Monasticism is a social and religious phenomenon which originated in antiquity and which still remains relevant in the twenty-first century. But what, exactly, is it, and how is it distinguished from other kinds of religious and non-religious practice?
In this Very Short Introduction Stephen J. Davis discusses the history of monasticism, from our earliest evidence for it, and the different types which have developed from antiquity to the present day. He considers where monasteries are located, from East Asia to North America, and everywhere in between, and how their settings impact the everyday life and worldview of the monks and nuns who dwell there. Exploring how monastic communities are organized, he also looks at how aspects of
life like food, sleep, sex, work, and prayer are regimented. Finally, Davis discusses what the stories about saints communicate about monastic identity and ethics, and considers what place there is for monasticism in the modern world.
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Stephen J. Davis is Professor of Religious Studies, History, and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Yale University, specializing in the history of ancient and medieval Christianity, with a special focus on the eastern Mediterranean and the Near East. Since 2013, he has served as Head of Pierson College, one of the fourteen residential colleges at Yale. He is the author of several books, including The Cult of St. Thecla: A Tradition of Women's Piety in Late Antiquity (O UP, 2001), and Coptic Christology in Practice: Incarnation and Divine Participation in Late Antique and Medieval Egypt (OUP, 2008). His most recent book, Christ Child: Cultural Memories of a Young Jesus, was published by Yale University Press in 2014. For over a decade (since 2006), Stephen has directed the Yale Monastic Archaeology Project, sponsoring archaeological and archival work at several ancient and medieval monastic sites in Egypt.