Sites of the Ascetic Self

  • John Cassian and Christian Ethical Formation

  • by Niki Kasumi Clements

  • 294 pages, 6.00 x 9.00

  • Hardcover | 9780268107857 | May 2020

  • eBook (EPUB) | 9780268107871 | May 2020

  • eBook (PDF) | 9780268107888 | May 2020


Sites of the Ascetic Self reconsiders contemporary debates about ethics and subjectivity in an extended engagement with the works of fifth-century ascetic, John Cassian (ca. 360–ca. 435), whose stories of extreme asceticism and transformative religious experience by desert elders helped to establish Christian monastic forms of life. The social, cultural, political, doctrinal, and rhetorical milieus shaping Cassian’s late ancient understanding allow us to read his works as an ethics for fractured selves in uncertain times. Cassian’s practical asceticism provides a uniquely frank picture of human struggle in a world of contingency while also affirming human possibility in ways that signaled a challenge to followers of his contemporary, Augustine of Hippo.

Niki Kasumi Clements brings historical and textual analyses into conversation with contemporary theoretical debates, most notably French philosopher Michel Foucault’s readings of Cassian as anticipating modern subjectivity vis-à-vis attention to obedience, submission, and self-renunciation. Instead of focusing on interiority and confession, Clements’s engagement with Cassian’s ethics contributes to contemporary reframings of religion as practice-centered, sharing methodological innovations with scholarship in the philosophy of religion that foregrounds the work of the body, the emotions, and intersociality alongside the role of critical reflection. With a focus on the lived experience and practical ethics of Cassian, Clements argues for constructions of ethics in asceticism as a lens to both critique and deepen our understanding of constructions of power—following the critical moves that Foucault himself develops. By challenging modern assumptions about Cassian’s asceticism, Sites of the Ascetic Self proposes a new way to think about questions of ethics, subjectivity, and ethical agency in the study of religion today.