A History of Celibacy: From Athena to Elizabeth I, Leonardo da Vinci, Florence Nightingale, Gandhi, and Cher

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9780684849430: A History of Celibacy: From Athena to Elizabeth I, Leonardo da Vinci, Florence Nightingale, Gandhi, and Cher
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A look at celibacy traces the history of the phenomenon through the ages, from ancient times to the present day, and profiles many avowed celibates, including Joan of Arc and Sir Isaac Newton.

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Readers who consider celibacy the exclusive domain of priests and nuns are in for a big surprise. Elizabeth Abbott's entertaining history traces over 3,000 years of sexual abstinence and illustrates how it has been practiced all over the world for a variety of reasons, both religious and secular. A History of Celibacy begins with the ancient Greek deities, Athena, Artemis, and Hestia, for whom celibacy was a means of liberation from traditional female servitude, and concludes with the present-day AIDS epidemic, a primary justification for the renewed call to celibacy. In between, Abbott, who dedicated eight years to this project, discovers fascinating examples of sexual abstinence, whether coerced or self-proclaimed, temporary or permanent. For example, celibacy enabled egalitarianism and female leadership for 18th-century Shakers, the Greek athlete enhanced athletic performance by conserving semen, and Shamans and Vodun priests to this day attain a state conducive to communicating with the spirits through short-term abstinence.

Abbott describes and analyzes over 120 instances of sexual abstinence, expertly illuminating the interrelation of detailed particulars with historical context and social norms. A bestseller in Canada, where Abbott serves as Dean of Women at Trinity College, A History of Celibacy neither advocates nor opposes the practice. Instead, Abbott, herself a converted celibate, emphasizes individual choice according to individual needs, drives, and desires. --Bertina Loeffler Sedlack

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Abbott, dean of women at Trinity College, University of Toronto, investigates the concept of celibacy through examining legends as well as social and religious history to provide "a descriptive and analytic narrative," uncovering in the process the need, either spiritual or societal, for its practice. She finds that every religious tradition throughout history and across the globe has a place for the practice of celibacy, whether it serves as a search for God, for fulfillment or peace, or merely for a socially sanctioned way to impose control over sexual practices. The early Christian church fathers, with their decidedly misogynistic point of view, saw celibacy as a way to contain the evil of lust. Women in the Middle Ages could gain education and status from convent life, and Muslim women were and are often mutilated to ensure their celibate state. In today's world, celibacy is practiced by men and women alike for reasons as various as religious purity and insurance against AIDS infection. Abbott writes as a scholar with a decidedly modern and nondevotional point of view. Danise Hoover
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