Religion(s) and Cultural Production(s) of the Italian Diaspora(s)

Federica Frediani

Federica Frediani

Università della Svizzera Italiana




The Italian Jewish Diaspora in Tunisia: Past and Contemporary Patterns of Immigrant Flows into the Mediterranean

This proposal focuses on the extraordinary developments that took place within the Italian Jewish community in Tunisia between the mid-nineteenth century and the Second World War. The majority of these Jews had emigrated from Leghorn having been members of one of the most important Jewish communities in Italy, descendants of the diaspora expelled from Spain by Queen Isabella in 1492, known as the Portuguese or Livornese Jews. Rather than a purely historical analysis, an exploration with reference to a primarily literary corpus using cultural studies methodologies is proposed. This will focus on the mutability of cultural identities while questioning notions of ‘Italian-ness’, of both identity and culture in this unique Italian diaspora. Such an exploration will, of necessity, involve an investigation of this community’s use of multiple languages together with their strict adherence to ritual observances. The works of Albert Memmi, in particular the novel La Statue de Sel (1972), are key resources for this research although, since the topic has largely been neglected by scholars, its bibliography is exiguous. Were the people in question Italian-Jews or Jewish Italians? Perhaps, taking into account their Sephardic origins, they could even be considered Spanish or Portuguese. This and other related questions will be addressed in the paper alongside the essential exploration of the role of religion in shaping identities and influencing a sense of national belonging. The vital importance of the related religious rituals mentioned above, as well as other practices of Judaism, in relation to their effect on the integration or non-integration of Jewish immigrants, will also be discussed. Moreover, the extent to which the obvious challenges of integrating into a new national culture were compounded by the added need to integrate into an existing Jewish culture will be addressed. The paper will also examine the roles these issues play in identity politics, particularly with reference to the peculiar status of the Livornese Jews who were at the same time protected and discriminated against. This will highlight the dynamics between the prevailing cultural identity of a particular geographical location and that of a transnational group. By way of this analysis of a past phenomenon, the paper will also shed new light on the contemporary phenomenon of large-scale immigrant flow into the Mediterranean.



Federica Frediani is senior researcher and lecturer at the Laboratory for Mediterranean Studies of the Università della Svizzera italiana. She also carries out research with the Department of Comparative Languages, Literature and Cultures at the University of Bergamo. She has achieved a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature (2005) at Università di Siena. Her interests are focused on travel literature and women’s travel, taking in special consideration the representations and images of the Mediterranean.


List of most recent publications


– Frediani, F. (ed.) 2016. Il periplo d’Africa di Ulrico Orazio Longo, Giampiero Casagrande, Milano.

– Frediani, F. (ed.). 2014. The Mediterranean Cities between Myth and Reality, Nerbini International, Lugano.

– Frediani, F., Ricorda, R. & Rossi, R. (ed.). 2012. Spazi, Segni, Parole. Viaggiatrici italiane prima e dopo l’Unità, FrancoAngeli, Milano.

– Frediani, F. & Gallo, F. (ed.). 2011. Ethos repubblicano e pensiero meridiano, Diabasis, Reggio Emilia.

– Frediani, F, Giaveri, M.T., Omodei Zorini, A., Salerno, V. & Scotti, S. (ed.) 2008. Lo sguardo azzurro. Costanti e varianti dell’immaginario mediterraneo, Mesogea, Messina.

– Frediani, F. 2007. Uscire. La scrittura di viaggio al femminile: dai paradigmi mitici alle immagini orientaliste, Diabasis, Reggio Emilia.

– Frediani, F. & Visentin, C. 2001. La Lombardia vista dagli altri, Franco Angeli, Milano.

– Frediani, F. & Visentin, C. 2000. Roma vista dagli altri, Touring Club Italiano, Milano.

Selected Articles

– Frediani, F. 2017. “A Disruptive Elegy on Mortality: Breast Cancer in The Dying Animal by Philip Roth and Elegy by Isabel Coixet”, in Hilger, S., Palgrave Handbook of Literature and Medicine, Palgrave-Macmillan, (forthcoming).

– Frediani, F. 2016. “A Scent of Jasmine from the Sea? Representations of Tunis in Villa Jasmin by Férid Boughedir and Le chant des mariées by Karin Albou”, in Goldwin, A. & Silverman, R. (eds.), Modernism in the Mediterranean, Palgrave-Macmillan.

– Frediani, F. 2016. “In viaggio con O. Ulrico Longo”, in Casagrande, G., Il periplo d’Africa di Ulrico Orazio Longo,  Milano.

– Frediani, F. 2016. “Mediterranean Counter-Narratives in the Wedding Song by Karin Albou”, in Hildesheim, O., Light Colour line – Perceiving the Mediterranean, Conflicting Narratives and Ritual Dynamics, Zurich, New York.

– Frediani, F. 2014. “Vittorio Dan Segre. Un eroe mediterraneo”, in Square, 15, Università della Svizzera italiano, Lugano.

– Frediani, F. 2014. “Prologue on Mediterranean city between Myth and Reality”, in F. Frediani (ed.), The Mediterranean Cities between Myth and Reality, Nerbini International, Lugano.

– Frediani, F. 2014. “Una viaggiatrice sentimentale: Vernon Lee” in Bizzotto, E., Cenni, S. & Geoffroy, S. (eds.), Violet del Palmerino, Consiglio regionale Toscana.

– Frediani, F. 2012. “Raccontare il viaggio: prospettive di genere”, in Marfè, L. (ed.), Sulle Strade del viaggio. Nuovi orizzonti fra letteratura e antropologia, Mimesis, Milano-Udine.

– Frediani, F. 2012. “Viaggi patriottici ed esilii. Cristina di Belgiojoso”, in Frediani, F., Ricciardi, R. & Rossi, L. (eds.), Spazi, segni, parole. Viaggiatrici italiane prima e dopo l’Unità, FrancoAngeli Editore, Milano.

– Frediani, F. 2011. “Riscritture novecentesche dell’Antigone: questioni di genere e spazio politico”, in Mantichora, periodico del centro interdipartimentale di studi sulle arti formative, Università degli studi di Torino, n°1.

– Frediani, F. 2011. “Le rappresentazioni delle identità urbane: il caso di Tunisi”, in Colloquia Mediterranea, Rivista della Fondazione Giovanni Paolo II, 2/1, Firenze.

– Frediani, F. 2011. “Painting and Writing: The Orient in Women’s Travel Writing and Sackville West’s Passenger to Teheran”, in Between, Associazione di Teoria e Storia Comparata della Letteratura.

– Frediani, F. 2011. “Per mare. Scritture di viaggio mediterranee”, in Frediani, F. & Gallo, F. (eds.), Ethos repubblicano e pensiero meridiano, di, Diabasis, Reggio Emilia.

– Frediani, F. 2010. “Il paesaggio turistico lariano nelle guide turistiche”, in Sirtori, M. (ed.), La cultura del turismo sul Lario e nelle sue valli, Cisalpino, Milano.

– Frediani, F.,  Bonadei, R., Bisoni, C., Flabbi, L. & Pivato, S. 2009. “Turismo”, in La cultura italiana,  Cavalli Sforza, L. (directed by), UTET, Torino.