Asceticism is a self-denial philosophy and way of life in which adherents forego materialistic luxuries and pleasures.
Many global religions include elements of asceticism, and for certain practitioners, such as some monastic orders, it may entail a fatalistic withdrawal from the majority of worldly endeavors.
The challenge to commonplace ideals has led to its frequent identification with opposition to governmental power and its role in social transformation despite its relationship with fatalism and retreat from the world.
For instance, in Max Weber’s opinion, protestant asceticism was crucial to the development of contemporary western capitalism.
The idea of asceticism illustrates the coordinated efforts used by a person to advance in their moral, religious, and spiritual life. It refers to the intricate interplay of nature and culture and the traditional theological interplay of faith and reason; all of these characteristics are the outcome of ongoing, dynamic negotiations within specific social and cultural settings.
The term’s original definition applied to any exercise, such as physical, mental, or moral, that was performed rigorously and methodically in the pursuit of advancement and self-improvement.
One of the oldest faiths, Jainism, practices asceticism in one of its most extreme forms. Nakedness, which represents not owning even clothing, fasting, physical mortification, penance, and other austerities, are necessary for an ascetic lifestyle. It is carried out to destroy old karma and prevent creating new karma; both are considered necessary in Jainism for salvation and freedom from rebirth.
The idea that depriving oneself of comfort and bodily pleasures are necessary to cleanse or elevate one’s spirit is a central tenet of all the major global religions. Max Weber’s theory of the growth of capitalism is based on the dichotomy between other-worldly asceticism, such as living in a monastery or convent, and this-worldly asceticism, such as adopting a monastic mindset while continuing to live and work in the regular world.
In Economy and Society, Max Weber defined inner-worldly asceticism as the focus of human conduct on actions that lead to salvation in the context of daily life.
Asceticism was traditionally practiced by monks and nuns in religions, often by complete isolation from society. However, Protestant asceticism that practiced self-denial without distancing oneself from the outside world emerged following the Reformation. This self-denial was applied to work with the idea of the “calling,” and as a consequence, a group of individuals arose who worked hard but reinvested their earnings rather than squandering them.
Max Weber distinguishes mysticism and asceticism, stating that the latter refers to a specific state of enlightenment only attained by a few chosen individuals via contemplation. The former, he says, see redemption as the outcome of human acts in the world.