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Vegetarianism as a spiritual choice in historical and contemporary theology

Christianity is conspicuous among the modern world’s religions in having few dietary rules or customs. Its silence is a modern development. Medieval monasticism was, for instance, ordered by a complex polyphony of dietary rules and customs, and gluttony was counted among the seven cardinal sins. Although modern vegetarianism cannot be equated with medieval practice because of very different attitudes to religion and the body, above all a highly developed ascetic tradition, asceticism and the theology surrounding it can still illuminate many aspects of vegetarianism and related issues of diet and health in the modern world.

This project aimed to contribute to current understandings of vegetarian and other dietary choices by developing a constructive theology of food and eating which draws on a rich Christian tradition of feasting and fasting and is relevant to modern life. It aimed to show that everyday activities and decisions affecting the body possess profound spiritual significance. By beginning with practices rather than doctrine, the project developed conclusions of interest to people with a wide variety of religious commitments and none.

The project team’s core members were Drs Rachel Muers and David Grumett.