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).