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Spiritual Exercises: From Antiquity to the Present

January 27-8, 2011

Pierre Hadot’s seminal work on the ancient conception of philosophy as a way of life has had a deep impact on contemporary philosophers as diverse as Michel Foucault, Myles Burnyeat, and Hilary Putnam. On Hadot’s view, philosophy in Antiquity was not, or not primarily, conceived of as the exposition of an abstract theory or doctrine. Philosophy was a way of life, a set of activities and practices—or exercises—that aim at human happiness, at self-transformation in the service of the perfection of wisdom, and at the transformation of one’s perception of the world. Despite Hadot’s growing influence, there has been relatively little scholarship extending the tradition of spiritual exercises from Antiquity forwards. This conference will be the first to bring together a wide group of scholars working on the diverse range of contexts in which spiritual exercises figure: from the Arabic and Buddhist traditions to medieval Jewish philosophy to medieval Christianity to early modern philosophy and mathematics and, finally, to nineteenth and twentieth century theology and philosophy. It will be the first attempt to do a comparative study of the exercises, studied through multiple disciplines and across a range of religious and philosophical traditions.

The conference is free and open to the public.  Registration is appreciated, but not required.  Contact Christina Heisser for further information or to register:, (773) 702-7108.

Conference Schedule

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Classics Building, Rm. 110

1010 E. 59th St. (map)

9:30 Welcome, Josef Stern, Director, Chicago Center for Jewish Studies

9:40-10:30 Arnold Davidson, University of Chicago, “Introductory Remarks: Homage to Pierre Hadot”

Chair: Arnold Davidson

10:30-11:30 Laura Cremonesi, University of Warwick, “Pierre Hadot and Michel Foucault on Spiritual Exercises: Transforming the Self, Transforming the Present.”

11:45-12:45 Matthew Kapstein, University of Chicago and Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris, “‘Spiritual Exercise’ and the Interpretation of Buddhist Philosophy in India.”

12:45-2 Lunch Break

Chair: James Robinson, University of Chicago

2-3 Elisha Russ-Fishbane, Princeton University, “Directing the Life of the Mind: Medieval Arabic Philosophy on Right Living.”

3-4 Josef Stern, University of Chicago, “Excrement and Exegesis: A Case-Study of Maimonidean Spiritual Exercise.”

4-4:30 Coffee Break

Chair: Bernard McGinn

4:30-5:30 Rachel Fulton Brown, University of Chicago, “Spiritual Exercises from Cassian to Loyola: Purpose, Form and Content.”

5:30-6:30 Paul Fenton, Université Paris 4 and Centre de Recherche Français de Jérusalem (CNRS), “Khalwa (Solitary Meditation) as a Spiritual Exercise among the Judaeo-Sufis in 13th c. Egypt.”

Friday, January 28, 2011

Franke Institute for the Humanities

East Wing of Regenstein Library, 1100 E. 57th St. (map)

Chair: Willemien Otten

9-10 Matthew Jones, Columbia University, “Tales of Bees, Sufficient Reason and Happiness: Emilie Du Châtelet and Spiritual Exercise in Mid-Enlightenment.”

10-11 W. Clark Gilpin, University of Chicago, “’The Dungeon of thyself’: The Spiritual Disciplines of Imprisonment in Early Modern England.”

11-11:30 Coffee Break

Chair: Josef Stern

11:30-12:30 Michael Fishbane, University of Chicago, “The Spiritual-Metaphysical Journals of Rabbi Abraham I. Kook and Gabriel Marcel: A Comparative Phenomenology.”

12:30-1:30 Sandra Laugier, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, “Pierre Hadot’s Reading of Wittgenstein: Language as Spiritual Exercise.”

This conference is sponsored by the Chicago Center for Jewish Studies, the France-Chicago Center, the Franke Institute for the Humanities, and the Divinity School.