Tunis “El Manar”, Endeavour Research Award Visiting Professor at the School of English, Performance, and Communication Studies at Monash University, Melbourne, Faculty Research Grant Visiting Professor at the University of Toronto, “Mairie de Paris” Visiting Professor at the Sorbonne, DAAD Visiting Professor at the University of Potsdam, Visiting Professor at the École Normale Supérieure of Lyon (Collegium de Lyon), at the “Center for Advanced Studies”, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU), and at the University of Kyoto. He has lectured in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America.

At the IAS, he will be working on a comparative study of the iconographies of the scales as visual symbol of equity and justice.

IAS Fellows' Public Lecture - Weight Problems: an enquiry into scales and justice

In 1901, Dr. Duncan “Om” MacDougall (c. 1866 – October 15, 1920), a physician from Haverhill, Massachusetts, devised an experiment to ‘determine’ the weight of the soul. He weighed six terminally ill patients just before death, and then he measured again immediately after they had deceased. He found that each of the patients had lost exactly 21 grams after passing away. He repeated the experiment with fifteen dogs, finding out that they would lose no weight through death. He therefore deduced that the human soul must weigh 21 grams.

Scientists had no hard time in debunking Dr. MacDougall’s experiments, although his measurements of the “weight of the soul” stayed in popular culture (in 2003, Alejandro González Iñárritu directed a popular movie entitled 21 Grams; Dan Brown mentions MacDougall’s experiments in The Lost Symbol, etc.).

Yet, the idea that the soul weighs and that its weight must be measured through appropriate scales is not new, but dates back at least to ancient Egypt. The lecture will retrace the cultural and visual history of these metaphysical measurements, seeking to show their ideological implications across cultures and epochs.

Listen to the lecture in full.

Professor Massimo Leone Publications

Leone, M (2017) 'Silence Propaganda. A Semiotic Inquiry into the Ideologies of Taciturnity', Signs and Society, 5(1), pp 154-182.

Leone, M (2017) 'The Clash of Semiotic Civilizations', Sign Systems Studies, 45(1/2), pp. 70–87.

Leone, M (2017) 'Semiotics Reputation', Signa: Revista de la Asociación Española de Semiótica, 26, pp 245-268.

Leone, M (2016) 'Fondamentalismo, anomia, complotto: La semiotica di Umberto Eco contro l’irragionevolezza interpretativa', Lexia. Rivista di semiotica, pp 23–24.

Leone, M (2016) 'Il sacro nascosto: studio semiotico sui Kakure Kirishitan', in Pozzo, A (ed) Svelare il segreto: le strategie della dissimulazione. Rome: Aracne