Reimagining Asceticism in Our Times: The Case of New Skete

By Olga Solovieva.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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Drawing on my fieldwork at the Communities of New Skete and research in the history of Christian monastic tradition, this paper presents a case study in the contemporary transformations of asceticism. Founded in 1966 by a group of ex-Franciscan monks, New Skete was a product of, and an active participant in, the religious experiments and monastic renewals of the sixties. Today New Skete is a well-established community that enjoys a growing (if at times, controversial) reputation within and beyond the American Orthodox Church. Yet, the spirit of experimentation in search for a way of life that is genuinely ascetic and contemplative yet open to the needs of contemporary society continues to animate its approach to monasticism. My paper will touch upon several aspects of this ongoing effort, such as New Skete’s innovative form of communal life (a male/female monastery including both celibate and married monastics), integration of the contemplative life and action (as exemplified by New Skete’s nationally famous dog-raising program), and the community’s relationship with the wider society. My particular interest is in the ways in which New Skete’s ascetic vision and praxis challenge the dichotomy between the “world” and the “desert,” the monastery and society, traditional monastic “askesis” and the spiritual practice in ordinary life.

Keywords: Asceticism, Monasticism, Spiritual Practice, Contemplative Practices, Animals and Religion, Ecumenical Dialogue

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp.25-34. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 228.022KB).

Dr. Olga Solovieva

Assistant Professor, Religious Studies Program, Union College, Schenectady, NY, USA

Olga Solovieva received her doctoral degree from Syracuse University in 2009. Her dissertation focused on Christian ascetic tradition in Late Antiquity; it was awarded a Graduate School Doctoral Prize for the best dissertation in humanities. Olga is an assistant professor in the Religious Studies program at Union College. She teaches courses in comparative religion, mysticism, religious perspectives on death and immortality, and religion and sexuality. Her current research integrates her interests in the history of late ancient Christian asceticism and mysticism and contemporary religious practice and spirituality.