Performance part of the Conference Comics and the Invisible.
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 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
Claudia Dellacasa (period: April – May 2023)
Emanuele Confortin (period: September 2022)
Gregory Vandamme (period: May – June 2022)
Shobhana Xavier (period: November – December 2021)
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 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)
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)
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)
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)