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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/32005

Title: Ascetic Citizens: Religious Austerity and Political Crisis in Anglo-American Literature, 1681-1799
Authors: Dowdell, Coby J.
Advisor: Downes, Paul
Department: English
Keywords: Asceticism
American Literature
Eighteenth-Century British Literature
Daniel Defoe
Samuel Richardson
Hannah Webster Foster
Charles Brockden Brown
Adam Smith
Algernon Sidney
Issue Date: 17-Jan-2012
Abstract: Ascetic Citizens: Religious Austerity and Political Crisis in Anglo-American Literature, 1681-1799, attends to a number of scenes of voluntary self-restraint in literary, political, and religious writings of the long eighteenth century, scenes that stage, what Alexis de Tocqueville calls, “daily small acts of self-denial” in the service of the nation. Existing studies of asceticism in Anglo-American culture during the period are extremely slim. Ascetic Citizens fills an important gap in the scholarship by re-framing religious practices of seclusion and self-denial as a broadly-defined set of civic practices that permeate the political, religious, and gender discourses of late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Anglo-American culture. This thesis focuses on the transatlantic relevance of the ascetic citizen—a figure whose rhetorical utility derives from its capacity, as a marker of political and religious moderation, to deploy individual practices of religious austerity as a means of suturing extreme political binaries during times of political crisis. My conception of asceticism’s role in Anglo-American society is informed by an understanding of ascetic citizenship as a cluster of concepts and cultural practices linking the ascetic’s focus on bodily control to republican theories of political subjectivity. The notion that political membership presupposes a renunciation of personal liberties on the part of the individual citizen represents one of the key assumptions of ascetic citizenship. The future guarantee of individual political rights is ensured by present renunciations of self-interest. As such, the ascetic citizen functions according to the same economy by which the religious ascetic’s right to future eternal reward is ensured by present acts of pious self-abnegation. That is to say, republican political liberty is enabled by what we might call an ascetic prerequisite in which the voluntary self-sacrifice of civic rights guarantees the state’s protection of such rights from the infringements of one’s neighbour. While the abstemious nature of ascetic practice implies efficiency grounded in economic frugality, bodily self-restraint, and physical isolation, the ascetic citizen functions as the sanctioned perversion of a normative devotional practice that circumvents the division between profane self-interest and sacred disinterestedness. The relevance of ascetic citizenship to political culture is its political fluidity, its potential to exceed the ideological functions of the dominant culture while revealing the tension that exists between endorsement of, and dissent from, the civic norm. Counter-intuitively, the ascetic citizen’s practice is marked by a celebration of moderation, of the via media. Forging a space at the threshold between endorsement/dissent, the ascetic citizen maps the dialectic movement of cultural extremism, forging a rhetorically useful site of ascetic deferral characterized by the subject’s ascetic withdrawal from making critical decisions. Ascetic Citizens provides a detailed investigation of how eighteenth-century Anglo-American authors such as Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Hannah Webster Foster, and Charles Brockden Brown conceive of individual subjectivity as it exists in the pause or retired moment between competing political orders.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/32005
Appears in Collections:Doctoral

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