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Asceticism, so it is argued in this volume, is a modern category. The ubiquitous cult of the body, of fitness and diet equally evokes the ongoing success of ascetic practices and beliefs. Nostalgic memories of hardship and discipline in the army, youth movements or boarding schools remain as present as the fashionable irritation with the presumed modern-day laziness. In the very texture of contemporary culture, age-old asceticism proves to be remarkably alive. Old ascetic forms were remoulded to serve modern desires for personal authenticity, an authenticity that disconnected asceticism in the course of the nineteenth century from two traditions that had underpinned it since classical antiquity: the public, republican austerity of antiquity and the private, religious asceticism of Christianity. Exploring various aspects such as the history of the body, of aesthetics, science, and social thought in several European countries (Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria and Belgium), the authors show that modern asceticism remains a deeply ambivalent category. Apart from self-realisation, classical and religious examples continue to haunt the ascetic mind.
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