Research Seminar 2016-2017

Stefania Buccini

Seventeenth-Century Fiction Lost (and Regained)

Francesco Pona, one of the most prominent figures of the Italian 17th century and the author of La Lucerna di Eureta Misoscolo (1625), a dialogic novel inspired by the Pythagorean doctrine of reincarnation, published his first fictional narrative in 1622 at the age of twenty-seven. This rare book, Il Primo di Agosto, Celebrato da Alcune Giovani ad una Fonte, appears in several 18th and 19th-century bibliographies, but its trail was lost after 1817.  Italian scholars have lamented the absence of this work, of which only a few copies were probably printed. A few years ago I discovered it in the Department of Special Collections at Stanford University, and I recently published a critical edition of the text. Not only is this book crucial to understanding Pona’s other writings, but it forces us to reorganize the traditional chronology of 17th-century narrative fiction in Italy.


Ben Hair

Albert Camus & Modern Buddhism : A Secular Ethics for the 21st Century

I will be discussing the ways in which Albert Camus, particularly in his Mythe de Sisyphe, conceives of humanity as fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. These observations, compounded with Avi Sagi’s own exploration of Camus’ conception of the absurd in his Albert Camus and the Philosophy of the Absurd, will allow for significant parallels to be made with the Buddhist notion of interdependence as exemplified in karmic theory of cause and effect. These two currents may appear distant at first, but in fact have much in common in the way they conceive of human nature, reality, and society at large.  I hope to make the case for a more practical application of both ethical theories in today’s polarized world.


Richard Goodkin

Sociology between Mathematics and Literature: Émile Durkheim’s Calculus of Suicide

Le Suicide (1897) is one of the very first sociological analyses of a human behavioral phenomenon carried out largely through statistical analysis; its author, Émile Durkheim (1858-1917), is generally considered the father of French sociology. This talk will demonstrate how this groundbreaking work reflects the conflict between the qualitative and the quantitative that underlies the history of calculus, a conflict that is not resolved by the mathematical solutions that perfect calculus as a tool of quantification by the late 19th century. Durkheim’s analysis, particularly of the etiology of suicide and of the relation between individual and social causes, will be examined in terms of its unexamined premises. Are we in fact justified in setting aside the paradoxes (such as Zeno’s paradox) that drove the development of calculus to begin with, simply because calculus is now satisfied with its solutions to those paradoxes? This is a question of particular importance for philosophical, literary, and other humanistic views of behavior.


This seminar will feature presentations of ongoing scholarly work by the graduate students, academic staff and faculty of the department, and a lively discussion following.  The languages will be English, French and Italian.  Discussion will be held in English.  For further information please contact Ullrich Langer (, Caitlin Schaer ( or Lauren Surovi (