The Ascetic Imperative through Literature

Instructor: Svitlana Kobets, PhD, LMS

University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto

Continuing Education

e-mail: svitlana.kobets@utoronto.ca, svitlana@411.ca

Date: 6 Mondays April 7 – May 12 2008

Time: 7-9 pm

Location: Brennan Hall 203

 

COURSE DESCRIPTION

This course will survey the artistic presentation of the ascetic ideal across cultures and literatures.  Our readings will span ancient, medieval and modern worlds, considering the texts representative of the religious and cultural traditions of Hellenistic Paganism, Judaism, Christianity, as well as Hindu and Buddhist traditions. We will read selections from the Old and New Testaments, lives of select saints as well as texts by such authors as Marcus Aurelius, Herman Hesse, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The discussion of ascetic themes and imagery in Valerii Shevchuk’s novel "Eye of the Abyss" will bridge the ancient, medieval and contemporary expressions of the ascetic imperative.  In our discussions we will explore questions pertaining to the origins and forms of asceticism, its multifarious cultural representations, as well as its social and political meanings. The universal themes pertaining to the phenomenology and ideology of the ascetic movement—such as selfhood, ethics, religious beliefs, the individual and his interactions with society—will provide the focus to our discussions.

 

COURSE OBJECTIVES


By the end of this course you should expect to have

 

-become acquainted with conceptualizations and phenomenologies of asceticism in several Christian and non-Christian cultural traditions;

  

-thought deeply about the social, historical, and cultural bearings of ascetic movements;

 

-thought deeply about such important issues as the ascetic ideal, sanctity, heresy and marginality;

 

-critically assessed and analyzed a number of textual representations of ascetic phenomenology and spirituality.

 

 

STRUCTURE: lecture-discussion combination

 

SYLLABUS

 

CLASS 1

MONDAY, APRIL 7

 

1. Introduction to the course

2. Asceticism in Ancient Greece and Rome: the Stoic (Marcus Aurelius) and Cynic (Diogenes) traditions

 

READINGS and ASSIGNMENTS

1. THE MEDITATIONS by Marcus Aurelius. 

2. DIOGENES OF SINOPE'S biography; Sayings of Diogenes.

3. We will discuss the following questions

 

Additional materials:

1. The full text of Marcus Aurelius Meditations

2. Marcus Aurelius and his Meditations 

3. The Cynics 

 

CLASS 2

MONDAY, APRIL 14

 

1. Can we talk about asceticism in the Old Testament tradition? Asceticism of the Hebrew Prophet. 

2. The Egyptian Desert tradition: Introduction

3. The Life of Antony

4. Simeon the Stylites

 

READINGS and ASSIGNMENTS

1. Excerpts from the Old Testament.

2. The Desert Fathers

3. An abridged version of The Life of Antony

4. St. Simeon the Stylites' Life by Evagrius and its Synaxarion version

5. In our class discussion we will address the following questions

  

Additional materials:

1. Asceticism in Judaism

2. On asceticism and Jewish tradition 

3. Why should we read the Desert Fathers? by Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov

4. The full version of Antony's Life

icon of St. Simeon the Stylites

 

CLASS 3

MONDAY, APRIL 21

1. Lives of St. Antony and St. Simeon the Stylites

2. Unorthodox varieties of asceticism: feigned madness and wandering

3. The Nun who feigned Madness by Palladius

4. St. Serapion by Palladius and

5. St. Alexis the Man of God

 

READINGS AND ASSIGNMENTS

1. The Life of St. Serapion, the Life of Isidora, or The Nun who feigned Madness and the Life of Alexis the Man of God

2. Read this addition to the Life of St. Serapion 

3. During the class we will address the following questions

 

Additional materials:

Michel Foucault's article Technologies of the Self 

On the issue of selfhood

 

CLASS 4

MONDAY, APRIL 28

1. Leo Tolstoy, Father Sergius

2. Ivan Turgenev, A Living Relic (from A Sportsman's Sketches, Vol. 2)

3. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

 

READINGS AND ASSIGNMENTS

In our class discussion we will address the following questions

 

Additional materials:

A critical discussion of asceticism in Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

 

CLASS 5

MONDAY, MAY 5

1. Buddhist Tradition and The Life of Buddha

2. Herman Hesse, Siddhartha

 

READINGS AND ASSIGNMENTS

In our class discussion we will address the following questions

 

CLASS 6

MONDAY, MAY 12

1. Early Christian legacy in contemporary literature: Valerii Shevchuk, “Eye of the Abyss”

2. Concluding remarks

 

 

READINGS AND ASSIGNMENTS

Valerii Shevchuk, Eye of the Abyss Part 1 (in Volume 1) and Part 2 (in Volume 2)

In our class discussion we will address the following questions

 

Additional materials:

Kallistos Ware, "The Way of Ascetics: Negative or Affirmative?"

 
© 2017 by Svitlana Kobets. All right reserved.