Monastery (plural: monasteries) denotes the building, or complex of buildings, comprising the domestic quarters and workplace(s) of monastics, whether monks or nuns, and whether living in community or alone (hermits). The monastery generally includes a place reserved for prayer which may be a chapel, church or temple, and may also serve as an oratory.
Monasteries may vary greatly in size, comprising a small dwelling accommodating only a hermit, or in the case of communities anything from a single building housing only one senior and two or three junior monks or nuns, to vast complexes and estates housing tens or hundreds. A monastery complex typically comprises a number of buildings which include a church, dormitory, cloister, refectory, library, balneary and infirmary. Depending on the location, the monastic order and the occupation of its inhabitants, the complex may also include a wide range of buildings that facilitate self-sufficiency and service to the community. These may include a hospice, a school and a range of agricultural and manufacturing buildings such as a barn, a forge or a brewery.
In English usage, the term "monastery" is generally used to denote the buildings of a community of monks. In modern usage "convent" tends to be applied only to institutions of female monastics (nuns), particularly communities of teaching or nursing Religious Sisters. Historically, a convent denoted a house of friars, (reflecting the Latin), now more commonly called a "friary". Various religions may apply these terms in more specific ways.
In most religions the life inside monasteries is governed by community rules that stipulate the gender of the inhabitants and require them to remain celibate and own little or no personal property. The degree to which life inside a particular monastery is socially separate from the surrounding populace can also vary widely; some religious traditions mandate isolation for purposes of contemplation removed from the everyday world, in which case members of the monastic community may spend most of their time isolated even from each other. Others focus on interacting with the local communities to provide services, such as teaching, medical care, or evangelism. Some monastic communities are only occupied seasonally, depending both on the traditions involved and the local weather, and people may be part of a monastic community for periods ranging from a few days at a time to almost an entire lifetime.
The life within the walls of a monastery may be supported in several ways: by manufacturing and selling goods, often agricultural products, by donations or alms, by rental or investment incomes, and by funds from other organizations within the religion, which in the past formed the traditional support of monasteries. There has been a long tradition of Christian monasteries providing hospitable, charitable and hospital services. Monasteries have always been associated with the provision of education and the encouragement of scholarship and research, which has led to the establishment of schools and colleges and the association with universities. Christian monastic life has adapted to modern society by offering computer services, accounting services and management as well as modern hospital and educational administration.