Compassion through Asceticism: Contemplating the Caveats and Socio-Environmental Values Related to a Backcountry Fast




moral education, outdoor education, social justice, environmental justice, asceticism


Given the socio-environmental crises we face, educators might advisably look for means to address them. Within US outdoor adventure education (OAE), the moral educational potential of the “backcountry fast” is one such curricular area. However, little is written on this field-based tradition. This absence is concerning since fasts raise questions of risk and social-ethical appropriateness (e.g. food-scarcity). After acknowledging these social-ethical caveats, this paper, which draws from philosophical and monastic sources, provides a moral rationale for the backcountry fast. An act of asceticism, fasting practices can cultivate discipline, promote self-revelation, and awaken empathetic compassion (a-suffering-with) through identification with the involuntary suffering of others (human, more-than-human, and the planet itself). Although fasting’s full value is realized in a justice-seeking practice, highlighting the limits of one-off OAE programming, the article affirms its continued use within OAE, and counsels that fasts be educationally framed regarding their purpose(s) and potential as a post-program discipline.


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