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Extreme Asceticism: Confucian Practice and Riesebrodt's Religious Virtuoso

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The ascetic ideals initially established by Confucius are moderate and rational. Yet, virtuoso asceticism became a social phenomenon when the state desired to institute a more powerful channel to disseminate Confucian values in the broader populace beyond the literati. The reason that the cult of the virtuoso particularly served this purpose was that the enshrinement of virtuoso generated social power within community. That social power, somewhat equivalent to charisma, derived from the enshrined spirit's connection with transcendence having official and public offerings from community. The social process in the formation of the ascetic virtuoso and its social function in the Confucian tradition follow a pattern similar to that laid out by Martin Riesebrodt: denial of the physical self, restructuring of social relations, and spiritual transformation. Ascetic virtuosos stemming from the tradition of “inner‐worldly” asceticism closed a gap between a rationalized system of behavior‐regulating practices and interventionist practice with reference to transcendence.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Religious Studies, San Diego State University

Publication date: 2012-09-01

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