American Univesity of Beirut

R + D: Ricardo Paredi PhD (expected ’22), Arabic and Near Eastern Languages

​Life before his PhD: I grew up in a small, mountainous village in Lake Como (Italy). I always felt the need to be challenged by what I considered “otherness,” so I went north to Denmark for a year (2008) to learn about Scandinavian culture, and then I went south, studying Spanish and Arabic at the Università degli Studi di Milano, where I obtained my BA in cultural and linguistic mediation (2013). As an undergraduate, I studied at the Universidad de Salamanca in Spain (2011–12), where I tasted the richness of the culture of al-Andalus. I also spent time (2013–14) in Morocco (Meknes) living in a community of Christian monks specialized in Islamic studies who passed on their passion to me. I was able to pursue this interest thanks to a scholarship from USJ, where I obtained a master’s degree (in 2016) in Muslim-Christian relations under the supervision of Dr. Jad Hatem. I studied Arabic at Dar Comboni Institute in Cairo (2016–17) before enrolling in AUB’s PhD program, where I am focusing on Sufi studies under the wonderful supervision of Dr. Bilal Orfali.

What matters most: Arabic and Islamic studies are often influenced by agendas and ideologies that do not allow a historical, academic, and intellectually honest approach to the sources. At AUB we try to avoid such biases and narratives, reviving Arabic’s huge but frequently neglected literary heritage. Sufi texts in particular present an outstanding richness, with their refined prose and poetry, theological and philosophical questionings, and mystical intuitions. They provide deep insights that allow a better understanding of the development of the Arabic language and the Islamic cultural and religious milieu.

Research: I am in the process of defining the focus of my doctoral research. During my first year, I studied emotions in Ascetic and Early Sufi texts, concentrating on huzn, sadness, as a possible virtuous feeling. I am currently working on al-Tha􀀁ālibī’s geographical and adab worldview, exploring how our understanding of space and the world is shaped—and influenced—by literature. I am deeply interested in anything concerning Islamic mysticism, especially the so-called formative period of Sufism. Old manuscripts fascinate me.

10 am Tuesday, 10 am Saturday: On Tuesday, I am most likely racking my brain on some Sufi text without understanding much. On Saturday, I am probably racking my body on rock climbing routes in Tannourine el-Fawqa.

Most admires: I admire great scholars who share their knowledge and wisdom with everyone who asks—and do it with humility and passion. I also admire people, like Miro, my grandfather’s uncle, who live blissfully. Their profound joy seems to affirm: “Wallahi, I found my place in this world!”

Why this topic interests him:
It is in the mystical experiences and speculations of Sufi texts that I find what I believe matters most: the will and effort to progress in our humanity and divineness through an unescapable quest for meaning and love.

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