2015 Summer Seminar: "Monastics, Monasteries and Monasticism"

Dates: June 12 - June 20, 2015

Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies, Princeton University with the collaboration of The Cyprus Institute, Nicosia

Menoikeion Summer 2015

The topic for our 2015 Mount Menoikeion Seminar, Monastics, Monasteries and Monasticism, is closely related to the monastery itself, its surrounding community and the Orthodox world more generally.

Menoikeion Summer 2015
Photo by Tina Wei

"I practice the path of self-discipline. I meditate every day. I go the way of embracing love. I work as a mother and father of all beings... I read the books of all religions and practice all at the right moment. Life is my teacher and my inner wisdom is my guide" - Drukpa Kunley, 15th-16th century Buddhist monk and poet

Certain individuals from all over the world have felt a calling to live an ascetic and/or monastic life. What leads such a diverse group of individuals, from almost all human cultures, all genders and all socio-economic classes, to choose such a life? Far from being a simple question, laymen, monks and priests have discussed it at the same time as framing the broader discussion. Is monasticism about seclusion, contemplation and personal prayer, or is it a form of serving (a) God through dedicating one's life to better one's society and the world around? How do such individuals live and repeatedly justify their choice for themselves? How do they deal with their former familal, personal and communal ties, and how do their family, friends and community deal with their difficult choice? 

Menoikeion Summer 2015
Photo by Tina Wei

"Angels are a light for monastics, and the monastics are a light for laymen" - St. John Klimachos (6th-7th century Christian monk)

Monastics, in almost all cases, are closely tied to monasteries in the broad sense of the word - a place in which they gather and interact with their surrounding community. This connection significantly contributes to the tension between trying to leave the world and having the world coming to them, which is often resolved in a form of symbiosis between monastery and community. While the basis of this symbiosis is usually the material and spiritual needs of both groups, it has also been observed that both groups help define each other and strengthen their internal bonds as a result of the relationship. Monasteries are also the place in which monastics spend most of their lives, often under strict regulation, discipline and spiritual guidance. At the same time, they also construct and maintain a broader sense of local identity, preserve local culture and facilitate spiritual connections within their religion's organization. 

Menoikeion Summer 2015
Photo by Tina Wei

"The spiritual health of the Orthodox world is measured by the quantity and quality of its monastics and monasteries" - Popular Orthodox Christian axiom

Finally, as a social institution, monasticism is among the most stable and longlasting in human history, filling roles in societies as geographically and culturally diverse as Irish Christianity and Indian Hinduism over millenia (one might add to this list other, more debateable, examples such as Islamic Sufism or the Jewish Essene ascetic movement). While scholars can and will probably continue to argue whether these are all incarnations of the same social process, there is no question that all these cultures, whether ancient, medieval or modern, benefit from their types of monasticism in different ways. 

Like three overlapping circles, these topics tie together individuals, local communities and their broader societies over time. While our discussion will ultimately be driven by our participants and their interests, we will continuously attempt to contextualize our seminar discussions by anchoring them in these three broad themes. While we naturally expect the emphasis to be centered around Orthodox Christianity, we will gladly consider other chronological, geographical or religious contributions. 

2015 Summer Participants

Seminar Directors:
Nikolaos Bakirtzis (Professor, The Cyprus Institute)
Dimitri Gondicas (Professor, Hellenic Studies)

Seminar Coordinators: 
Lee Mordechai (Ph.D. Candidate, History) [point-person 2015]
John Lansdowne (Ph.D. Candidate, Art & Archaeology) [in absentia 2015]

Greek Archaeological Service Participant:
Xenophon Moniaros (9th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities)

Foteini Spingou

Graduate Students: 
Richard Calis (History)
Merle Eisenberg (History)
Vicky Hioureas (History)
Despina Papacharalambous (Art History/ Digital Cultural Heritage, The Cyprus Institute)
Alex Raiffe (French)
Orlando Reade (English)
Denis Zhernokleyev (Slavic Literature)

Undergraduate Students:
Farah Amjad  Journal | Paper
Daniel Elkind  Journal | Paper
Penina Krieger Journal | Paper
Jiemin (Tina) Wei  Journal | Paper
Margot Yale  Journal | Paper