Comparative Studies of Civilisations and Spiritualities

Performance: Underwater Lines – Live Painting

Performance part of the Conference Comics and the Invisible.


Conference “Materiality at the Intersection of Ecology and Religious Studies”

Concert mdi ensemble

Conference “Occultural Transfers between North and South”

Conference “Contemporary spiritualities: open theoretical and methodological issues”

“Life & Miracles”: Public Lecture with Cristina de Middel

Public Lecture with Sabiha Çimen

Conference The Eranos Experience: Spirituality and the Arts in a Comparative Perspective

Photography Masterclass with Sabiha Çimen and Jason Eskenazi

Underwater Lines – Live Painting

Conference Comics and the Invisible: Intertwining Academic and Artistic perspectives

Non-Belief and Non-Believers: evolution and challenges of contemporary irreligiousness

Workshop | Arabic-Islamic Calligraphy

Study Day | Sufism and Gender: Female Religious Authorities in Contemporary Societies


Symposium. Religious dimensions of nationalism: Interdisciplinary perspectives

Masterclass in Venice with Alex Majoli

Workshop Japanese Calligraphy

Symposium Philo of Alexandria: at the Crossroads of Civilisations

International Conference Religious Dimensions of Conspiracy Theories: Connecting Old and New Trends

Public Lecture: Photographing the Sacred

Photography Workshop Photographing the Sacred

Contesting in the Name of Religion in Secularised Societies: Between Doctrine and Militancy

Embodying Scientific Medicine and Religious Healing, A Comparative Perspective on Exorcism and Non-Voluntary Spirit Possession


Workshop Islamic Calligraphy: Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt

International Conference: Transnational Sufism in Contemporary Societies: Reconfiguring Practices, Narratives and Boundaries

Seminar Islamic Ethics and Morality between Religion and Law

In Cambodia. Photographs from the Tiziano Terzani Archive

In keeping with its own history and tradition, the Giorgio Cini Foundation has created a Centre for Comparative Studies of Civilisations and Spiritualities. The new Centre has evolved naturally from the previous Venice and the East Institute, which was founded in 1958 with the principal aim of promoting the study of the civilisations of India and the Far East.

The Centre focuses on the study of different cultures, religions and spiritualities from a comparative perspective. This comparison is intended as an instrument for promoting dialogue between civilisations, in order to discuss ideas, but also political, theoretical and aesthetic experiences.


Among the projects we intend to develop are:

– Mysticism, esotericism, spirituality and popular religion are elusive concepts, which, as Michel De Certeau states, “haunt” the epistemology of the contemporary social sciences. We welcome interdisciplinary works on these concepts, connecting philosophical reflections, social sciences and theologies. Scholars are invited to work in the library of the Centre, which hosts a rich collection on Orientalism, colonial literature, exotericism, and comparative religions.

– The boundaries between science and religion are often blurred. Some historians, Orientalists and psychoanalysts of the 20th century, such as Mircea Eliade, Henry Corbin, and Carl Gustav Jung, have been called “religionist”; they have, in fact, mixed conceptions and experiences of the sacred together with historical and scientific descriptions. A current within the new religious movements and the New Age culture, called “Quantum Mysticism”, has been adopting the narratives of the natural sciences. Completely different is the “ontological turn” described by contemporary anthropology, which opens up to the possibility of other realities and dimensions. We invite scholars to explore the boundaries between science, culture and religion.

– The relationship with the Other. Almost every religion faces otherness, and problematises the border between “us” and “them”. The border could be cultural, ethnic, linguistic, or linked to sexual orientation and gender identity. We ask scholars to discuss religious boundaries. How is the Other perceived? Who is the infidel? How do these borders move according to the political and social context?

– Between New and Old Age. The social sciences have tried to describe changes in religious practices in contemporary societies by employing new categories, such as “religious modernity”, “bricolage”, “post-secular”, and “New Age”. The risk is to fall into presentism, ascribing all the characteristics of religious phenomena to the so-called modern turn. We therefore propose to investigate the relationships between old and new trends within religious phenomena.

– Phenomenology of the religious body: perceptions, emotions, sensations and construction of the body. We invite scholars to describe and understand the intertwining of body, perception, understanding and culture.

– Projects dedicated to the study and valorisation of the Tiziano Terzani Archive, donated by the family to the Giorgio Cini Foundation, containing personal documents and photographs.



The Library

The Library of the Centre for Comparative Studies of Civilisations and Spiritualities has several collections specialised in Eastern culture with an emphasis on the great spiritual traditions both in the East and the West. Among these stand out those of Alain Daniélou, Tiziano Terzani, and Giovanni Vacca. Furthermore, thanks to the Daniélou Bequest, the Centre preserveses an enormous collection of manuscript copies of sacred musicological treatises from Indian traditions and books useful for the study of traditional philosophy. The library is equally specialised in journals dedicated to the comparative study of cultures, which the Cini Foundation is committed to updating every year. The Beijing Imperial Library microfilm archive is a further very valuable resource in the collections.



Our journal Religiographies

Religiographies is an open-access, peer-reviewed, scholarly journal dedicated to the field of religious studies that aims to promote an interdisciplinary approach to religious phenomena, encouraging a dialogue between historians, sociologists, anthropologists, literary scholars, philosophers, and psychologists. In addition, it attempts to discuss those topics often neglected by the social and human sciences – such as mysticism, esotericism, and spirituality – which, in the words of Michel de Certeau, “persecute scientific epistemology”.



Present and past Fellows


  • Anna Scarabel  (period: February, September 2024)

        • The Night Jasmine Tree of Vedic Meaning. Two opposing ways of retaining the meanings of the Veda. Svāmī Karapātrī’s and Dayānanda Sarasvatī’s ideologies
          Icon worship is a widespread ritual practice in Hindu religious traditions. In the 19th century, Svāmī Dayānanda Sarasvatī (1824-1883), the founder of the Ārya Samāja (1875), a reformist Hindu organization revealing a matrix of Orientalist influences, challenged this practice and led the debate on its ‘authenticity’ within Hindu traditions. On the contrary, several ‘orthodox’ Hindu scholars of 19th and 20th century India opposed the spreading of Svāmī Dayānanda’s positions.
          In my research “The Night Jasmine Tree of Vedic Meaning. Two opposing ways of retaining the meanings of the Veda. Svāmī Karapātrī’s and Dayānanda Sarasvatī’s ideologies, I address the philosophical debate developing around the practice of mūrti pūjā, or devotion to icons, between the neo-Hindu reformist movement Ārya Samāja and the Hindu traditionalist Svāmī Karapātrī (1907-1982). While Dayānanda Sarasvatī was known as one of the fathers of modern India, Svāmī Karapātrī was referred to as a ‘champion of orthodoxy,’ an influential voice in the religious, social, and political spheres of colonial and post-colonial India. Overall, this project studies a traditionalist response to the spreading of a reformist Hindu movement, the Ārya Samāja, thus illustrating how ‘old systems of thought’ are adapted in the confrontation (and refutation) of ‘modern’ religious instances.
  • Tara Smith    (period: January – March 2024)

        • “Blood for the Blood God!” - Transformation with Gods and Religion in the Warhammer 40K Universe
          This project will explore how Warhammer 40,000 players interact and understand the gods and religions present within their game world. This game environment includes miniature wargaming, model hobbying, video games, engaging with lore and instructional content in a variety of mediums, and interacting with other players (both online and offline). The aim of this project is to develop new knowledge and understanding in these relationships. This project will utilise a multi-modal methodology will explore the way in which players and non-players utilise religious symbols within the game for political means. Additionally, it will explore the potential spiritual connection and flow state through the act of miniature painting. This project will draw on archival work from the Fondazione Giorgio Cini to understand religious experiences of flow. This research was selected for the post-doc scholarship “Spirituality and the Arts”, granted by the Center for the Study of World Religions of Harvard Divinity School, the Warburg Institute, the University of Amsterdam, and the Centre for Comparative Studies of Civilisations and Spiritualities of Giorgio Cini Foundation.


Claudia Dellacasa  (period: April – May 2023)

      • Intersectional Eco-Polyphony: Dialectical Relations between East and West, Nature and Culture
        In my project, I aim to create an ecocritical framework for reading experimental poems and eco-fictions written in English and Italian by women writers with Buddhist interests. Situated at the intersection of the environmental humanities, comparative literature and philosophy, and gender studies, this research will make an original intervention to analyse the ability of environmental writing to gesture towards an understanding of the categories of species, cultural, and gender identities in their mutually constitutive relations.
        On one hand, I envisage ‘intersectional eco-polyphony’ as a prism that allows us to critically defuse stringent binaries such as female/male, nature/culture, East/West, and to understand individual and collective identities dialectically. On the other hand, I propose this concept as an original ecocritical coordinate that emphasises the complex system of rhetorical strategies through which environmental writing orchestrates the voices of humans, animals, and plants, while adopting different cultural approaches to the engagement with non-human beings. In this way, the interconnection of diverse life forms within the texts emerges in a dialectical relationship with the fluidity and multiplicity of experiences that are outside and generate them, moving towards the construction of sustainable environmental imaginaries.


Emanuele Confortin  (period: September 2022)

      • Banglavenice
        Banglavenice is an observational documentary exploring and questioning the coexistence with water in Venice. The narrative key is the experience of some Venetian citizens intertwined with that of some migrants from Bangladesh, who after leaving a country increasingly affected by the effects of global warming, find in Venice a continuity with the places they come from. In Banglavenice the subjects are portrayed in their everyday life, their stories united and linked by the element of water. During six months of fieldwork, the camera’s eye enters the city (including Mestre and Marghera) to give space to multiple interpretations of human creativity and tenacity. Water is the leitmotif of this work, a “giant to be respected because water can stop fire, but fire can do nothing against water”. Although the effects of global warming in Venice are still far from Bangladesh levels, the unique architectural features of the city combined with the rising sea level make Venice the front-line of climate change in Europe. Through a transversal and immediate visual language, Banglavenice offers a multidimensional look at the city that highlights at the same time its fragility and its extraordinary ability to regenerate continuously.


Gregory Vandamme (period: May – June 2022)

  • The Influence of Ibn ʿArabī’s Thought in the Modern West and the Limiting-Case of Ivan Aguéli (d. 1917)
    The intellectual and spiritual legacy of Ibn ʿArabī (d. 1240) has been the object of multiple socio-political and religious appropriations. The goal of this research is to deepen our understanding of the questions raised by the contemporary interpretations and instrumentalizations of Ibn ʿArabī’s thought, by looking into the limiting-case of a particularly relevant, albeit eccentric actor of its first introduction to Western audiences, Ivan Gustaf Aguéli (1869-1917). This research project aims at investigating the – often allusive – doctrinal content of Aguéli’s texts in the light of the Akbarian tradition by addressing the following questions: How does Aguéli’s reading and presentation of Ibn ʿArabī’s intellectual legacy articulate his radical and revolutionary form of Anarchism to the traditional Islamic doctrines? Could we find an authentic form of contemporary Akbarian commentary behind what often appears at first glance as a peculiar and confused appropriation? In turn, how did this peculiar interpretation of Ibn ʿArabī shape and influence his first reception in the Western audience? By identifying the aspects of his reading that are radically innovative and creative, and those that prove to be rooted in the Akbarian interpretative tradition, this limiting-case should allow us to better understand the dynamics behind the contemporary interpretations and uses of Ibn ʿArabī’s thought.


Shobhana Xavier (period: November – December 2021)

Between Contestation and Accommodation: Sufi Shrines in Contemporary Sri Lanka

My current book project is an ethnographic study of Sufi shrines in Sri Lanka set against the context of growing Buddhist extremist nationalism and anti-Sufism. During my time at the Cini Foundation, I worked in the library, particularly the India Room, reading and sifting through books and writings by European Orientalists and travelers who visited Sri Lanka (Ceylon) to understand how they did (or did not) discuss Sufi spaces and shrines, while also taking note of their framing of Islam broadly on the island. This material that I was able to engage at the Cini Foundation will be valuable for my historical contextualization of Sufi shrines and hagiographies in the context of colonial Ceylon (or British Sri Lanka) in my upcoming book on the contestations and accommodations that unfold around Sufi shrines in contemporary Sri Lanka.


Mariano Errichiello (period: May – July 2021)

The making of modern Zoroastrians between esotericism, the Persianate world and the West

The project carried out at the Centre for Comparative Studies of Civilisations and Spiritualities articulates around two main focus areas. The first one is the sociological analysis of the modern Zoroastrians of India. The adoption of the interpretive model of religious economies has been assessed and refined. The process of religious individualisation during and after colonialism has been recognised as an axis of research that can facilitate the study of the Zoroastrian community over time. The second focus area entails the consultation of primary and secondary sources held in the library of the Centre. The main findings include several reports of Orientalist scholars on the religions in India, including Zoroastrianism, and the first translations into European languages of textual sources belonging to antinomian religious movements that emerged after the Arab conquest of Persia and spread across the Persianate world.


Francesco Baroni (period: October – December 2020)

The Philosophical Gold of Perennialism. Hans Thomas Hakl, Julius Evola and the Italian esoteric milieus

Julius Evola (1898-1974) was the most prominent Italian representative of perennialism, a school of thought based on two core ideas: the spiritual decadence of the modern West, and the existence of a “primordial Tradition”, a long forgotten repository of spiritual wisdom of non-human origin, whose traces subsist in the esoteric dimensions of Eastern and Western religions. Beside inspiring scholars such as Mircea Eliade, Evola’s work, in Italy as elsewhere, helped to establish a countercultural and anti-modern discursive framework with philosophical as well as political ramifications, particularly in the area of radical right. Still today, however, the scholarship on this author and his cultural legacy is scarce. Our research examines the relationship between Evola and the Austrian scholar Hans Thomas Hakl (born 1947). After translating Evola’s main books into German, Hakl has established himself as one of the most reliable specialists of the Evolian thought, contributing to its international resonance in the years of globalization, as well as to its recognition as an academic object of study. Our research took place mainly in Graz, Austria, where Hakl’s library and private archives are located. Access to these facilities proved invaluable, enabling the identification and study of unpublished documents.


Bernd-Christian Otto (period: October – December 2020)

Hans Thomas Hakl - Three lives in one

Who is Hans Thomas Hakl, the man behind the Octagon library? Based on 10 hours of semi-structured qualitative interviews conducted in March 2021, the project “Hans Thomas Hakl: Three lives in one” presents for the first time an extensive biographical account of the entrepreneur, scholar, publisher, book collector, and spiritual seeker Hans Thomas Hakl. As much of Hakl’s work was driven by a“respect for the honest – I might even say honourable – losers in the clash of world views” (Hakl 2008) and thus a strong interest in marginalized and disputed topics, authors, and ideas – many of which manifested in the Octagon library – Hakl himself became somewhat of a disputed figure. The project hence aims at portraying a most nuanced and multifaceted picture of the founder of the Octagon library, which seeks to transcend one-sided political or ideological perspectives.



Linda Zampol D’Ortia (period: August – November 2019)

Emotion and Conversion: Early Modern Jesuits in Asia

This project aims to identify the Catholic missionaries’ use of emotions as tools of evangelization among Asian peoples in the early modern period.
To do so, it analyses the emotional scripts present in the missionary literature written by four Italian Jesuits who carried out pioneering work in different geographical areas and had in common a willingness to promote a dialogue across cultures as basis for their work (the so-called accommodation policy).
The four case studies considered are: Alessandro Valignano (1539–1606), Visitor of the Indian province of the Society of Jesus, who wrote extensively about Indian and Japanese people and was a fierce supporter of accommodation; Rodolfo Acquaviva (1550–1583), representative of the first mission to the Mughal Empire; Matteo Ricci (1552–1610), one of the founders of the mission to China, who studied its culture for nearly thirty years; and Ippolito Desideri (1684–1733), one of the first Europeans to visit Tibet and to write about Tibetan Buddhism.


Lorenzo M. Capisani  (period: July – October 2018)

Tiziano Terzani and China: A Changing World Seen from Europe and Asia
The research project investigates the experience of the Italian intellectual Tiziano Terzani in the People’s Republic of China. He worked as a foreign correspondent for the German magazine Der Spiegel. Terzani lived in Beijing with his family from 1980 until 1984. He also had the opportunity to travel the country. This account is especially interesting because it occurred in the very first period of the ‘reform and opening era’ under Deng Xiaoping leadership. Terzani’s experience can give a fresh view on how China was transforming itself and where it was heading. Furthermore, Terzani was not only a journalist, but he also was intimately connected to China and to the idea that a different form of modernity was possible. Consequently, his experience is also interesting in order to understand some of the European perspectives of the time on China and Deng’s innovations. This generally implied a discussion on progress and on globalization, which was (and is) a broader question of our times. The research is based on Terzani’s personal archives stored at the Fondazione Cini and the available sources in Chinese.