Rules, Patterns, and the Exercise of Power in Shenoute's Monastery: The Problem of World Replacement and Identity Maintenance

Quoted in the Canons of the monastic leader Shenoute is a corpus of some five hundred rules, which provide a sensationally detailed picture of fourth-century monasticism. They are here used to discover both the objective structure of Shenoute's monastery and the organizing hierarchies that formed its everyday mental and social reality. Monastics renounced "the world," totally replacing their primary social world with a new "normal." But since any re-socialization is inherently less stable than one's original socialization, we see Shenoute's institution vigorously employing tools to repair world erosion and to totalize monastic identity. This process is here analyzed using concepts from the sociology of knowledge.