Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Religious Studies

First Advisor

Ruth Mas

Second Advisor

Elias Sacks

Third Advisor

Anthony Abiragi


This thesis seeks to provide a possible reading of the question of temporality in Foucault's formulation of askesis in a passage of his work "Hermeneutics of the Subject." I suggest a relationship between a modern secular temporal experience and the philosophical problem of death that sheds light on the importance of temporality in Foucault's theory of askesis. Talal Asad is instrumental in demonstrating that modern secular time has an uneasy relationship with a certain experience of death. Talal Asad will also introduce the relationship between Foucault's theory of modern power and Walter Benjamin's theory of secular time. This relationship, namely that modern power operates on subjects in part through an organization of the experience of time, will allow me to explore the implications of temporality in Foucault's formulation of askesis through an explanation of death and secular time in Benjamin's early work on German mourning plays. I emphasize the temporal question in Foucault's askesis because it expands the understanding of Foucault's late work on askesis through reading it in relation to the work on askesis by Pierre Hadot, who recalls the question of temporality. I argue that Benjamin's notion of secular time is such that time can operate hegemonically, but a certain experience of death has a disrupting function in this operation. I explore how an experience of death in Benjamin's notion of natural history interrupts politics that rely on this secular time (as noted by Asad), and that this might indicate the force of askesis in the agency of the actions of (experiencing a temporality by) the modern subject. Benjamin's discussion of secular time and death, therefore, offer an insight into the way the mediation on death operates as a disrupting force in the hegemonic organization of modern subjectivity for Foucault.