University of Notre Dame

Center for Italian Studies


Summer Seminar 2013: Participants

Participants in the Summer Seminar 2013 Tantur, Jerusalem

Jason Aleksander

Jason Aleksander profile headshot

Jason Aleksander earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Vanderbilt University in May 2007 and joined the Saint Xavier University’s Department of Philosophy as an assistant professor in August of that year. He received promotion to associate professor in August 2011. Aleksander's current research focuses on Dante and Nicholas of Cusa. In his scholarship on Dante, he is interested especially in how the Divine Comedy mobilizes metaphysical and theological doctrines through poetic representations that stimulate ethical decision-making. He is currently working on a book project tentatively titled The Poetics of Orthopraxis in Dante’s Divine Comedy in which he argues that the Divine Comedy sacrifices the question of the independent veracity of theological and metaphysical doctrines on behalf of their orthopraxical significance to human projects of ethical self-reflection.

Jason Baxter

Jason Baxter headshot

Jason Baxter is a PhD Candidate in the PhD in Literature program at the University of Notre Dame. At Notre Dame he studied Dante, classical literature, and the history of the Platonic tradition in the Latin West. His dissertation seeks to locate Dante in the Neoplatonic literary and critical tradition. He is also an Instructor in Humanities and Art History at Wyoming Catholic College, where he has taught for the past three years.

Pietro Bocchia

Pietro Bocchia is a first year Ph.D. student in the program of ‘Literature’ at the University of Notre Dame. He is also enrolled in a Ph.D. in ‘History of Italian Language and Literature’ at the State University of Milan. He will defend his Italian dissertation in the spring 2014. His dissertation deals with the topos of the inner struggle in Dante's Divina Commedia and in Petrarch's vernacular and Latin works. In 2012 he published an article on the Divina Commedia in a peer-reviewed journal of the University of Milan (ACME): “La pugna spiritualis: una chiave per l’interpretazione di ‘Inferno’ II”. He is interested not only in Medieval and Humanistic literature but also in contemporary literature (his BA thesis was on the contemporary Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti).

John Bugbee

Bugbee headshot

John Bugbee holds a Ph.D. in English literature (medieval) and is closing in on a second one in religious studies (theology), both from the University of Virginia.  He has written several pieces on philosophical and theological themes in medieval literature, with particular attention to human agency, will, and the nature of physical law; his articles have appeared in Medium AEvum, Medievalia et Humanistica, and Zygon: The Journal of Religion and Science, with another, on the Purgatorio's “history of the human will,” slated to appear next year in Speculum.  A monograph entitled God's Patients: Chaucer, Bernard, and the Theology of Agency is undergoing revisions for the University of Notre Dame Press.  John has taught both English and theological studies at the University of Virginia, the University of Texas at Austin, and Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Ruth Chester

Ruth Chester headshot

Ruth Chester completed her doctorate in July 2012. Her thesis, entitled 'The Virtù Dynamic of Dante's Commedia: Ethics, Ontology and Representation', sought to explore the complex issue of virtù in the Commedia by establishing a richer contextual understanding of the term. Her analysis brought together philosophical, theological, representational and literary issues to enable a discussion of virtù which could begin to recognise the complexity of Dante's own usage of the term. Since completing her doctorate she has been involved with the project 'Dante and Late Medieval Florence: Theology in Poetry, Practice and Society' as an AHRC Cultural Engagement Fellow. Her work has focused on understanding the physical spaces of thirteenth-century Florence in order to understand better the communcation practices which took place within them. She has also been working with the Florence tourist board to produce tourist resources on the medieval city.

Elizabeth Coggeshall

Beth Coggeshall received her PhD in Italian from Stanford University (2012).  Her book project, Dante and the Theology of Friendship, considers the value of friendship in the construction and maintenance of the communities of Dante's afterlife.  She has published articles and essays on Dante and Islam, the role of hate in Dante's universe of love, and the politics of the Inferno.  She is currently a full-time postdoctoral lecturer in Stanford's interdisciplinary freshman programs.

George Corbett

George Corbett is Junior Research Fellow of Trinity College, and Affiliated Lecturer of the Department of Italian, the University of Cambridge. He specialises in medieval philosophy and theology with a particular focus on Dante. He is also interested in classical and medieval Latin literature, as well as medieval and renaissance literature in English and Italian. He is the author of Dante and Epicurus: A Dualistic Vision of Secular and Spiritual Fulfilment (Oxford: Legenda, 2013). He is director of CEPHAS (Centre for Philosophy at Stone), and co-director of Cambridge Vertical Readings of Dante’s Comedy, a four-year lectura Dantis series exploring systematically the ‘vertical’ connections between cantos of the same number across all three canticles.

George Ferzoco


George Ferzoco was trained as a medievalist in Canada, and has lived in the UK since 1994. There, he has taught at the universities of Leeds, Exeter, Leicester and Bristol. His main medieval interests are in propaganda, particularly in the creation of saintly images during canonization processes and in sermons on saints; he has also worked on Dante and on visual sources relative to Italian factionalism and popular culture.

Corey Flack

Corey Flack - headshot - photo

Corey Flack is a PhD student in Italian Literature and Culture and the Program in Medieval Studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he also completed his MA. He received a BS in Physics and a BA in Creative Writing with a minor in Italian from the University of Arizona. His dissertation, entitled “True Flesh: The Body as Nexus of Community, Identity, and Salvation in Dante’s Commedia,” aims to examine the implications of the human body and particularly the body of Dante the pilgrim both in the processes of community and identity formation as well as its necessity for human salvation.

Filippo Gianferrari

Filippo is a PhD Candidate at the Medieval Institute at the University of Notre Dame where his interests include late medieval Latin, Italian, and Provençal literature; medieval reception of classical authors and literature; love, especially the survival of classical eroticism into Christian culture; and the end of Florentine humanism.

Chantal Gustaw

After receiving a BSc First Class Honours in Psychology and Comparative Religion and a certificate in Forensic Psychology from Dalhousie University, (Nova Scotia, Canada), Chantal Gustaw decided to pursue her interest in medieval religion and Italian literature. Her dissertation for the MLitt in Mediaeval Studies from the University of St Andrews focused on the Marian lauds of the 13th century Franciscan poet Iacopone da Todi. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Mediaeval Studies under the supervision of Prof Frances Andrews (History) and Dr Robert Wilson (Italian). Her thesis, entitled ‘Reading Dante and Paul in the 14th-century’ will involve a close reading of Dante’s Commedia and the Pauline epistles, as well as 14th-century commentaries on both works. It seeks to compare Dante’s commentators' use of St Paul with how biblical commentators treated the same Pauline passages. Overall, she aims to analyse medieval (specifically early 14th-century) readings of Paul’s writings in relation to Dante’s Commedia.

Tristan Kay

Tristan Kay studied Modern Languages at the University of Leeds (BA 2005, MA 2006). In 2006 he began a doctorate at the University of Oxford, writing a thesis on the relationship between eros, spirituality and vernacular language in Dante. In 2010-12 he held a two-year Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at Dartmouth College, USA, and since 2012 he has been Lecturer in Italian Studies at the University of Bristol. He is in the process of completing his first book, entitled Dante’s Lyric Redemption, which explores Dante’s relationship to his vernacular lyric heritage and his commitment to eros as a redemptive force. He has published a number of articles that examine Dante’s complex and evolving notion of desire in relation to both medieval and classical literary cultures, and has co-edited the volumes Desire in Dante and the Middle Ages (2012) and Dante in Oxford: The Paget Toynbee Lectures (2011).

Leyla Livraghi

Leyla Livraghi - headshot

Leyla Livraghi is a PhD candidate at the University of Pisa, where she obtained both her BA and MA. Her main research is devoted to the early years of Dante’s exile, when he tried, for the very first time before the Commedia, to establish himself as a moral authority, in addition to being a lyrical one. In particular, her MA thesis focuses on the relationship between Dante and another poet, his friend Cino da Pistoia, in the years of their exiles. She is now working on a study about the unacknowledged presence in Dante’s work of Guittone d’Arezzo, the undisputed moral authority of Italian poetry before Dante. Nonetheless, her research interests range from Ovid’s fortune to Renaissance Studies and contemporary Italian poetry (namely Pascoli and D’Annunzio). Along with her research, she also contributes to the organization of Departmental seminars held by renowned scholars and to the editorial activity of the international journals «Humanistica» and «Italianistica». Her essays and reviews have been published, or just accepted, by journals as «Italianistica», «La rassegna della letteratura italiana», «Tenzone», «Studi danteschi», «Humanistica» and «Letteratura e arte».

Tom Luongo

Tom Luongo photo

Tom Luongo (BA, Columbia; MA, Toronto; PhD, Notre Dame) is Associate Professor of History at Tulane University, where he has taught since 1999.  He is also an Associate Dean in Tulane's undergraduate college and director of the Tulane Honors Program. He studies medieval religious culture, with a special focus on civic religion in Italy. He is author of The Saintly Politics of Catherine of Siena (Cornell, 2006). His current research involves images and imagination in visionary books and the religious culture of Italian cities in the later Middle Ages.

Nicolo Maldina

Nicolo Maldina received his BA and his MA in Medieval and Modern Italian Literature at the University of Bologna in 2006 and 2008. His BA dissertation was on Dante’s bestiary and his MA dissertation was on Dante's similes. During his MA he was awarded a scholarship by the Collegio Superiore of the University of Bologna. In 2012 he completed his PhD in Italian Studies at the University of Pisa, with a dissertation on the relationships between Dante's Commedia and late-medieval religious literature, with a specific focus on artes praedicandi and on preaching itself. Currently he is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Leeds where he works on the project "Dante and Late Medieval Florence: Theology in Poetry, Practice and Society. Within the project his interest lies in religious culture and the mediation of theological ideas with a specific focus on late-medieval Florentine preaching.

Griffin Oleynick

Griffin is currently a fifth-year graduate student in the Department of Italian at Yale. He graduated from Cornell University in 2008. He is currently working on a dissertation entitled “Dante’s Franciscan Way: The Poetry of Poverty in the Divine Comedy.” Besides Dante and the medieval Franciscans, Griffin’s academic interests include Italian cinema and literature of the twentieth century.

Chelsea Pomponio

Chelsea Pomponio headshot

Chelsea Pomponio received a B.A. in Italian from McGill University in Montréal. In 2010, she completed a Masters in Italian at the University of Pennsylvania, with a thesis on the function of theology and exile in Dante’s linguistic theory. She is currently completing her Ph.D. in Italian at Penn. Her dissertation, titled “Genealogy of the Body Politic: Brunetto Latini, Dante, Boccaccio, and the Legend of Florence’s Origins,” examines the negotiation of individual and communal identity through the rewriting of civic legends. She will be joining the Italian faculty this autumn at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA.

Beatrice Priest

Beatrice Priest is completing a PhD dissertation on 'Fecundity and Sterility in Dante's Commedia' at the University of Cambridge under the supervision of Prof. Zygmunt Baranski. Her research encompasses a overview of the notion of fecundity in medieval culture and then goes on to examine in detail key issues, such as: Sterilty and Perversions of Fecundity in the Inferno, Rebirth in Purgatorio, the Virgin Mary in Purgatorio and Paradiso, and the Pastoral in Dante's Eclogues and the Paradiso. Beatrice is deeply interested in many aspects of romance language medieval studies, especially its literature, art, theology and reception of classical culture.  

Giuseppe Prigiotti

Giuseppe Prigiotti headshot

Giuseppe Prigiotti is a PhD Candidate in the Romance Studies department at Duke University with a strong theological background acquired in Italy, including a B.A. in Divinity, a diploma in Evangelical Theology, and an M.A. in Religious Pedagogy. Since his early study of Catholic and Reformed theology, and then Italian history and philosophy, deepened through a Laurea in History and Philosophy, the relationship between literature, culture, and religions has been the main focus of his research. He is currently working on a dissertation exploring Italian Jewish and Catholic interconnections in the Liberal Age (1861-1913). He is also interested in Italian Medieval Studies. He has presented a paper on the videogame Dante’s Inferno (2011, AAIS Convention in Pittsburgh), He published a book review on Simone Marchesi’s Dante & Augustine: Linguistics, Poetics, Hermeneutics (Annali d’Italianistica 2012), and he is affiliated with the Duke Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Abi Rowson

After reading Philosophy for her first two degrees, Abi Rowson came to Dante late and, happily, by accident. Her work had considered whether philosophy might be better deployed beyond the philosophical treatise and, rather, in literature. She is now in the first year of her PhD, which is part of the wider project, ‘Dante and Late Medieval Florence’, based in the Leeds Centre for Dante Studies. Her thesis, ‘Theologians as characters in Dante’s Commedia’, examines some of the theologians who appear in the Commedia, considering the models that existed in late-medieval Florence for mediating the theologian as historical figure. By casting light on the notion of the person of the theologian, the nature of his authority, and the relationship of that authority to lived experience, her thesis explores one of the key dimensions of the theological discourse in the Commedia – as a personal, social interaction with individually named and characterized theological authorities.

Stefano Selenu

Stefano Selenu - photo

Stefano Selenu holds a laurea in philosophy from the University of Bologna and a PhD in Italian Studies from Brown University. He taught at Wellesley College and is currently teaching at Cornell University. In 2005 he was awarded the Prize Antonio Gramsci and is the author of Ideas: un sentiero gramsciano da Dante alla lingua comune (forthcoming). His research interests pivot on the role of language and political thought in Italian literature, philosophy, and culture with a specific focus on Dante’s and Gramsci’s works. He is currently completing a book manuscript on the ethical, theological, and political implications of Dante’s conceptualization of an illustrious vernacular as it relates to exile and the notion of “vulgar.”

Ellie Emslie Stevens


Ellie Emslie Stevens is a translator of Italian novels into English for Mondadori. She was awarded a Ph.D. from UCLA in Italian (2010) with a specialization in Dante as well as the Bible as a source in the Middle Ages. She received a B.A. from Smith College in Italian Literature (2001), and she graduated cum laude from NMH School (1997). She enjoys teaching Italian language, researching and writing for Italian related studies as well as reading and speaking in less than perfect Hebrew, Spanish and French. She lives on a desert island and enjoys being a mother and a wife. She is author and Senior Editor for an ecumenical non-profit organization called Waiting for Water, and the author of an allegorical novel recounting exoduses in modern day deserts (work-in-progress). She enjoys endurance trail running, cross country mountain biking and ocean paddling, all fueled by the enthusiastic reading of Scripture.

The Rev. Stephanie Green Tramel

Stephanie Green Tramel photo

Stephanie Green Tramel is a doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature and Medieval Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.  She is also an Episcopal priest serving in the Diocese of California. Her research interests include the relationship between mystical union and communal responsibility in the works of Dante, Catherine of Siena, Julian of Norwich, and Christine de Pizan. She devotes particular attention to the manuscripts of Catherine of Siena’s letters. During three years of sojourning in Jerusalem in the ‘90s, Stephanie studied at the Ratisbonne Centre Chrétien d’Études Juives and served as Sacristan of St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in East Jerusalem.  She also helped initiate an interfaith project that brought together Jews, Christians, and Muslims to study one another’s holy texts, share communal meals, and observe one another’s rituals and worship. She is delighted to be returning to Jerusalem for the communal and collaborative reading of Dante at Tantur.

Fortunato Trione

Fortunato Trione is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto in 2011 with a thesis that studied fear and desire in the Divine Comedy. His articles have appeared in Dante Studies and in edited collections. He is currently completing a manuscript centered on affective spirituality in Dante entitled: La Poetica dell’Affetto. Estetica Religiosa nella Divina Commedia, to be published at the end of this year.

Erik van Versendaal

Erik van Versendaal is married and lives in Maryland. He is a student in the doctoral program in theology at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. His primary theological interests include Christology, soteriology, and ecclesiology, in light of an understanding of being as communion. In studying Dante, he hopes to contemplate and articulate how the poet’s concrete depiction of the blessed is structured by reference to the glorified humanity of the ascended Christ. 

Mary Watt

Msry Watt - photo

Mary Watt received her Ph.D. in Italian Studies from the University of Toronto in 1998 with a dissertation on autobiography in the Commedia, “Dante’s Life of Dante,” supervised by Amilcare Iannucci.  She is the author of The Cross that Dante Bears published in 2005. Dr. Watt is currently an Associate Professor of Italian and Chair of the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the University of Florida. She is working on several projects right now including an article on the figure of Constantine in the Commedia. Dr. Watt’s current book project, Prophesies of Paradise, considers the extent to which the Commedia and the apocalyptic tradition that it reflects, helped to shape Christopher Columbus’s perception of the cosmos and the eschatological significance of what he called an “other world.”

Xiaoyi Zhang

Xiaoyi Zhang is an M. A. candidate in Italian Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Before coming to Notre Dame, she obtained a B. A. and an M. A. in English Literature (Medieval and Renaissance) from Peking University. All of her previous studies led to Dante and she is now devoted to become a Dantist. Her current research interest is the correlation between the Commedia and Trecento and Quattrocento Florentine civic and ecclesiastical rituals, such as the wedding ceremony, power pageantry, and the memorial service. Specifically she will focus on weddings ceremonies in the Commedia, a topic that involves the theological exegesis of the Song of Songs and the  historical process of sacramentalizing the secular Italian marriage rituals.