The Making of the Self: Ancient and Modern Asceticism

By Richard Valantasis

A wide-ranging study of asceticism in the Roman and early Christian traditions, combining both historical and theoretical analysis.

ISBN: 9780227172810


A leading scholar of ascetical studies, Richard Valantasis explores a variety of ascetical traditions ranging from the Greco-Roman philosophy of Musonius Rufus, the asceticism found in the Nag Hammadi Library and in certain Gnostic texts, the Gospel of Thomas, and other early Christian texts.

This collection gathers historical and theoretical essays develop a theory of asceticism that informs the analysis of historical texts and opens the way for postmodern ascetical studies. Wideranging in historical scope and in developing theory, these essays address asceticism for scholar and student alike.

The theory will be of particular interest to those interested in cultural theory and analysis, while the historical essays provide the researcher with easy access to a significant corpus of academic writing on asceticism.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 336

Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

Richard Valantasis is Professor of Ascetical Theology and Director of the Anglican Studies Program at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He is the author of The Gospel of Thomas, Centuries of Holiness: Ancient Spirituality Refracted for a Postmodern Age, and The New Q: Translation and Commentary.



Part One: Theory
1. A Theory of the Social Function of Asceticism
2. Construction of Power in Asceticism
3. Asceticism as a Sacred Marriage: Eastern and Western Theories
4. Asceticism or Formation: Theorising Asceticism after Nietzsche
5. A Theory of Asceticism, Revised

Part Two: Christian Asceticism
6. Uncovering Adam’s Esoteric Body
7. Daemons and the Perfecting of the Monk’s Body
8. Ascetical Withdrawal and the Second Letter of Basil the Great
9. Is the Gospel of Thomas Ascetical?
10. Competing Ascetic Subjectivities in the Letter to the Galatians

Part Three: Roman Asceticism
11. Nag Hammadi and Asceticism: Theory and Practice
12. Demons, Adversaries, Devils Fisherman: The Asceticism of Authoritative Teaching (NHL, VI, 3) in Roman Perspective
13. Musonius Rufus and Roman Ascetical Theory



Endorsements and Reviews

In the context of belligerently hedonistic Western society, Richard Valantasis’s The Making of the Self has never been more relevant. Valantasis proposes that past and present can best be compared, not through ideas, but through analysis of practices and what they produce. Informative and inspirational, The Making of the Self should be required reading for all who seek to make intentional choices that shape the self.
Margaret R. Miles, author of A Complex Delight: The Secularization of the Breast, 1350-1750

A tour-de-force journey through the theory and practice of asceticism in late antiquity. Valatansis focusses on the transformative power of ascetic performance portraying asceticism through the ascetic’s eyes. He compels us to reflect anew on the nature and role of asceticism in antiquity, and, in the process, to consider its meaning and relevance today.
James E. Goehring, author of Ascetics, Society, and The Desert

A coherent and compelling presentation of Valantasis’s mature theorizing about a complex and fascinating phenomenon. Valantasis had already taught me much about asceticism. But this book is Valantasis at his best – articulate, creative, witty, feisty, provocative, brilliant.
Vincent L. Wimbush, editor of Ascetic Behavior in Greco-Roman Antiquity: A Sourcebook