“If you want to keep on with this work, you have to be proactive”—An interview with Chiara Barbati —Part 2

Q1 EF: In this second part of our chat, we will focus on career. How did your scholarly career start?

CB: I started by focusing on Indo-European studies and, consequently, learnt Sanskrit, Armenian… and Sogdian, which immediately interested me most [see Q2 of part 1]. Thus, I wrote my MA thesis in linguistics under the tuition of Palmira Cipriani and Walter Belardi, with Carlo Cereti as the “correlatore” (additional tutor), on a Sogdian Manichean text, the so-called Manichaeisches Bet- und Beichtbuch (the title of the thesis was Some aspects of Nominal Morphosyntax in Manichaean Sogdian). Cereti became later my PhD tutor, and for my PhD I moved to Berlin and worked at the Center “Turfan Forschung”, where Werner Sundermann suggested me to focus on a Sogdian manuscript (E 5) which had been translated from Syriac. It is a very interesting text, a border-line case in many senses (for instance, the morphology is often agglutinative). I deeply regret that I could not have been able to complete the book dedicated to this research before Sundermann’s death. Apart from Sundermann and Cereti, I have also been helped by the director of the Turfan Forschung center, Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst. Since I was working on a Christian text translated from Syriac, I had to learn Syriac, otherwise I would have just been able to describe what was in the manuscript I was studying, without knowing why. Now I work on Syriac and Christian Sogdian manuscript fragments coming from Turfan and belonging to 9th- 11th centuries in order to investigate the Christian manuscript tradition of this milieu and its relationship with the manuscript tradition in the Mesopotamia mother Church.

Q2 EF: You have been able to get two projects funded almost at the same time. Tell us your secret!

CB: I have been in maternity leave for one year and during that time I applied for a Lise Meitner and for an Apart and I got both of them funded. Basically, I presented the same project, further enlarged in the case of the Apart, because this grants 3-ys projects (while Lise Meitner scholarships are only granted for 2 years). Since I first received the acceptance of the FWF-Lise Meitner, I started with that one. After only two weeks I came to know that also the other project had been accepted, so that I postponed the beginning of the Apart for some months (which was admissible) and left the Lise Meitner program only after I had presented my first results at a conference (so that I could have something “objective” to put in my final relation for the Lise Meitner).

EF: It seems like you are a good planner…

CB: I started writing projects during the pregnancy leave [compulsory in Austria for the last 2 months of pregnancy, EF]. Since I had no problem at all, I could work nicely without any other commitment (unlike in the first weeks after the birth of my son). Apart from the two projects you mentioned already, I also sent applications for other positions (religious studies in Groningen, European University at Budapest…). I am sure that the awareness of the difficulties prompted me to try harder. I knew that, since I do not work on Islam, I had not that many chances, not even in the US (where only NY, S. Francisco and Harvard have Iranic studies positions not focusing on Islam). If you want to keep on with this work, you have to be proactive.

Q3 EF: You are also a talented disseminator…
Yes, I could not imagine myself as just an organiser of cultural events, but also not as someone just focusing on her research and with no contact with the world. I am ready to study punctuation, but it needs to play a role within a wider picture [for this wider picture, see the first part of the interview, here]. In this sense, I do not feel at home in the German tradition of 19th c. philology. I do not think that one becomes less serious if one uses keywords which are understandable and appealing also for a wider public, e.g. “the silk-road”. In this sense, I work on creating networks of scholars within the Austrian Academy of Sciences (see, e.g., this project on sociolinguistics applied to dead languages) and also on opening the doors of the Academy to interested visitors, at least once every year.

Q4 EF: Should not one just focus on research, in order to avoid problems, especially with today’s Islamic Republic of Islam?

CB: Culture could and should be a channel to open Iran to the world and in this sense through us people and ideas can cross the boundaries of Iran. We are not meant to do more than that…or we would become political activists.

For the first part of the interview, see here. This post is part of my series of Interviews. If there are additional questions you would like to ask or if there is someone, either a specific person (i.e., yourself), or a representative of a given category (e.g., “A scholar of Nyāya”) you would like me to interview, please let me know.

Comments and discussions are welcome. Be sure you are making a point and contributing to the discussion.

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