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Upper Class Asceticism: Social Origins of Ascetic Movements and Medieval Saints

Rodney Stark
Review of Religious Research
Vol. 45, No. 1 (Sep., 2003), pp. 5-19
DOI: 10.2307/3512496
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3512496
Page Count: 15
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Upper Class Asceticism: Social Origins of Ascetic Movements and Medieval Saints
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Abstract

Most social scientists still agree with Marx that religion is rooted in the suffering of the poor, despite the fact that dozens of studies have found that class is, at most, barely related to religious belief and that the middle and upper classes dominate religious participation. These facts are eluded by the claim that it is intense religion, such as asceticism, that is the real "opium of the people." This essay presents data on a variety of ascetic movements, beginning as far back as the first Buddhist monks, which indicate that they were primarily vehicles for upper class piety. Then, the biographies of 483 ascetic, medieval Catholic saints (500-1500) are examined. These data reveal that they came primarily from the nobility. Appropriate conclusions are drawn.

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