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Asceticism in the Eastern Mediterranean, Seventh through Ninth Century

John Zaleski, Harvard University, Tyler Fellow 2016–2018

During the first year of my fellowship, I made use of the library’s extensive Greek and Syriac holdings to trace the rise of an ascetic commentary tradition among East Syrian (i.e., “Nestorian”) Christians, who, though living under Sasanian or Islamic rule, significantly developed Greek and early Byzantine traditions of ascetic practice. I also worked under Alice-Mary Talbot on editing Greek editions and translations for the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, which deepened my knowledge of Byzantine hagiographic and monastic literature. In my second year, I turned toward Muslim ascetic texts, examining the diverse attitudes toward asceticism and Christian monasticism articulated in early collections of pious literature called kutub al-zuhd. These collections underscore the contested nature of ascetic practice in the early Islamic world, as Muslims articulated new and self-consciously Islamic traditions of asceticism. I have also undertaken research on unedited Syriac and Arabic ascetic texts in England, France, Morocco, and Turkey.