A Global Academic Career
I am a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney, where I teach courses on Indo-Tibetan culture and religion, Tibetan and Sanskrit languages, as well as the contemplative systems of tantric Buddhism. Before joining the University of Sydney, I cultivated a strong commitment to teaching and mentoring students with various cultural backgrounds. I have taught more than a dozen different courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level at the universities of Virginia (2010-2012, 2017), Bern (2018-23), Jerusalem (2020-21), Fribourg (2021), and Basel (2022).
Prior to starting my teaching career, I underwent a rigorous and lengthy training as a historian of religions, which culminated in the completion of two PhDs (completed in 2018 and 2019). Throughout my studies, I received instruction at institutions of higher education in Europe (HEC Paris, London School of Economics, INSEAD, the University of Zurich, University of Lausanne, University of Bern, University of Heidelberg, University of Rome La Sapienza, University of Siena), North America (University of Denver, University of Virginia), the Middle East (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), and Asia (Kathmandu University, Mussoorie Language School, Root Institute Bodhgaya). I also acquired mastery of more than a dozen ancient and modern languages. Fluent in German, Italian, and English, I have advanced knowledge of French, Spanish, and Hebrew; modern Tibetan, Nepali, Hindi, and Urdu; and classical Tibetan and Sanskrit. I have an intermediate or basic knowledge of several other languages, including classical Chinese, Mongolian, Pali, Arabic, Persian, and Russian.
As a young man, I was fortunate to travel extensively along the sacred rivers of Northern India, live in monasteries in the fertile Kathmandu valley, and wake up to the breathtaking views of the Himalayan mountains on the border regions of Tibet. There I encountered long-haired sadhus performing yogic practices, clean-shaven monks reciting sacred texts in front of large crowds, and solitary hermits meditating in isolated caves in mountains. I was so fascinated by these individuals and their exotic psycho-physical practices that I kept returning to Asia, spending a good part of my adult life living in the Himalayan regions of India and Nepal, or traveling through various other parts of East and Southeast Asia. I received instructions on esoteric techniques of meditation whose secret has been kept within lineages of meditators, yogis, and tantrikas over the ages. Imitating the lifestyle of these figures, I developed a rigorous daily meditation routine, as well as a habit of engaging in regular solitary retreats, ranging from a few weeks to several months in duration.
I am a firm believer in the virtues of rigorous philological and historical approaches in the study of religions. In my classes, students will learn to attend to a patient and slow reading of texts. Whether it is by exploring enigmatic teachings contained in Indo-Tibetan tantras or understudied philosophical traditions from the Italian South, my emphasis lies squarely on voices from communities that have been historically overlooked, marginalized, and disadvantaged.
At the same time, this attention to primary sources is balanced by an emphasis on larger philosophical questions. I want my students to become integrative and synthetic thinkers, who can see connections in seemingly disparate information and draw on a wide range of knowledge to make arguments. In fact, research shows that the mind processes, stores, and retrieves knowledge not as a collection of facts but as a logically organized whole, a coherent conceptual framework with interconnected parts. As my courses progress, students gradually start to see the big picture of patterns, a process that allows them to articulate their own perspective. History, in this sense, becomes a visionary, forward-looking, and empowering endeavor.
Having been trained both at some of the world’s leading universities and in more traditional contexts (Buddhist monasteries, textual archives, living with locals, etc.), I believe that humans learn best if they are personally touched by the material that they study. Unlike classical “instructivist” approaches to teaching, I see learning as an experimental process, which initiates wherever the students are at the moment that I encounter them. New knowledge, quite intuitively, is always built upon the knowledge that was previously acquired, before they met me. Research shows that people are born learners with an insatiable curiosity. Think only of how we absorb and remember untold billions of details about our language, other people, objects, and things we know how to do. I aim to create a learning environment that explicitly encourages my students to rely on their existing mental models (and sometimes even their biases and judgments) so that they become active participates in their cognitive growth.
Ultimately, my classes are intended to gradually lead students through a process of cognitive growth by teaching them more about themselves, their learning habits, and their own mental models. Exposing them to uncertainties, contradictions, and conflicts helps students realize that often there is no one superior truth, nor can there be, given the nature of rational knowledge. This realization should gradually lead them out of dualistic thinking and through multiplistic conceptions of knowledge. Once they can embrace this type of uncertainty as legitimate and inherent in the nature of knowledge, students can then mature into a more realistic and relativistic conception of knowledge. This being said, the ultimate objective of all of my courses is to help students find their voice as they advance beyond relativism to make tentative commitments and progress toward cognitive maturity.
Halls of Learning: My University Chronicles
Dear Flavio, This was actually one of the courses I enjoyed the most in my degree. Your attitude to the subject and the discussions in our meetings were very interesting, and I really appreciate your effort on getting these super interesting and well informed guest speakers to talk to us in the last couple of classes.