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Considerations on Life and Death: Medieval Asceticism and the Dissolution of the Self

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

This essay explores the question of whether medieval asceticism is annihilation of the self or a means of constituting the self. It reads Gary Lease's conclusion, that religion is programmed suicide, against studies of medieval asceticism that argue for an understanding of religion as an embodied discipline which forms the subject and provides a means of resisting social norms. It suggests that the project of understanding the forms of power embedded in particular concepts of religion requires not only historicizing the term "religion" but also analyzing concepts of self, body, and agency. Drawing on the writings of the twelfth-century monk Bernard of Clairvaux as a case study, it argues that Bernard's conception of religion described a variety of ways in which embodied discipline could form a subject, and that he employed these variations ideologically to define the boundaries of his community and Church.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Religious Studies, The University of Texas at Austin


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