Professor Massimo Leone is a Visiting Fellow in 2021-22 and will be at CRASSH in Michaelmas Term 2021. He is also the PI of ERC Consolidator Project FACETS (2019-2024).

FACETS studies the meaning of the face in contemporary visual cultures. There are two complementary research foci: widespread practices of face exhibition in social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tinder; and minority practices of occultation, including the mask in anti-establishment political activism (e.g., Anonymous) and in anti-surveillance artistic provocation (e.g., Leonardo Selvaggio). Arguably, the meaning of the human face is currently changing on a global scale: through the invention and diffusion of new visual technologies (e.g., digital photography, visual filters, as well as software for automatic face recognition); through the creation and establishment of novel genres of face representation (e.g., the selfie); and through new approaches to face perception, reading, and memorization (e.g., the ‘scrolling’ of faces on Tinder). Cognitions, emotions, and actions that people attach to the interaction with one’s and others’ faces might soon be undergoing dramatic shifts. In FACETS, an interdisciplinary but focused approach combines visual history, semiotics, phenomenology, visual anthropology, but also face perception studies and collection, analysis, and social contextualization of big data, so as to study the cultural and technological causes of these changes and their effects in terms of alterations in self-perception and communicative interaction. In the tension between, on the one hand, political and economic agencies pressing for increasing disclosure, detection, and marketing of the human face (for reasons of security and control, for commercial or bureaucratic purposes) and, on the other hand, the counter-trends of face occultation (writers and artists like Banksy, Ferrante, Sia, or Christopher Sievey / Frank Sidebottom choosing not to reveal their faces), the visual syntax, the semantics, and the pragmatics of the human face are rapidly evolving. FACETS carries on an innovative, cross-disciplinary survey of this phenomenon.

While at CRASSH, Massimo Leone will work on a sub-project entitled ‘Transhuman Portraits: Artificial Faces in Art, Science, and Society’, focusing on the meaning and agency of artificial faces.


Massimo Leone is a Full Tenured Professor (“Professore Ordinario”) of Philosophy of Communication, Visual Semiotics, and Cultural Semiotics at the Department of Philosophy and Educational Sciences, University of Turin, Italy and Permanent Part-Time Visiting Full Professor of Semiotics in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature, University of Shanghai, China. He is a 2018 ERC Consolidator Grant recipient, the most important and competitive research grant in Europe. 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).

He was a visiting scholar at the CNRS in Paris, at the CSIC in Madrid, Fulbright Research Visiting Professor at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, 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), Visiting Professor at the Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Munich, Visiting Professor at the University of Kyoto, Visiting Professor at the Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University, Visiting Professor at The Research Institute of the University of Bucharest, Eadington Fellow at the Center for Gaming Research, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Fellow of the Käte Hamburger Kolleg ‘Dynamics in the History of Religions Between Asia and Europe’ (Bochum, Germany), Visiting Senior Professor at the Internationales Forschungszentrum Kulturwissenschaften, Vienna, High-End Foreign Expert and Visiting Professor at the University of Shanghai, China, Visiting Senior Professor at the Centre for Advanced Studies, South Eastern Europe (Croatia), Visiting Senior Professor at the Polish Institute of Advanced Studies, Warsaw (PIAST), Visiting Senior Professor at the Freiburg Institute of Advanced Studies (FRIAS, Freiburg), Senior Visiting Professor at the Paris Seine Institute of Advanced Studies, Visiting Fellow at CRASSH, University of Cambridge, Visiting Professor (‘Directeur d’Études Associé’) at the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (Paris), and Visiting Fellow at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies, South Africa.

His work is on the semiotic study of cultures, with particular emphasis on religion and images. Massimo Leone has single-authored twelve books, Religious Conversion and Identity: The Semiotic Analysis of Texts (London and New York: Routledge, 2004; 242 pp.), Saints and Signs: A Semiotic Reading of Conversion in Early Modern Catholicism (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2010; 656 pp.),  Sémiotique de l’âme, 3 vols (Berlin et al.: Presses Académiques Francophones, 2012), Annunciazioni: percorsi di semiotica della religione, 2 vols (Rome: Aracne, 2014, 1000 pp.), Spiritualità digitale: il senso religioso nell’era della smaterializzazione (Udine: Mimesis, 2014), Sémiotique du fondamentalisme : messages, rhétorique, force persuasive (Paris: l’Harmattan, 2014; translated into Arabic in 2015), and Signatim: Profili di semiotica della cultura (Rome: Aracne, 2015, 800 pp.), A Cultural Semiotics of Religion (in Chinese) (Series “Semiotics & Media”) (Chengdu, China: University of Sichuan Press, 2018, 210 pp.), On Insignificance (London and New York: Routledge, 2019, 226 pp.; Chinese translation 2019), Colpire nel segno: La semiotica dell’irragionevole (Rome: Aracne, 2020, 260 pp.), and Scevà: Parasemiotiche (Rome: Aracne, 2020, 260 pp.).

He has edited more than forty collective volumes, and published more than five hundred articles in semiotics, visual studies, and religious studies. He has lectured in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas. He is Editor-In-Chief of Semiotica (De Gruyter) the Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies, and Lexia, the Semiotic Journal of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Communication, University of Turin, Italy, and editor of the book series ‘I Saggi diLexia’ (Rome: Aracne), ‘Semiotics of Religion’ (Berlin and Boston: Walter de Gruyter), and ‘FACETS Advances in Face Studies’ (Routledge). He directed the MA Program in Communication Studies at the University of Turin, Italy (2015-2018) and is currently vice-director for research at the Department of Philosophy and Educational Sciences, University of Turin, Italy.


Tel: +44 1223 766886