Daniel Wyche

“The Politics of Self-Overcoming: Spiritual Exercises & Political Liberation.”

I am both honored and exited to take part in the Martin Marty Junior Fellowship for the 2015-16 academic year, as it will allow me to continue to develop my dissertation project in the atmosphere of collegial exchange for which the Marty Center, and the Divinity School in general, is so well known.

My project seeks to develop what I have called the category of ethical and religious practices of self-overcoming, most well known through the “spiritual exercises” of Pierre Hadot and the “ethics of the care of the self” developed by Michel Foucault in his late career. While this material has been the subject of a great deal of interest not only among philosophers of religion, but within the field of religious studies more broadly, two fundamental questions consistently linger. First, what do Foucault, Hadot and others really tell us about the possibility of truly contemporary forms of spiritual exercise? Second, and very roughly speaking, what are the politics of such practices? Where and how might they fit into genuinely robust political thought and action, in ways that do not reduce the political to a merely egoistic moralism?

I approach both questions together, through a philosophical-historical analysis of some of the central events of the Civil Rights movement in the American South in the 1950s and 1960s, in dialog with a more strictly philosophical re-reading of the central theoretical writing on spiritual exercises. It is perhaps above all because of the interdisciplinary nature of this project that I am looking forward to working through this material with such a rich and diverse group of colleagues, whose feedback and support in all areas will certainly prove invaluable to the success of this work.