Asceticism in Transition: Exploring the Concepts of Memory, Performance and Ambiguity in 20th Century Dutch Monastic Life

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Abstract

Asceticism is a topic of interest among a wide range of scholars. In the past two decades the corpus on asceticism has been growing steadily and contributions have been made from a variety of perspectives (for an overview see Wimbusch and Valantasis, Asceticism [1995]). In this article I will focus on the almost unknown history of asceticism in 20th century Dutch monastic life. This is a history that, especially after the 1950s, reflects a period of transition in which a radical erosion of asceticism occurred. In order to understand and explore asceticism in this specific period and context, I will discuss the demarcation of asceticism that Gavin Flood outlined in his thought-provoking study of 2004, The Ascetic Self: Subjectivity, Memory and Tradition. In this book Flood distinguishes three central parameters of asceticism, in short: memory, performance and ambiguity. These three concepts are applied to research material that is based upon a historical study of Catholic spiritual literature (1930–1965) and eighteen interviews with members of Dutch religious communities who personally experienced ascetic practices during their religious lives. I will argue that the memory of ascetic tradition is no longer being appropriated, which has specific consequences for examining the two parameters of performance and ambiguity.

Asceticism in Transition: Exploring the Concepts of Memory, Performance and Ambiguity in 20th Century Dutch Monastic Life

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