Religious Studies | Studies in Early Christianity: Early Christian Monasticism
R521 | 13323 | D. Brakke


Between 300 and 450 C.E. thousands of Christians abandoned their
ordinary lives of marriage, work, and family to live in the Egyptian
desert or in communities devoted to God.  There they renounced sex
and money, ate very little, and spent nearly all of their time in
work and prayer.  So began Christian monasticism, one of the most
important features of western religious history.  This course will
focus on the pioneers of the monastic life in late ancient Egypt:
Antony the Great, the Pachomian monastic federation, Evagrius
Ponticus and the desert fathers, Shenoute and the White Monastery.
We will study how they disciplined their bodies, organized their
communities, fought with demons, and prayed to God.  We will also
look at the backgrounds of monasticism in the New Testament and in
Jewish and “pagan” cultures, consider how two prominent bishops of
Alexandria (Athanasius and Theophilus) interacted with monks, and
explore the spirituality of Evagrius in some depth.  This course
will ask students to immerse themselves in a culture very foreign to
our own.  Along the way we will discover the origins of the seven
deadly sins.

Requirements: Midterm, final, two short papers (4-6 pp.), attendance
and participation.