In Place of the Self: Ascetic Matters in Medieval England


ACLS Fellowship Program




During the late middle ages, ascetic bodily and ethical practices long cultivated by monks, nuns, and other enclosed religious were appropriated by lay people living outside the cloister. Influenced by ancient philosophical asceticism, Christian asceticism offered forms of counter-conduct as early as the fourth century. A millennium later, texts circulating in translation among the laity encouraged them to identify not with the quotidian present but with a transcendent alternate reality. Setting those who participated in it against the dominant culture and its institutions - familial, political, and religious - and encouraging bodily and textual practices to root out their traces in mind, body and soul, lay asceticism cultivated real or metaphorical solitude and worldly disenchantment. “In Place of the Self” proposes the ascetic mode, which was strongly repudiated after the English reformations, both as an important historical phenomenon and as a neglected precursor to several strands of contemporary critical post-humanism.