Interdisciplinary PhD Scholarship Ancient ascetic practices (1.0 FTE)

Interdisciplinary PhD Scholarship Ancient ascetic practices (1.0 FTE)

Published Deadline Location
25 Apr 29 May Groningen

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The Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies and the Faculty of Philosophy offer a four-year scholarship to complete a PhD within a joint interdisciplinary project led by Prof. Lautaro Roig Lanzillotta, Dr Andrea Sangiacomo and Dr Arjen Bakker. The proposed PhD research plan wil

Job description

The Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies and the Faculty of Philosophy offer a four-year scholarship to complete a PhD within a joint interdisciplinary project led by Prof. Lautaro Roig Lanzillotta, Dr Andrea Sangiacomo and Dr Arjen Bakker. The proposed PhD research plan will be embedded in the department of Jewish, Christian and Islamic Origins at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies and the department of the History of Philosophy at the Faculty of Philosophy.

There is a growing interest in contemporary philosophy, religious studies, and social and cognitive sciences in the process that surrounds the emergence of the ‘self.’ What does it mean to be someone, to be or to become a ‘self,’ in a certain culture or context? A complex interplay of factors is usually at work in determining the output of this quest. But recent studies have also drawn attention to the centrality of self-transformative practices ('spiritual exercises' or 'ascetic practices') in various cultures and historical periods.

This PhD project contributes to this interdisciplinary debate from a cross-cultural perspective, by (1) bringing into dialogue diverse sources concerning self-transformative practices developed in different historical and cultural contexts in the ancient world, and (2) contributing to developing a refined and innovative methodology for cross-cultural and interdisciplinary investigations of this kind.

In this project, the focus will be narrowed down to the discourses of the Buddha preserved in the Sutta-Pitaka of the Pali canon and the corpus of Epicurean texts of Philodemus of Gadara. From a more general point of view, both the Buddhist and the Epicurean practitioner share a commitment to seclusion and some degree of retreat from social life. However, neither the Buddhist nor the Epicurean (unlike Brahmin or Gnostic ascetics) do this for the sake of reaching some transcendent eternal world or absolute reality. And yet, in both cases, the self-transformation (or the relinquishment of the ordinary sense of self) acquires broader implications, which entail an otherwise unattainable degree of freedom for both the practitioner and the community they live in.
The core research question in this investigation is thus: how do ascetic practices aimed at self-transformation contribute to modifying and reshaping the social environment in which they are inevitably embedded?

This research question could be further operationalized in one or more sub-questions, for example:

1. Historical setting: by what sort of links (textual or cultural analogies, theoretical similarities, direct historical contacts and influences) can the Buddhist and Epicurean tradition be brought into dialogue with one another?
2. Friendship: what is the role that the notion of friendship and friendliness play in each of the two traditions, and how does this shape their respective views on self and self-transformation?
3. Happiness: both traditions tend to conceive of ultimate happiness in seemingly negative terms (as absence or cessation of suffering), but what are the concrete implications of this view for both the practitioners and the community in which they live?
4. Individual and Society: while both traditions invite to a relative ‘retreat’ from the ordinary world, they also give rise to strong cenobitic communities, which in themselves establish symbiotic relations with the broader societies around them. How does the interplay between individual and society, personal liberation and social engagement shape the soteriological, metaphysical, and political agenda of the two traditions?

Organizing events in the context of the interfaculty collaboration will be an integral part of the PhD project and the candidate will have many opportunities to grow an international and interdisciplinary network.


University of Groningen


The PhD student is expected:

• to have an academic training in one or more of the following fields: Philosophy, Classics, Religious Studies, Buddhist Studies
• to be fluent in English (both oral and written) — note that English is the language of instruction
• to be able and willing to work in an interdisciplinary environment
• to have excellent academic writing and presentation skills
• to have good organizational skills
• to finish the PhD thesis in four years;
• to have completed a Master’s degree in a relevant field of studies by September 1st 2022
• working knowledge of Greek/Latin and/or Pali is an advantage.

Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: 48 months.

The successful candidate will receive a scholarship of € 2,249 gross per month. You will be required to be resident in Groningen and will initially be offered a scholarship of one year; prolongation of the scholarship for a further three years is contingent on sufficient progress in the first year.

General information about the University of Groningen’s PhD scholarship programme can be found here

The preferred starting date is 1 September 2022


Faculty Theology and Religious Studies & Faculty of Philosophy

Since its foundation in 1614, the University of Groningen has enjoyed an international reputation as a dynamic and innovative center of higher education offering high-quality teaching and research. Balanced study and career paths in a wide variety of disciplines encourage the 36,000 students and researchers to develop their own individual talents. Belonging to the best research universities in Europe and joining forces with prestigious partner universities and networks, the University of Groningen is truly an international place of knowledge. The Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies is an ambitious faculty with a dynamic and accomplished staff drawn from around the world (58% international), and a Graduate School with 60 PhD students. The Faculty of Philosophy is a vibrant, international community of excellent researchers and teachers. It consistently receives the highest evaluations both for research and for teaching among philosophy departments in The Netherlands.


  • PhD scholarship
  • Language and culture
  • max. 38 hours per week
  • max. €2249 per month
  • University graduate
  • B026222


University of Groningen

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