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A History Of Celibacy Paperback – May 22, 2001


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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Elizabeth Abbott has a Ph.D. in history and is Dean of Women at Trinity College, University of Toronto. She is the author of several books and lives in Toronto.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; First Edition (1 in number line first thus) edition (May 22, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306810417
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306810411
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #689,493 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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So, although these "experiments" are presented more or less in chronological order, this is not a history in the common sense of the word.
CRT
The author's inclusion of the various forms of coerced celibacy, not to mention premarital virginity, took up space that could have been used for such an analysis.
Douglas Black
Its breadth is commanding and admirable, its style is at once extremely academic and in the same instant entirely readable and smooth flowing.
Kiera

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Kiera on December 30, 2001
Format: Paperback
A fabulously well-written book that offers one a great deal of food for thought. Yes, at times agonizingly explicit, but real and humanly written. More than expose or a simple history, but a personal journey, which the author herself took and took something from. Its breadth is commanding and admirable, its style is at once extremely academic and in the same instant entirely readable and smooth flowing.
In this day and age of non-interest in sex yielding implications of psychological imbalance or worse, it is nice to have something to refer to, something that clarifies the history and purpose of celibacy in all its negative and positive implications. An excellently researched and presented treastise.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Black on May 15, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In reading Elizabeth Abbott's A History of Celibacy, one gets the inescapable impression that the author is a believer in the power of sexual abstinence. Whether practiced by Christian ascetics who believe holiness can only be attained by disdaining the appetites of the flesh, by shamans seeking spiritual power or enlightenment, or by women trying to achieve independent existence in a world run by men, celibacy is portrayed in this book as a laudable, even noble way to achieve one's goals. While Ms. Abbott is certainly entitled to her opinion on this or any topic, it's a bit jarring to find such editorializing in what purports to be a history book.

Christianity is the subject of nearly a third of A History of Celibacy. Abbott acknowledges that this is unsurprising, given that it is "sex-negative [and] celibacy-obsessed...". Consequently, I found much about Christianity's obsession with sex that was new to me. For instance, she suggests that St. Augustine's well-known loathing for sex may have been rooted in his early experience with Manichaeanism, a dualistic religion which taught that the body was a prison that could only be escaped by celibacy and other forms of self-denial.

We move now from religion-inspired celibacy to the belief that semen conservation is essential to health. This goes back at least as far as Greek doctors Hippocrates and Galen, both of whom believed that too much sexual activity was debilitating to men. In the 18th century Swiss doctor Samuel Tissot expanded on this, claiming that "one ounce of [semen] would weaken more than [the loss of] forty ounces of blood".
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By V. Brock on September 6, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The author states in the introduction that she began her research with a strong opinion about celibacy: that it was unnatural. The six years she spent writing the book changed her mind on that (her current view is much more complicated). This initial judgment of celibacy obviously colors the narrative in some parts of the book, especially the early chapters.

I found a handful of instances where historical information contradicted other histories I have read. I tend to trust the other sources more: Abbott was researching the practice of and attitudes toward celibacy, and likely did not spend as much time evaluating her information on other issues.

But overall, this was a wonderfully complete narrative of celibacy's history all over the world, in cultures ancient and modern. The narrative draws one in, the analysis draws together disparate cultural ideas into compelling conclusions, and the book is packed full of fascinating information.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Snezana Vrangalova on February 27, 2006
Format: Paperback
It's a highly informative and non-judgemental history of not only celibacy, but also sexuality in general throughout many different times and cultures. I loved the way Abbott managed to relate each form of celibacy to the social, religious, moral and economical circumstances in which it appeared - it gives the reader a broader understanding of societies and individuals who embraced or rejected celibacy.

In addition to this, History of Celibacy is beautifully written, maybe more difficult but extremely pleasurable to read. (It's also good for learning new words, especially if you're a non-native english speaker. I wish I'd read this book before I took my GRE, it would've added at least 50 points to my verbal score)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Stratiotes Doxha Theon VINE VOICE on August 7, 2009
Format: Paperback
Although an interesting skip through ancient to modern history, the author's historical analysis comes across a bit 2-dimensional and lacks the depth of a more serious historical study. For example, the early church teaching on sexuality is little more than the widely held assumption that the early church teachers were essentially dualist in their theology with a low view of sex. There are, of course, examples from their writings that seem at first to support such notions but a more careful study will reveal there is far more depth than is supposed in popular opinion. For an understanding of early church teaching on sexuality, the reader would do well to consult more scholarly works such as David Ford's Women and Men in the Early Church: The Full Views of St. John Chrysostom or Scott Hahn's Living the Mysteries: A Guide for Unfinished Christians.

In addition, the author seems so focused on the empowerment celibacy can provide to women in a male-dominated culture that she seems to miss other important factors that might widen our understanding of the topic. Empowerment through celibacy is an interesting and important topic in itself worth further study. Unfortunately, with the approach taken by the author, it remains only hinted at without the solid historical evidence that might be brought to bear on the topic.

Overall, an interesting quick study in an oft misunderstood and maligned ideal. Perhaps the most commendable thought in the work is the author's admission early on that at first she assumed celibacy to be unnatural but she eventually saw the beauty and peace it could bring to her own life. Refreshing sentiment counter to our culture so obsessed by sex. Well worth the time for the critical and discerning reader to explore.
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