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There is No Fat in Heaven- Religious Asceticism and the Meaning of Anorexia Nervosa

There is No Fat in Heaven- Religious Asceticism and the Meaning of Anorexia Nervosa

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"There is No Fat in Heaven": Religious Asceticism and the Meaning of Anorexia NervosaAuthor(s): Caroline Giles BanksReviewed work(s):Source:
Ethos,
Vol. 24, No. 1 (Mar., 1996), pp. 107-135Published by:
on behalf of the
Stable URL:
Accessed: 18/05/2012 06:06
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"There
Is
No
Fat
in
Heaven":
Religious
Asceticism
and
the
Meaning
of
Anorexia
Nervosa
CAROLINE GILESBANKSPsychologists,psychiatrists,andpsychoanalystswho have workedwithcontemporarywomenwith anorexia nervosa have commentedon theirasceticism,meaningtheirself-denial,asexuality,height-enedmoralityandidealism,andrejectionofbodilydeath(Bempo-rad andRatey1985;Bruch1978;Mogul1980;Palazzoli1974;Rampling1985;Sabom1985).Whileacknowledgingan associationbetweenasceticismand anorexianervosa,these researchersandclinicianshave little tosayabout the cultural dimensions ofanorec-tic asceticism.Theirworks,generallymorepsychologicalthananthropologicalinorientation,have not addressed theculturalsymbols,idioms,andlanguage throughwhichthe extreme asceti-cism, self-denial,and moralsuperiorityofanorectics issubjectivelyexpressedor encoded. Thisarticle,inasking throughwhichcul-turalsymbolsthe anorecticexperiencesandexpressesher asceti-cism,intends to contribute toculturalstudies on thephenomenologyof thebody(Bordo1993;Csordas1994a,1994b)andtopresenta firststepinbuildingapsychological-culturaltheoryof asceticism.
Ethos24(1):107-135.Copyright?1996,AmericanAnthropologicalAssociation.
107
 
108
ETHOS
This articlepresentsacasestudyof anAmericanwoman,Mar-garetC.1ItexamineshowMargaret expressesherself-starvationandbodilyasceticismthroughthereligioussymbolsand beliefsofherChristianfundamentalistbackground.Moreover,inanalyzingMargaret'sexpressivelanguageas well as herassociationsto twoofherdrawings,the articlepointsto some ofthemotivesthatunderlieherdecision tocontrol herbodyinsuch asevere manner.Whiletheanorecticmaynotbe awareof themotives forher self-starva-tion,neverthelessshegivesmeaningto herthinness andusesculture to doso(Swartz1985).Throughthe case ofMargaretC.Iexaminehow somecontemporaryanorectics,namelythosewhocome fromconservativereligiousbackgrounds,useconceptsof thebodyandfood andnotions ofasceticismthat areapartoftheirreligioustradition togiveconsciousmeaningandexpressiontotheseunderlyingmotives.2Thecase ofMargaretC. isevaluatedandunderstood inthecontext of recentstudiesbyhistorians andothersthatdemonstrateassociationsbetweenreligiousasceticismandvoluntarystarvationbywomenduringtheearlyChristianandmedievalperiods(Bell1985;Brown1988;Brumberg1988;Bynum1987;Lester1995).Margaret's storypointstocontinuities wellintothe20thcenturyoftheselongstandingassociationsbetweenself-starvationandreligi-osityforwomen.Inconsideringtherelationsbetweensystemsofbeliefandsub-jectiveexpressionsofself-starvation,the casepresentedhere,oneof alargerstudythatincludesotherreligiousanorectics intheUnitedStates,intends tofurtherourunderstandingofthepsycho-logicalfunctionsofreligionandasceticism-subjectsoflongstand-inginteresttopsychologicalanthropologistsandpsychoanalysts(A.Freud1966[1937];LaBarre1970,1991;Menninger1938;Obeyesekere1981,1990;Roheim1971[1943];Spiro1965,1987a,1987b).And asCrapanzano(1980),Obeyesekere(1990),andothershavenoted,itisthroughcasestudiesthattherelationsbetweenculture asasymbolicmeaning systemandindividualmotivation canbefurtherdemonstratedandvalidated.MARGARETC.Uponourfirstmeetinginthespringof1986,Margarettold herlifestoryasa"Christianmiracle."Margaretwastreatedforanorexia

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