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Flavio's research on contemplative systems in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism has culminated in the publication of a series of articles, which can be downloaded here. He also finished two monographs, one of which—The Life and Work of Ernesto De Martino: Italian Perspectives on Apocalypse and Rebirth in the Modern Study of Religion—has recently been published by Brill.

Framing the Sky

Based on extensive analysis of mostly untranslated tantric literature written between the 8th and the 14th centuries, this book offers the first comprehensive introduction of “Direct Transcendence” (thod rgal, Tögal), the most secretive meditation practice of one of the most esoteric traditions in all of Buddhism, namely the “Seminal Heart” (snying thig) “Great Perfection” (rdzogs pa chen po or rdzogs chen, Dzogchen). As part of this Tibetan technique, practitioners gaze into sun-lit sky until they perceive luminous visions against the backdrop of the deep dark blue. Despite its esoteric character, scholars have compared the Tibetan sky-gazing technique to mindfulness meditation, which has become phenomenally popular across Western societies in recent decades. It has not only been argued that these types of practices share a frame of mind characterized by freedom, but also a series of closely related traits, such as present-centeredness, relaxation, or a non-judgmental attitude. This study contextualizes Tögal practice within a larger contemplative system, which includes mythical-historical narratives of origin, anatomical descriptions of our subtle bodies, and philosophical speculations about the nature of language, in order to explore both the history of Great Perfection Buddhism and the functioning of meditation practices. Historically, the study sheds new light on the controversial historical origins of Dzogchen Buddhism, arguing that it can be regarded as mixture of pre-Buddhist beliefs and practices and newer developments that emerged as a result of the trauma of the collapse of the Tibetan empire in the 9th century and the rise to power of new traditions in the subsequent centuries. Theoretically, this book shows that meditation is not simply dominated by freedom. On the contrary, over the course of six chapters, the book provides the reader with a series of “frames” that not only demonstrate that meditation frequently confines our freedom, but also suggest that its truly liberating power stems from increasing our awareness of the various limitations that make up human existence. Amongst many other things, the book shows that present-centeredness requires us to be aware of our pasts, relaxation involves an appreciation of our bodily energies, and a non-judgmental attitude calls for an understanding of how our brains are inherently geared towards structure and meaning-making.

The Life and Work of Ernesto de Martino

In The Life and Work of Ernesto de Martino, Flavio offers a comprehensive study of one of Italy’s most colorful historians of religions. The book inserts the dramatic life trajectory of Ernesto de Martino (1908-1965) within the intellectual climate and the socio-political context of his age in order to offer a fresh perspective on the evolution of the discipline of religious studies during the 20th century. Demonstrating that scholarship on religion was animated by moments of fear of the apocalypse, the book traces de Martino’s life by painting rich portrays of four specific moments of crisis and associates them with his specific research projects undertaken during those years: 1) The rise of totalitarian regimes in the wake of WWI and the militant participation in the construction of a modern “civil religion;” 2) the precarious conditions during the final years of WWII and the intellectual discourse surrounding fascism as a type of shamanic magic; 3) the Southern Question and the development of a reflexive anthropology to study the Tarantella-dances performed by women in Italy’s South during the 1950s; 4) and the identification of the emerging postmodernism as a form of cultural apocalypse during the years of the Cold War.  It not only offers an introduction to the Italian thinkers that shaped de Martino’s ideas—particularly Vittorio Macchioro, Benedetto Croce, Antonio Gramsci, and Enzo Paci—but it also scrutinizes his fertile correspondence with Mircea Eliade, his close reading of the works of Claude Lévi-Strauss, and his anticipatory remarks on what would become Clifford Geertz’s interpretative anthropology. In response to these thinkers and their well-known directions in scholarship, his study unearths de Martino’s position, according to which crisis must be regarded as an opportunity for civilizational rebirth.

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