Christianity, Islam, and the Religious Culture of Late Antiquity: A Study of Asceticism in Iraq and Northern Mesopotamia
Access StatusFull text of the requested work is not available in DASH at this time ("dark deposit"). For more information on dark deposits, see our FAQ.
MetadataShow full item record
CitationZaleski, John. 2019. Christianity, Islam, and the Religious Culture of Late Antiquity: A Study of Asceticism in Iraq and Northern Mesopotamia. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation examines the development of Christian and Islamic writing on asceticism, especially fasting and celibacy, in Iraq and northern Mesopotamia during the formative period of Islam. I show that both Christians and Muslims created ascetic traditions specific to their communities, by reinterpreting the significance of disciplines they held in common and by responding to the practices and ideals of rival confessions. As I argue, Muslims transformed Late Antique models of asceticism and in so doing led Christians to reshape their own ever-evolving monastic traditions.
The first part of the dissertation examines ascetic texts written by members of the East Syrian church, the largest Christian community in Iraq at the time of the Islamic conquest. I demonstrate that East Syrians appropriated Late Antique monastic thought by commenting upon, adapting, and reinterpreting Greek monastic texts. These commentators thus developed a self-consciously East Syrian tradition of interpreting ascetic practice, directed against rival Christian confessions and monastic movements. Central to this tradition was an emphasis on fasting and celibacy as mutually reinforcing disciplines, necessary throughout a monk’s life in order to reorient the soul’s desire toward God.
In the second part of the dissertation, I show how early Muslim authors re-envisioned the value and meaning of ascetic disciplines that were central to eastern Christian monasticism and often associated by Muslims with Christian monks. In particular, I argue that Muslims reinterpreted the purpose of fasting and sexual abstinence in light of Qur’anic and Prophetic models of piety. Far from imitating Christian asceticism (as has been suggested by scholars in the past), Muslims thus created self-consciously Islamic traditions of ascetic practice.
The final part of the dissertation argues that this Islamic ascetic discourse, which I call the “language of zuhd,” became a koiné, in which members of multiple religious confessions in Iraq took part. This section thus shows how East Syrian Christians confronted Islamic ascetic ideals — ideals formed by Muslims partly in response to Christian monasticism. Through these mutual responses, Christians and Muslims alike formed new traditions of asceticism, which have perdured among Muslim and Christian communities in the Middle East.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42106922
- FAS Theses and Dissertations