The Newsletter 96 Autumn 2023

Northern Italians in the Low Lands: Experiences as Gonda Fellows

Chiara LivioMartina Palladino

During the academic year of 2022-2023, we, Martina Palladino and Chiara Livio, were beneficiaries of the Gonda Fellowship at the International Institute for Asian Studies. The fellowship, granted by the J. Gonda Foundation, is dedicated to supporting the scholarly study of Sanskrit, other Indian languages and literature, and Indian cultural history. As post-doctorate-level scholars, we were selected to spend six months at IIAS to conduct our research projects.

Upon our arrival at the IIAS, Martina was engaged in a study on the Śākadvīpīya Brāhmaṇas in India. Her research was focused on the religious, cultural, and linguistic aspects of this under-studied Brahmanical group, which claims Iranian origins. Chiara was involved in an examination of Maṅkha's Śrīkaṇṭhacarita and its commentary by Jonarāja, which underlines the gaps in existing scholarship of the poem’s manuscript tradition.

A shared bond emerged immediately from our common Italian roots. Interestingly enough, we were both born in the North of Italy, Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy, and we had the same academic interests in Italy. However, we never crossed paths despite the intricate web of Italian academia. The first time we met at the IIAS, over a cup of coffee in early January, it was not surprising to find out that we had friends in common, and that we both had been to Leiden before, the cradle of Sanskrit studies in the Netherlands.

As our time at IIAS progressed, we soon realized that the fellowship offered more than just a platform for academic research, as it soon became an experience that blurred the lines between the professional and the personal. On the one hand, our work at IIAS and Leiden University was characterized by a blend of independent research, group discussions, and collaborative reading groups on Sanskrit texts. On the other hand, shared meals and coffee breaks in the IIAS kitchen gave us time for discussions and interactions with our then colleagues Jean-Thomas, Lisa, Mina, Aditya, Mariko, Aryo, and Soheb. With their backgrounds in political science and anthropology, they brought fresh perspectives that enriched our own philological studies. With their friendly and creative personalities, they made our stay at the institute very enjoyable and memorable. 

A special note of gratitude is owed to Laura, our fellowship coordinator. Her role extended beyond administrative duties. She invested time and effort into understanding us not just as researchers but as individuals, fostering a sense of personal connection within the academic setting by attending our lectures and showing interest in our academic enterprises.

Reflecting on our time at IIAS, we recognize how significantly it underscored the importance of collaboration and shared learning in academia, which is often overshadowed by competition and individualism. Martina is now off to the University of Ghent, where she continues her academic career as a postdoctoral fellow, whereas Chiara is working at Utrecht University Library as an advisor for the publishing support department. We both took with us the synergistic atmosphere that IIAS inspired us to embrace, and the sweet memory of our time in Leiden.