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Self-Shaping between Philosophy and Religion: Hadot and Foucault Reconsidered

When:Mo 13-05-2024 17:00 - 18:30

This meeting is part of the interfaculty seminar series: The Making and Unmaking of Selfhood. Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Ascetic Practices, between Philosophy and Religion

Full programme and link to registration

Speakers and abstracts

4.1 On the Tension Field Between Philosophy and Religion: Reassessing Hadot's Notion of Spiritual Exercises

Marta Faustino (IFILNOVA - NOVA Institute of Philosophy)

This talk will discuss Hadot's notion of philosophical spirituality, focussing in particular on one of the most frequent criticisms made against his notion of spiritual exercises. According to John Cooper, for example, the notion of spiritual exercises is derived from religion and Hadot’s use of it inaccurately blurs the distinction between the philosophical and the religious way of life. After i) clarifying the roots of Hadot’s notion of spiritual exercises, ii) outlining his own direct answers to similar criticisms, and iii) contextualizing the notion in ancient philosophical forms of ask─ôsis, I argue that Cooper’s critical reading of Hadot is essentially determined by a narrower understanding of spirituality and a competing conception of what philosophy is. Although Cooper’s divergence from Hadot seems to be more terminological than philosophical or even hermeneutical in nature, their contrasting accounts bring to light two different metaphilosophies and two competing understandings not only of what philosophy was in antiquity but also of what it should become in contemporary times.

4.2 Foucault’s Spirituality before Philosophy and Religion

Niki K. Clements (Rice University)

In a January 20, 1984 interview, just five months before his death, Michel Foucault notes: “By spirituality I understand – but I am not sure that it is a definition which we can hold for very long – that which precisely refers to a subject acceding to a certain mode of being and to the transformations which the subject must make of himself in order to accede to this mode of being. I believe that, in ancient spirituality, there was identity or almost so between spirituality and philosophy.” In this talk, I will frame how Foucault’s “spirituality” comes from his decade-long engagement with the force of religion and philosophy in the genealogy of modern subjectivity. As he rewrites his History of Sexuality series between 1974 and 1984, Foucault extends his historical analyses from western modernity to Christian then Greek and Roman antiquity. And he concurrently expands his analytics of power and knowledge to include a third axis of ethics as relation to self and others. This conceptual shift opens space for Foucault’s rethinking of both philosophy and religion in antiquity as engaged in an art of living, where “spirituality” necessarily involves the transformation of self between Socrates and Gregory of Nyssa. Foucault thus offers a challenge to modern constructions of philosophy and religion – and the relation between subjectivity and truth – that separate how one lives and what one knows.