First published in 1988, Peter Brown's "The Body and Society" was a groundbreaking study of the marriage and sexual practices of early Christians in the ancient Mediterranean and the Near East. To mark the twentieth anniversary of its publication, Columbia will make available an edition that features a new introduction by the author. Brown will discuss the reception of the book since its debut in the scholarly community as well as the influential thought and literature it has produced.
"The Body and Society" focuses on the practice of permanent sexual renunciation-continence, celibacy, and life-long virginity-in Christian circles from the first to the fifth centuries AD. Brown follows early Christians' strange, disturbing preoccupations with sexuality and the body in great detail, tracing the reflection and controversy these notions generated among the period's great writers. Brown questions how theological views on sexuality and the human body both mirrored and shaped not only the uneven relationships between men and women, but also the complex interactions between the Roman aristocracy and their slaves, and between the married and the celibate. Figures discussed include Tertullian, Valentinus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Constantine, the Desert Fathers, Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine, among others. Topics covered include asceticism and society in the Eastern Empire; martyrdom and prophecy; Gnostic spiritual guidance; promiscuity among the men and women of the church; monks and marriage in Egypt; the ascetic life of women in fourth-century Jerusalem; and-in order to ground the subject in a historical context-the body and society in the early Middle Ages.