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Bausani, Alessandro

by Biancamaria Scarcia Amoretti

published in Encyclopaedia Iranica
New York: Columbia University, 2008
BAUSANI, ALESSANDRO (b. Rome, Italy, 29 May 1921; d. Rome, 11 March 1988), prolific Italian Orientalist in several fields: Persian Literature, Islam, linguistics, the history of Islamic science, Urdu, Indonesian, and other Islamic literatures. His family was Roman Catholic and his father, who exerted a strong influence over him, was a particularly strict observer, being a member of the laic Dominican Tertiary Order. From childhood he showed an exceptional interest in languages and invented a language when playing games with his only sister. He later discovered that the grammatical structure of this language was very similar to that of Turkish. He published an analytical description of this language, which he had named Markusko, in a booklet, Le lingue inventate (Rome, 1974, of which there is also an earlier version in German, Geheim und Universal Sprachen, Stuttgart 1970). This won him the honorary chairmanship of the Centro Italiano di Interlinguistica, whose members were mostly interested in Esperanto, a language cultivated by Bausani himself. It is not surprising that during his adolescence he studied the main European languages and, later on, languages such as Basque, to which he dedicated some articles of such merit that he was elected as a member of the Royal Academy of the Basque Language. At an early age he also began studying Arabic with one of his neighbors, the well-known Italian Arabic scholar, Virginia Vacca. Francesco Gabrieli in his obituary (Rome, 1991, p. IX) pointed out that in 1940 Bausani had already exhibited in his first Arabic language test a remarkable grasp of the language. Consequently, he took an interest in the Near and Middle East and attended courses at IsMEO (see ITALY xv. IsMEO, Istituto per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente), the Institute for Middle and Far Eastern Studies, founded by Giuseppe Tucci, and at PIO, the Pontificio Istituto Orientale, run by Jesuits, where in 1943-44 he studied Turkish with Mgr. Paul Mulla (1882-1959) a Cretan Turk who had converted to Catholicism. His Persian was soon so fluent that during the Second World War, when he was only 21, he directed a radio program in Persian transmitted by Radio Roma.

In any case, he followed what was at the time the normal humanistic curriculum: he attended a secondary school specializing in classical studies (Latin and Greek) and then the Faculty of Arts at Rome University La Sapienza where he took his degree in 1943, defending a thesis on “The Historical Development of Neo-Persian Syntax.” At the university, he had the opportunity of studying under Francesco Gabrieli (d. 1996), Ettore Rossi (d. 1955), and Michelangelo Guidi (d. 1946). With Guidi, Bausani shared not only an academic interest in religious phenomena but also deep religious beliefs that set him on a quest and an inner search that would eventually lead to his conversion to Baha’ism. The exact date of his conversion is not known. In 1949, he wrote a letter to his father from which we can assume that he had already abandoned Catholicism. On the basis of several of his public speeches, there seems to have been a brief attraction to Protestantism and, in all likelihood, to Islam. Certainly he was a Baha’i by 1955 when he married a Baha’i, and the ceremony was performed according to Baha’i rituals.

The acceptance of the Baha’i faith marked the end of a certain uneasiness that he had experienced in the post-war period, especially after 1948, when the Christian Democratic Party won the first free elections in Italy, contrary to all expectations. Like other Catholic intellectuals who had been strongly anti-fascist, he joined a small group of so-called Catholic Communists for a certain period. They were later excommunicated by Pope Pius XII (d. 1958), but continued their activity under the title of The Christian Left. Then, for about two years, he was a member of the Italian Communist Party. After he left the Communist Party, he no longer took an active part in politics, although for a long time he supported Aldo Capitini (d. 1968). The latter was a celebrated politician and philosopher of religion, much influenced by Gandhi and was engaged in a non-violent pacifist movement that acted through the network of Centers of Religious Guidance (COR) with a large following among progressive Catholics.

Bausani’s involvement in Baha’ism affected his research: his Saggi sulla fede Bahāʾi, a testimony to his role in the Italian Baha’i community, was published posthumously (Rome, 1991), but his academic works on the topic are numerous (for example: “Religioni nuove sorte dall’Islam,” Storia delle religioni, 6th ed., Turin, 1970-71, V, pp. 213-74; or the entries Bāb, Bābis, Bahāʾ-Allāh, Bahāʾīs, all in EI2). Baha’ism also influenced his Italian translation of the Qurʾān (Florence, 1955). Although many other translations have been published subsequently, Italian scholars generally continue to favor Bausani’s, both for its accuracy and for its literary style, which is somehow imbued with the aura of Qur’ānic Arabic, as well as affected by his own personal religious commitment (Scarcia Amoretti, OM, 1991,pp. 516-17). To be precise, Bausani understood (“Postille a Cor. II, 248; XXXIX, 23; XX, 15,” Studi orientalistici in onore di Giorgio Levi Della Vida, Rome, 1998, pp. 32-51, esp. p. 51) the expression ḵ-ātam al-nabiyyin (Q. xxxiii, 40, referring to the Prophet Mohammad) in Baha’i terms: Mohammad, as with all past and future prophets, was the “seal” only of his temporal cycle.

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