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Introduction round 2021: PhD students about their research projects

Date of news: 18 May 2021

Despite the difficulties of the corona period, many new PhD trajectories of our faculty are in full swing. Below, you can read what some of our PhD students are currently working on and how they approach their subject:

Kirsten Smeets - Religious contra-identities in the anti-immigration discourse of the European far right

"I am researching so called ‘religious contra-identities’ in the anti-immigration discourse of radical-right political parties and extreme right movements within Europe. Right-wing populist leaders increasingly use political rhetoric placing Islam directly opposite a ‘Christian’ Europe, based on a notion of a so called ‘Clash of Civilizations’ (Samuel Huntington). This language is particularly strong around discussions on immigration and refugees in Europe. Examples include the statements by Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán on defending the ‘Christian Fatherland’ against ‘Islamist insurgents’, as well as those made by Matteo Salvini, the Italian leader of the Lega party, who points to the dangers of ‘Islamism at the gates of Europe’. By the end of my research I seek to answer three questions: 1. What are the characteristics of the contra-identities used by radical and extreme right groups in political party programmes and on social media platforms? 2. Why does religious identity actually have such a prominent presence in a secular context? 3. Can theory about cultural memory shed light on the manner in which right-wing/populist leaders create and legitimise a European (Christian) identity?

I started by collecting together and reading literature about radical and extreme right groups in Europe, as well as about the role of religion in the history and rhetoric of such movements. In the near future I will look into how ‘Islam’ and ‘Christian Europe’ are used as identities on the social media accounts of radical and extreme right groups."

Ype de Boer - Ethics in the work of Giorgio Agamben


"My PhD research is about ethics in the works of contemporary Italian philosopher Agamben. These ethics are closely connected to the ‘form-of-life’ concept he developed as an answer to the problem of bio-politics he perceived in western traditions. According to his analysis, there is an artificial concept of life hidden in this tradition, which allows legal-political authorities to micro-manage people’s lives to the exclusion of great swathes of people. Although his critical diagnosis has already been significantly researched, there is still considerable unclarity surrounding the ‘form-of-life’ concept and the relation it has to the good life.

In my thesis I will 1) deliver an analysis of the ethical development in Agamben’s work 2) position myself with regard to a number of points of critique formulated in secondary literature regarding Agamben’s ethics and 3) develop an interpretation of the good life from the form-of-life concept and based on various poetic-philosophical examples from Agamben’s oeuvre. I started my thesis at the VU University Amsterdam, however under the supervision of Prof Dr Gert-Jan van der Heiden I moved to Radboud University. I am now in the last phase of my thesis and hope to defend it at the end of this calendar year or early next year."

Fiammetta Iovine -  Roman Academy of the Humourists (1600-ca.1717)

"I study the Academy of the Umoristi (1600-ca.1717), a prominent institution in seventeenth-century Italy. Well connected with the famous Academy of the Lincei and the Royal Academy of Christina of Sweden, the Umoristi were a model for the Académie française founded in Paris in 1635.

Based in Counter-reformational Rome but deeply invested in the Republic of Letters, the Academy of the Umoristi stands out as a relatively free arena where literary exercises crossed the uneasy challenges posed by new science and experimental philosophy.

At the end of my PhD research I will have answered to the following questions: Which role did the Academy of the Umoristi have in the cultural and political arena of the Baroque age​? - What are you working on right now / how did you start?

I am currently working on the academic activities pertaining to the years 1640-1670. I started by patiently collecting materials on the Academy and its members, mostly manuscripts and archival documents.​ Indeed, the Academy itself published very little and secondary sources on the subject are scant."

Kamel Essabane - Teaching civic education in Islamic religious education in primary schools in the Netherlands


"I am researching how Islamic religious education contributes to civic education at Dutch primary schools - both at Islamic schools and state schools where Islamic education is part of the school programme (as requested by the parents).

In view of perception, Islamic education is often placed opposite civic education, and made to look as conflicting issues.
I hope to be able to answer the following questions: What aspects of Islamic religious education can be seen as aspects of civic education? How can Islamic education deliver a positive contribution to civic education? What are the conflict points? I also wish to look into whether both can complement or enrich each other at certain junctures.

In September 2020 I started researching literature, exploring various visions on citizenship and how the concept of citizenship has been grown throughout history. It started in Ancient Greece and has developed throughout the western world, particularly since the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. However, the Islamic-Arabic world also has a strong tradition of citizenship; philosophers from this tradition also based their ideas on the ancient Greeks. I am currently busy operationalising citizenship dimensions to perform empirical research. To achieve this I wish to sharpen my theoretic framework by holding talks with a focus group of key Islamic education experts in the Netherlands. Using this framework I would like to research the most used Islamic religious education methods, observe classes in practice and interview teachers. I also wish to ask parents and pupils of groups 7 and 8 at Islamic primary schools and state primary schools where (as requested by the parents) Islamic education lessons are given, to respond to a questionnaire.

Over the past few months I have also followed a number of PhD courses, such as Academic Writing, Efficient Writing Strategy, Qualitative research methods and Project management for PhD students. Starting during the Covid pandemic has not been ideal as most things are only available online and little on campus. However, we have to make the best of it!"

Nina de Boer - The development of the multilayer network model or multiplex

760076"In my PhD project, I investigate whether multilayer network models could help us to better understand and explain psychiatric disorders. Psychiatric disorders develop and sustain by means of a complex interplay of one’s biology, psychology, environment, and existential factors. Because multilayer network models can incorporate different dimensions and their interactions in one model, they could allow us to investigate psychiatric disorders whilst doing justice to their multidimensional nature. In my project, I investigate the conceptual questions that these models introduce. For example, how to decide what is important to include in one’s model? And can multilayer networks only describe psychiatric disorders or can they also explain them, and if so, what kind of explanations can they provide?

During the first months of my project, I worked on an article on the explanatory potential of the network theory of psychiatric disorders, which got published recently! Currently, I am investigating how multilayer network models compare to other multidimensional approaches to psychiatric disorders. I am also analyzing what philosophers have written on the integration of different dimensions and types of research in psychiatry, and what statistics can tell us about the possibilities and limitations of multilayer network models.​"

Bernd Hoeksema - Digital domination: neo-republican approaches to freedom in a digital context (at the iHub)


"Digital technologies have a pervasive and potentially hidden influence in our daily lives and provide tech giants and governments with extended or new powers to coerce, manipulate and seduce citizens in various ways. Taking a neo-republican perspective, with a rich conception of freedom as non-domination and a strong association with civility and virtue, I aim to investigate how digital technologies alter relations of power between citizens and private and public organisations. This sheds light on the threats to freedom and the tools of (democratic) control that citizens must have over these digital powers. In addition, I aim to investigate what digitalisation means for civility and civic virtue: how do we nurture civility in online environments? Are citizens required to be vigilant in their online activities? To what extent can we demand big tech to take responsibility for the ways their products are used by others? Through my research, I hope to contribute to a better understanding of how digital technologies affect the status of free citizens according to neo-republicanism, to appropriate real-world responses to digital threats to freedom and, finally, to the ways in which this may implore us to rethink aspects of republican political theory."

Do you want to stay up-to-date of our research? Follow us on Twitter, contact the faculty or have a look at the profile pages of the PhD students.