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Prayer in contemporary French philosophy: PhD ceremony of Filippo Pietrogrande

22 August 2022

PhD candidate Filippo Pietrogrande investigated the topic of prayer in contemporary French philosophy. On Thursday 27 October, he will defend his dissertation called The Irreducibility of Prayer to obtain a PhD degree in Religious Studies at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies (GGW). ‘My research shows that the borders between philosophy and religion are often more permeable than one thinks.’

From Verona to Groningen

Filippo Pietrogrande completed his MA in Philosophy at the University of Verona, where he wrote a thesis on the notion of ‘sense’ in Jean-Luc Nancy’s philosophy. During his Master’s degree programme, he spent a semester at the University of Utrecht, and when it was time to apply for a PhD, he looked for opportunities in the Netherlands. The University of Groningen, and the Faculty of GGW in particular, matched his research interests and accepted him as a PhD candidate. He adds: ‘To be honest, I feel extremely grateful to have had the chance to work in such a wonderful place.’

Attention of philosophers for the nature of prayers

In his dissertation, Filippo researches the topic of prayer in contemporary French philosophy by examining the works of philosophers Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Marion, Jean-Louis Chrétien, and Jean-Luc Nancy: ‘The overall purpose of my project is to understand the reasons for, and the consequences of, the attention of these philosophers’ attention to the nature of prayer, in a historical context when prayer seems to have lost its value and meaning,’ he comments.

Overcoming metaphysics

‘Historically, philosophy has always entertained a rather conflicting relationship with religion. In addition to this, today, the dominion of technology as guided by modern science has weakened the meaning itself of certain religious acts, including prayer. Hence, one of the most striking findings of my research was the realization that not only were contemporary philosophers talking extensively about prayer but it was also assuming quite a special status in their discourses. Later on, I realized that the reasons behind this interest in prayer were by no means ‘neutral’; a certain desire to overcome metaphysics, a heritage from Heidegger, was given priority in the general approach to the phenomenon of prayer.’

Filippo Pietrogrande
Filippo Pietrogrande

Irreducibility of prayer

Filippo continues: ‘This essentially meant that prayer needed to be reduced to a minimal core or essence, stripped of its fundamental aspects; for instance, its communal dimension, its petitionary character, or its necessary reference to an addressee. In my dissertation, I argue against this reduction and I try to identify the seeds of what I called the ‘irreducibility’ of prayer in the French philosophical discourse. Ultimately, my most interesting finding was "deconstructive" in its essence: the philosophers themselves, while arguing for a pure and indeterminate form of prayer, unconsciously reveal the impossibility of this reduction.’ All in all, he believes that his PhD research has shown that certain religious phenomena can still hold quite a significant place in contemporary philosophical discourse: ‘The borders between philosophy and religion are often more permeable than one thinks.’

Wonderful place

Currently, Filippo is living in Brussels, working as a philosophy teacher at a haute école, and he has also had the chance to teach at the European School of Brussels IV: ‘I like teaching philosophy at different levels and to different kinds of audiences, and I would therefore love to keep doing that in the future. At the same time, I plan on applying for different post-docs and grant opportunities in Europe and perhaps outside of Europe as well. At the Faculty of GGW, I found a friendly and welcoming working environment. Going to the office always felt gratifying and soothing–apart from when I had to battle against wind speeds of 100 kilometres per hour on my bike! To be honest, I feel extremely grateful to have had the chance to work in such a wonderful place. Something that can also be said about the city of Groningen. The city has a lot to offer, despite its size or, rather, thanks to it. But what I liked the most had little to do with the buzzing city life. I was living in the north, in the Reitdiephaven area, and I loved taking long walks and riding my bike along the river. It made me feel like a merchant of the Hanseatic League, sometimes importing some rare Italian delicacies to the northern cities.’

PhD ceremony

On Thursday 27 October, Filippo Pietrogrande will defend his PhD thesis called The Irreducibility of Prayer. Religious Language and the Overcoming of Metaphysics in Contemporary French Philosophy during a PhD ceremony in the presence of his supervisor Prof. Christoph Jedan, Professor of Ethics and Comparative Philosophy of Religion and joint supervisor Dr Dennis Vanden Auweele, Lecturer of Philosophy at KU Leuven.

When: Thursday, 27 October 2022
Start: 2:30 p.m.
Where: Academy Building

Last modified:22 August 2022 2.26 p.m.
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