asceticism (əsĕt´ĬsĬzəm), rejection of bodily pleasures through sustained self-denial and self-mortification, with the objective of strengthening spiritual life. Asceticism has been common in most major world religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity: all of these have special ascetic cults or ascetic ideals. The most common ascetic practice is fasting, which is used for many purposes—to produce visions, as among the Crow; to mourn the dead, as among various African peoples; and to sharpen spiritual awareness, as among the early Christian saints. More extreme forms have been flagellation (see flagellants) and self-mutilation, usually intended to propitiate or reach accord with a god. Asceticism has been associated with taboo in many non-Western societies and in such well-developed religions as Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism. See Essenes; fakir; hermit; Rechabites.

See W. J. Sheils, ed., Monks, Hermits and the Ascetic Tradition (1985).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Asceticism: Selected full-text books and articles

Schools of Asceticism: Ideology and Organization in Medieval Religious Communities
Lutz Kaelber.
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998
Ascetics and Ambassadors of Christ: The Monasteries of Palestine, 314-631
John Binns.
Clarendon Press, 1996
Saomnyasa Upaniosads: Hindu Scriptures on Asceticism and Renunciation
Patrick Olivelle.
Oxford University Press, 1992
Ascetic Eucharists: Food and Drink in Early Christian Ritual Meals
Andrew McGowan.
Clarendon Press, 1999
Forest Recollections: Wandering Monks in Twentieth-Century Thailand
Kamala Tiyavanich.
University of Hawaii Press, 1997
Patrick Olivelle.
Oxford University Press, 1996
An Encyclopedia of Religion
Vergilius Ferm.
Philosophical Library, 1945
Dictionary of Religion and Philosophy
Geddes MacGregor.
Paragon House, 1989
Reading Renunciation: Asceticism and Scripture in Early Christianity
Elizabeth A. Clark.
Princeton University Press, 1999
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