Religious Studies | Cross Cultural Topics: Religious Asceticism
R602 | 25882 | Brakke, D.


Why do most religious traditions include people who fast, renounce
sex, embrace poverty, and/or deprive themselves of sleep?  What are
such behaviors meant to accomplish, and how should the scholar
interpret them?  This seminar will examine asceticism as a religious
practice and as a theoretical concept in religious studies.  We will
consider in dialogue with one another two kinds of readings: (1)
texts that have been classically considered “ascetic,” drawn from
late ancient Christianity and from the Hindu traditions of India;
and (2) modern theoretical explorations and critiques of asceticism
(Weber, Nietzsche, Foucault, performance theory, etc.).  The final
weeks of the course will be given to student presentations on
ascetic texts and/or practices from the religious traditions and
historical periods of their interests.  Requirements will include
short response papers to readings and a research paper (20-25 pages)
on a relevant topic of interest to the student.  Textbooks will
include Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of
Capitalism; Michel Foucault, Technologies of the Self; Gavin Flood,
The Ascetic Self; Vincent Wimbush and Richard Valantasis, Asceticism.
Note: For doctoral students in religious studies, this course will
satisfy the requirement of a second methodological or thematic
seminar.