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Western AsceticismThe Ancients, Early Christianity, The Middle Ages, The Early Modern Period, Modernity, Conclusion

Asceticism, defined for our purposes within the context of the premodern tradition, refers to specific passive and active practices that are engaged in out of ideological motives: on the one hand, abstinence from nourishment, sleep, sexuality, social communication, and social ties—thus from natural human expression—and from other components of civilization, such as bodily cleanliness; on the other hand, the active cultivation of physical revulsion, whether through intentional exhaustion or bloody self-mutilation. As long as the passive practice is performed in a balanced manner, it may bring positive physical and spiritual results. More common, however, are examples wherein this sort of practice leads to abiding physical and spiritual damage; with the active sort this is generally the case. While technically similar, certain therapeutic practices, engaged in for medical reasons, are not to be considered asceticism in this context. Asceticism, although grounded in metaphysical motivations, is decidedly a concept concerned with practical realization; thus the following will discuss both theory and practice.

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