la pira library, palermo

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The Giorgio La Pira Library and Research Centre in Palermo (Sicily) is a branch of the Dossetti Library in Bologna, both established by the Fondazione per le scienze religiose Giovanni XXIII, whose headquarters are in Bologna.

FSCIRE is a leading research institution in Italy, project coordinator of ReIReS.eu and RESILIENCE (Research Infrastructure on Religious Studies), founder of the European Academy of Religion and holder of a Unesco Chair on religious pluralism and peace.

The Dossetti Library, founded in 1953, has become one of the best libraries in the world for the history of Christianity, possessing one million volumes and three thousand journals.

After 65 years, in October 2018, the new Giorgio La Pira Library and Research Centre was established as a library specialised in the history and doctrines of Islam, with the aim of representing all its linguistic, doctrinal and cultural varieties. It is dedicated to Giorgio La Pira, a Sicilian scholar and political leader who played a key role in the peace movement throughout his life and career.

The Giorgio La Pira Library and Research Centre was founded thanks to the crucial support of the Italian institutions and has three main goals:

1) planning and realising a long-term scientific activity which will deal with a sensitive issue for the future of Europe and the Mediterranean area through knowledge and research. In order to reach this goal, the Library intends to be one of the major independent centres in this field and one of the few to represent all Islamic traditions;

2) making the city of Palermo a crucial hub for religious studies and one of the main poles of research and cultural diplomacy in the Mediterranean region and in the European Research Area, complementing the winning example of the Fondazione in Bologna;

3) encouraging the research cooperation of different traditions, which will be able to create an area of rights and understanding through scientific progress in the fields of history, theology, jurisprudence, philosophy and philology.

In order to maintain its independence, the La Pira Library and Research Centre has not asked and will not ask for financial support from Islamic countries or institutions; the economic resources
are provided by the Italian government and the top players of national and European culture thank to direct awards and successful EU competitive procedures. On the contrary, donations of books and manuscripts are welcome and a great effort is now implemented for the purpose of reaching 200 thousand books in two years and 500 thousand in six years, with an investment of 1.5 million per year.

The new library in Palermo is administered by the same board of directors that organises the activities of the Fondazione in Bologna and its mission is based on a few main pillars: a coenobitic rigour of the work; the administration, inspired by parsimony and based on an out of time egalitarianism; the scientific excellence as an instrument to disclose knowledge; a network of international and first class relationships which would confirm an Italian leadership and visibility through the infrastructure of the European research on religious studies; a full independence from universities and religious communities; a planned cognitive voracity.

With its ambitious project La Pira Library and Research Centre does not plan to become an institution exclusively focused on the Arab world, nor an educational centre for imams, nor an organisation of interreligious dialogue, and not even an academy devoted to detached erudition. On the contrary, it hopes to become a reference forum for cultivated research, enhancing the experience of the EU research infrastructure on religious studies as launched and led by FSCIRE in Bologna.

One year after its foundation, the Library has reached a substantial number of classical and modern works: it now possesses around 10.000 volumes in physical copies, over 175.000 digital books. This collection – the result of donations and purchases – includes books mainly in Arabic and Persian but with substantial funds also in Urdu, Turkish and various European languages. The Library has recently obtained the credential of the National Library System (SBN) and began the cataloguing process. The texts in the Latin Alphabet are catalogued using the national software (Sebina); those in Arabic are catalogued with the AlKindi 4.2 system, borrowed by the IDEO library in Cairo, the most advanced version in Arabic of the cataloguing system RDA (Resource Description and Access), which is becoming the standard for the description and access to bibliographic resources elaborated by representatives of the largest libraries in the world. Among the main features of this highly innovative system there is the possibility of producing metadata of any type; by combining the process of cataloguing texts in the main languages of Islam with direct research on original sources, the AlKindi 4.2 method provides a unique service in this field.

A seven-people team of researchers and librarians with different specialisation and academic backgrounds is currently working full-time at the Giorgio La Pira Library and Research Centre and their number is expected to double in the next five years. The team is affirming its scientific leadership inside and outside Europe with an agenda based on scientific excellence, open research, inclusive independence and diplomatic integrity.
To launch the La Pira Library the Archdiocese of Palermo made available a building located on the beautiful hill close to the city centre, named Saint Silvia. The Library and Research Centre includes a reserved area for prayer and a guest house for the visiting researchers.

Following the steps of the huge libraries of the Islamic traditions, the Giorgio La Pira Library and Research Centre is organising a series of visits at huge institutions of numerous countries in order to acquire double editions, rare books and books’ donations. In the first year of activities (2018–19) our team has visited Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, Iran, Morocco and Algeria, but among the countries that we plan to visit in the forthcoming future there are also Albania, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bosnia, China, Russian Federation, Jordan, Dubai, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Mali, Malaysia, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Syria, Sudan, Tanzania, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, USA and Yemen.

The first activities organised by the Giorgio La Pira Library and Research Centre in its first semester of work include the following seminars and conferences:

The Seminar Islam for the Future, at the end of which the research program Safinat Nuh has been launched (June 24–25, 2019);

Mohammed Hashas (FSCIRE/LUISS, Roma), Modern Arab Scholarship on Islamic Ethics and Trusteeship Critique: A Reflective Contextualization (September 18, 2019);

Patrizia Spallino (University of Palermo), Testi arabo-islamici nella Gǎzīrat al-Ṣiqiliyya (September 23, 2019);

Alessandro Cancian (Institute of Ismaili Studies, London), Esegesi, autorità spirituale (ri)nascita del sufismo sciita nell’Iran del XIX secolo (November 13, 2019);

Ivana Panzeca (FSCIRE/Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa), La tradizione manoscritta persiana dello Šifā’ di Ibn Sīnā in epoca Safavide (January 22, 2020);

Giuseppina Ferriello (independent researcher), La trasmissione del pensiero scientifico tra Grecia e mondo islamico (February 19, 2020);

Víctor Pallejà de Bustinza (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona), Philosophy and Sufism in the Abbasid Period: Meeting or Clash? (March 25, 2020);

Taraneh Wilkinson (FSCIRE/Georgetown University), Late Ottoman Muslim Religious Ethics: A Few Examples (April 22, 2020).

Furthermore, the Giorgio La Pira Library and Research Centre current projects include:
1) transferring in its venues the headquarters of TIMA, The Islamic Manuscripts Associations, led by Alba Fedeli;
2) hosting the 2021 International Biennial Conference held by IQSA, The International Quranic Studies Association;
3) hosting permanent exhibitions such as Professor Giovanni Canova’s series of photographs taken in Egypt and Yemen throughout his career.