Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Body & Society: Men, Women & Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity” as Want to Read:
The Body & Society: Me...
Peter R.L. Brown
Rate this book
Clear rating

The Body & Society: Men, Women & Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (Columbia Classics in Religion)

4.22 of 5 stars 4.22  ·  rating details  ·  193 ratings  ·  19 reviews
In his monumental book Peter Brown addresses the practice of permanent sexual renunciation--continence, celibacy, and life-long virginity--that developed in Christian circles from the first to the fifth centuries A.D. Brown vividly describes the early Christians and their strange, disturbing preoccupations. He follows in detail the reflection and controversy these notions ...more
cloth, 504 pages
Published October 19th 1988 by Columbia University Press (first published January 1st 1988)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Body & Society, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Body & Society

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 537)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Samuel Brown
I read this book a few years ago and just realized that I never reviewed it. Brown is everything one could desire from a scholar of Mediterranean culture in the several centuries after Christ. He founded the field of Late Antique studies as such, and this book is one of the key contributions he made earlier in his career. (He's still writing magnificent books at a staggering rate from his retirement.) It's probably one of the most insightful, interesting, and illuminating texts I've read on earl ...more
Apr 03, 2014 Jessica rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jessica by: Leah on 3BoT Vol. 7
This was an interesting book. I wouldn't recommend unless someone is really interested in the interplay between religion and sexuality because it's fairly dry and academic, but the scope it covers is fascinating. Brown illustrates how various groups within early Christianity embraced celibacy for a multitude of different reasons based on their particular theology surrounding the body, the soul, life, God, marriage, asceticism, etc. He does tend to name-drop theologians, philosophers, and other e ...more
One reader commented that Brown's work here is 'biased and sloppy,' and while that may be their take, I respectfully disagree.
For those who don't know who Brown is, he is usually known as the imminent living expert on all things Augustine. Nice work if you can get it; while that's a neat thing to put on a business card, very few people can make a living tossing such a title around. Brown is no slouch, and I think he is a fair and judicious expert on Augustine. Especially being a female, I must
Brian Hohmeier
'The Body & Society' is an excellently written survey, loosely bound around its titular theme. While perhaps wanting for a central argument, it tracks well with the development of views of body and sexuality by the Church in its various temporal and imperial-geographical contexts. It lacks no depth of insight or personality; unlike many survey texts of Church history, Brown does not merely report but performs intelligent and insightful synthesis, bringing with comment contemporary and distan ...more
Without question the most poetic, unsettling, and strangely beautiful book you will ever read on early Christian sexuality and celibacy. Just a taste: "through the abrupt cessation of married intercourse, married couples believed that they had cut the demonic current that powered the loud whir of the world--to bring about a vast silence in which the music of the Holy Spirit might, at last, be heard again."
You will be hard-pressed to find a more detailed and thorough exploration of the rise of Christian sexual mores. Brown is the foremost authority on the history of early Christendom. If you're interested in and devoted to studying the history of mores and conventions about the human body in Western society, this is the foundational work for understanding the Christian perspective. With that in mind, however, this book is an absolute brick. It reads like a textbook, and in some places Brown is giv ...more
A masterpiece of graceful scholarship! Beautifully written, elegantly footnoted, and rich with excerpts that capture the subject at hand. The author is careful not to draw conclusions that stretch the evidence. The transformation of sexual ethics through these early centuries is fascinating, and modern readers will note that the human mind does not rise very far from generation to generation, as the level of discourse today seems juvenile in comparison. The arguments here frequently begin with t ...more
Benjamin Fry
I have read many historical books in my time, and I must say that I found Browne's book to be faultless. His style of writing grips the reader from the start which continues until the end. Considering the complexity of the subject Browne manages to cover the sexual history of the early church with skill and grace, combining thoroughly researched academic information with the literary style of a seasoned novelist.
Karen Whittingham
Again, this book helped me to better understand the development of christian culture in the west, with is ruthless insistence on the superiority of virginity which has carried down, within catholicism, until my own day - although 'my day' now seems to be quite firmly in the past, and perhaps we were the last generation to be inculcated with this model.
Stepping into late antiquity is to step into a wholly other world(view). The material world, including the body was seen as fallen. The renunciation of the body wasn't a new idea or unique to emerging Christianity, but it took on another dimension, with ripple effects to the present day.

Peter Brown is pretty badass. This book is, as they say, magisterial. I'm sure I have some bones I could pick with it; and his prose is so beguiling that I find myself rather mistrusting it...but for now, I just lament that every book on my comps list won't likely be such a pleasure to read.
This is long and detailed. The chapter at the end on Augustine is very useful. Over all the view of sexuality and the body in the early church was tarnished by Greek and pagan elements, that were expunged at the Reformation.
Darrick Taylor
Wonderful description of how Christian attitudes toward the body reshaped the ancient world. Will write more when I have time, but Brown's history is magnificent.
Nov 05, 2007 Aeisele rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Car salesmen
Shelves: religion
This is a pretty good historical account of issues of body and sexual ethics in early Christianity.
Katie Dreyer
A very insightful and interesting look into the history and origins of asceticism in Christianity.
Way to much information. I wish the author would have found a better way to organize the content.
Absolutely fascinating. One of the best books written on early Christianity.
biased and sloppy. very overrated.
elithea marked it as to-read
Jan 24, 2015
Kristina Mckee
Kristina Mckee marked it as to-read
Jan 21, 2015
Linus Vieira
Linus Vieira marked it as to-read
Jan 18, 2015
Vera Alves
Vera Alves marked it as to-read
Jan 18, 2015
The Ninja Squirrel
The Ninja Squirrel marked it as to-read
Jan 17, 2015
B. marked it as to-read
Jan 16, 2015
Hali marked it as to-read
Jan 14, 2015
Aakansha marked it as to-read
Jan 10, 2015
Adriel Rose
Adriel Rose marked it as to-read
Jan 06, 2015
Joshua marked it as to-read
Jan 05, 2015
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 17 18 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women
  • Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century
  • Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy
  • In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins
  • The Birth of Purgatory
  • She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse
  • Fundamentalism and American Culture
  • Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity
  • What Happened at Vatican II
  • The Christian Tradition 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition 100-600
  • The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus & the Truth of the Traditional Gospels
  • Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error
  • The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-century Miller
  • The Early Church (The Pelican History of the Church, #1)
  • Early Christian Doctrines
  • Revelations of the Medieval World (A History of Private Life, #2)
  • Alone of All Her Sex
  • Pagans and Christians
There is more than one author with this name

Peter Robert Lamont Brown (born 1935) is a historian and professor of history.

More about Peter R.L. Brown...

Other Books in the Series

Columbia Classics in Religion (2 books)
  • Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture
Augustine of Hippo: A Biography The World of Late Antiquity 150-750 (Library of World Civilization) The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph & Diversity 200-1000 Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome & the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD

Share This Book