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Dennis Vanden Auweele appointed Assistant Professor of Philosophy of Religion ‘

'There’s more to human existence than reason and Enlightenment’
16 September 2016

Dr Dennis Vanden Auweele has been appointed as Assistant Professor of Philosophy of Religion at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Groningen as from September 2016. He will also teach course units in Ethics, Philosophical Hermeneutics, Philosophical Theology and Religion, Ethics and Pluralism. Vanden Auweele will continue his research at the Institute of Philosophy of the University of Leuven.

Dr Dennis vanden Auweele
Dr Dennis vanden Auweele

Dark side

In 2014, Vanden Auweele successfully defended his thesis ‘Pessimism in Kant and Schopenhauer: On the Horror of Existence’. He wanted to show that the pessimism of Kant and Schopenhauer is rooted in specific theological discussions in the modern age. He has published various articles with equally descriptive titles, such as ‘Schopenhauer, pessimism and suicide’ and ‘Philosophy in the twilight. Essays on power and impotence, hope and despair’. Existential themes including pessimism, evil, suicide and mercy are at the heart of Vanden Auweele’s research: ‘I’d be the first to admit that my subjects seem a little gloomy. But the lesson in philosophy that I learned from Kant and Schopenhauer, and which I also see in Schelling and Nietzsche, is that there’s more to human existence than reason and Enlightenment. It also has a dark side. In my latest monograph, I use the image of human beings in twilight.’

Profound atheism

Since 2015, Dennis Vanden Auweele has been working on a project with an explicitly religious basis: the development of philosophical views of religion in the later works of Schelling and Nietzsche. In the future, he sees himself conducting research into atheism, which he thinks is actually closer to religion than widely assumed. ‘To my mind, the most interesting challenge to the Christian faith is not ecumenical debate with other faiths (although this is obviously important as well), but being receptive to the lines of communication between religious people and atheists. We can do this by realizing that in many cases, atheism itself is a form of religion, and that there is such a thing as profound atheism, which is sensitive to many religious themes.’

Being receptive is crucial

‘Roughly speaking, modern attitudes to religion can be divided into three categories: those that embrace particular forms of religion, sometimes even extreme forms. Then there is a growing group of people who practise atheism at an almost proselytic level, on a mission to banish religion from society. The third group is more blasé about the lack of higher truths, and embraces the very nihilism that Nietzsche dreaded. I consider it crucial that everyone is receptive to confrontation with people from other groups. This is what I want to teach my students, including in practical terms. To my mind, philosophy has two important tasks: to make things as clear as possible on the one hand, and to show that things are not as simple as they seem on the other. Raising the issue of religion is no longer common practice at Faculties of Philosophy. I am very much looking forward to doing this at the flourishing Faculty of Theology of the University of Groningen, which also has a very distinguished Faculty of Philosophy.’

Last modified:22 August 2018 11.46 a.m.
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