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April 8, 2009

Peter Brown, 2008 Kluge Prize Winner, Discusses Early Christian Monasticism on April 30

Imagine you are living in 290 and not in 2009. Guess what people were heatedly discussing in those days? It was a pressing economic issue: the financial support of monks.

Some insisted that monks should work for a living, and others thought they should be supported by the alms of other Christians. It was a raging debate that involved crucial economic and religious issues, and many of today’s Western attitudes toward wealth and poverty are derived directly from the outcome of that debate.

Historian Peter Brown, winner of the 2008 Kluge Prize, will discuss the topic at the Library of Congress in a lecture titled "A Parting of the Ways: Wealth, Working and Poverty in Early Christian Monasticism" at 4 p.m. on Thursday, April 30, in Room 119 of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C.

Sponsored by the Library’s John W. Kluge Center, the lecture is free and open to the public; no tickets or reservations are needed.

Brown, the Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History at Princeton University, will talk about the different ways in which early Christian monks supported themselves. The issue was a hot topic throughout Egypt and the Christian Middle East between 250 and 400. The decisions reached in different regions – regarding whether monks should work or beg – crystallized differing attitudes toward work and society as a whole.

In 2008, Brown was the co-winner, with Indian historian Romila Thapar, of the prestigious Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Study of Humanity. Brown has taught at Oxford, at the University of London and at the University of California at Berkeley, in addition to Princeton. In 1982, Brown was named a MacArthur Fellow. In 2001, he was awarded the Distinguished Achievement Award for Scholars in the Humanities by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Particularly significant among his many publications are: "Augustine of Hippo: A Biography" (1967 and 2000); "The World of Late Antiquity: AD 150-750" (1971 and 1989); "The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity" (1981); "Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity" (1982); "Authority and the Sacred: Aspects of the Christianization of the Roman World" (1995); "the Rise of Western Christendom" (1996 and 2003); and "Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire" (2002).

Through a generous endowment from John W. Kluge, the Library of Congress established the Kluge Center in 2000 to bring together the world’s best thinkers to stimulate and energize one another to distill wisdom from the Library’s rich resources and to interact with policymakers in Washington. For further information on the Kluge Center, visit

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PR 09-071
ISSN 0731-3527

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