Agostino Gemelli (1878-1959) and the mental disability. Science, faith and education in the view of an Italian scientist and friar

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


In the first decades of the 20th Century the question of mental disabilities was widely discussed in Italy, while the first special schools for the intellectually impaired were set up. An important role was played by the Franciscan friar Agostino Gemelli (1878-1959), physician, renowned psychologist, and founder in 1921 of the Catholic University of Milan. Gemelli promoted relevant psychological researches on intellectual disabilities, based on empirical and measurable processes. He considered only scientific studies, to investigate the etiology and classification of mental deficit, necessary to develop appropriate educational actions. Gemelli founded an ambulatory (1913) and a laboratory (1914) in the catholic San Vincenzo Institute of Milan for abnormal pupils, for the visit and the analysis of children with mental disabilities. In this Institute Gemelli and his collaborators deepened from a biological point of view the classification elaborated by the famous psychiatrist Sante De Sanctis (1862-1935), also known for his intelligence tests (“reattivi”), quite different from Binet and Simon’ ones and more respectful of the whole of the personality and potentiality of the children. Following De Sanctis’ views, in 1926 Gemelli also established the School for the special aids and assistants for disabled children, in the Catholic University of Milan. The School, one of the very first set up in Italy for special aid teacher training, aimed to make the “special” teachers confident with medical, psychological and pedagogical issues. This institution did not have a “catholic colour”: indeed, Gemelli called professors of great notoriety to teach in his School, not minding about their ideological thoughts, leaving to anthropology, philosophy and education the catholic stamp on the value of persons. All his work was characterized by the cooperation between science and religion: experimental method in itself did not contrast with catholic values. This paper is based on unpublished documents from different archives.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEducation and the body. ISCHE 38. Abstract book
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventISCHE 38 Conference. Education and the body - Chicago
Duration: 17 Aug 201620 Aug 2016

Publication series

NameEducation and the body. Abstract book


ConferenceISCHE 38 Conference. Education and the body


  • Agostino Gemelli
  • History of special education
  • Italy
  • XX century


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