Introducing the ESRs VI: Andrea Bianchi

Andrea Bianchi studies the Origenian influence on Dutch Arminianism in the 17th century at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Italy. Read his article about being an ITN ESR in Milan here.

Being an ESR in Milan - An Italian returns to Italy

One of the usual questions I hear from meeting people familiar with European ITN projects (which have special rules requiring European-wide mobility) is: how is that, that you, an Italian citizen, are doing your PhD at an Italian university? If you are curious about the answer and you would like to know a bit more about my days as an ITN-PhD and about the university where I study, please read on!

I have been accepted as a PhD student in Italy, given the fact that I had spent most of the last 10 years abroad, mainly in central and northern Europe, studying and working there. As the program requirement was met, the question for me was initially if it made sense for my personal development also to be in Italy, I mean personally and culturally apart from professionally and academically. Surely, the topic I was going to study fascinated me, but how about living in Italy, would it be an enriching experience too? With hindsight, I can say I have made the right choice, since years of living abroad have changed me in different ways, more than I could perceive before, so that I am still gaining the benefit of living within a set of relatively different social norms and cultural attitudes compared to what I was used to. I gain many personal insights through this experience, questioning what I have experienced in other places, but in some cases, however, I still stick to my acquired eclectic personal culture. As a funny example, sometimes over lunch my supervisor would smile seeing me drink a cappuccino after the meal (something that is really a “no-no” for an Italian, at least culturally, you drink it only in the morning!), but I have to say that I am still convinced that some habits are worthy to be kept at all costs!

I live in Brescia, about one hour and a bit from Milan: since the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (UCSC) is a large university, although relatively young (1921), it has branches dislocated in several cities, among those Brescia, where I can easily reach the library on foot. Since the department of religious studies is located there, I can find material that I need even if Brescia’s library is smaller than Milan’s. Several times a  month, however, I also travel to UCSC in Milan, to meet my supervisor in order to formally discuss my work but also sometimes to just have lunch with her and update her on my progress, personal matters or just to have a chat on world affairs. I also usually travel to Milan to find even more material for my work or attend different sorts of courses: there is plenty of them, which are interesting, it is just unfortunate that time is too short to do all or even most of them! Besides this, the UCSC “base” of Milan is a fantastic and very inspirational location, immersed in the cloisters of an old Cistercian monastery of St. Ambrose. Moreover, the library of UCSC in Milan owns books from the 16th century, that even if not directly related to my  subject, still bring me closer to the centuries I am studying.

Concluding this small presentation about myself and rather than giving you, the reader, a sketch of my project description, which you can find on my profile on this page, I think it useful to add a few comments on how I moved on since I have started, basically since I have written that description. The first months have been used to “search the ground” in order to really gain a deeper picture of 17th century philosophical and theological debates, than the one I had before, especially because my work focuses on primary sources and tries to read them through “the eyes” of that century. Within a few months distance, I am happy about having spent some time there, because I am at present moving smoothly in and out of the works of Jean Le Clerc and his contemporaries and organizing the cues I have found so far on my topic. At present, I am using Le Clerc’s epistolary, fully edited by a UCSC scholar, Mario Sina, as a key to navigate through the vast production of Le Clerc and connect all that I have learned so far. In any case, I still find my work fascinating as every time I read these primary sources I feel like boarding a time travel machine, setting the date back to somewhere between 1685 and 1720 or so and passing through the streets of the then Amsterdam, London, Paris. I am however conscious that I need to be back to present time, as both my supervisor, UCSC and the ITN project are very much looking forward to my accounts of what I have experienced there!