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Empirical Case-Studies of Continuity, Transition, and Discontinuity in the Context of Asceticism

Panel Chair: Anders Klostergaard Petersen | Friday, August 28, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

The panel presents four internally very different empiricial case-studies of continuity, transition, and discontinuity in the context of the study of asceticism. Asceticism has traditionally mostly been examined in terms of self-rejection, self-renunciation and self-privation, but based on a more comprehensive notion - in the wake of Peter Sloterdijk - of askésis as programs of training the four papers aim to develop a broader basis for the scrutinisation of asceticism from a cross-cultural perspective. Rather than relegating asceticism to the study of Christian monasticism and some Eastern religious practices, the four papers focus on four very different cases that simultaneously reflect forms of asceticism found in different types of religion. Asceticism is examined both in terms of a way of life as well as in the ritual context of self-privation. The shared theoretical frame of reference of the four papers allows for a discussion between the four empirical case-studies.

Bjarne Wernicke Olesen

Mapping Medieval Śākta Tantric Traditions: On the Conceptual Modelling in the Study of Hindu ‘Śāktism’ and some Characteristic Ascetic Developments in Medieval India

In medieval India or what Alexis Sanderson has called the 'Saiva Age' from roughly the 6.th to the 13.th century, influential tantric ascetic traditions underwent a development from concerns about the detachment from wordly desires to the detachment from cosmic opposites and a renewed interest in wordly aims. This development pertaining to the concerns of tantric ascetics as well as tantric householders corresponds with a well-known development from dualism to feminine monism. This paper will discuss some of the characteristics of these 'Śākta' ascetic developments with an emphasis on cultural evolution and examine some of the challenges we face with respect to the critical, analytical and tradition-external conceptual modelling of what has become known as Hindu 'Śāktism' or the ‘Śākta tantric traditions’.

Johanne Louise Virenfeldt Christiansen

Ascetic Practices in the Qur’Án: the Vigil as a Case Study

Asceticism is an important concept in the study of religion, but the Qur’Án and early Islam have often been ignored in these discussions. The Qur’Án does contain positive descriptions of ascetics (Q5:82) and ascetic practices like fasting (Q2:183-187); but a polemical tone is also intonated against those who exaggerate such practices (Q9:31-34; 17:26-27). Does this ambiguity render the concept of asceticism irrelevant with respect to the Qur’Án? I suggest that Sloterdijk’s definition of áskesis as ‘exercise’ may be useful for understanding Qur’Ánic references to vigils. From a reading of sūrat l-muzzammil (Q73:1-9, 20), I argue that Qur’Ánic articulations of vigils should be considered as articulations of a ‘training program’ intended not only to as refrainment from sleep and time but also as a way to maintain the believer’s level of training. In this way, the Qur’Án may be seen to participate in broader ascetic tendencies of Late Antiquity.

Søren Feldtfos Thomsen

Protestant Monasticism: The Ascetic Ideal in Danish Devotional Literature after the Reformation

In this paper I explore the Protestant marital household as a space for the continuation and transformation of Christian monasticism after the Reformation. Tracing the ascetic ideal of medieval monasticism in a number of vernacular devotional titles from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Denmark, I argue that Protestant devotional authors implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) drew on a monastic ideal of communal life upon which they modeled not only private religious practice but also the marital household as such. Inspired by Weber’s concept of ‘inner-worldly asceticism’ and more recent discussions of asceticism by Gavin Flood and Peter Sloterdijk, I demonstrate how Protestant devotional texts served as a medium for the intensified ‘sacralization’ of the domestic sphere and its social relations in early modern lay religious culture. This included not only an appropriation of monastic ritual practice and social hierarchy, but also of the monastic notion of manual labor as a form of asceticism.

Ella Paldam

Ascetic Practices in Contemporary Chumash Ceremony: Refrainment as a Ritual Strategy in the Revitalisation of Indigenous Beliefs and Practices

Since the late 1960’s, cultural revitalisation of indigenous beliefs and practices has occurred among indigenous peoples all over North America. Among the Chumash Indians in southern California, very little coherent information about pre-colonial religion exists, and the community has been Catholic for generations. Nevertheless, religiosity and spirituality has been at the core of cultural revitalisation since it began, but due to the lack of sources, it has been a process of ‘building the ship as it sails along’. Ascetic practices such as fasting, sweat-lodging, and other types of refrainment immediately became an integral part of ceremony. In this paper, I explore the origins and gradual change in ascetic practices among the Chumash. Additionally I pose the questions of how the insights from this case may be located within the larger theoretical framework of Slotderdijk’s approach to asceticism.


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