"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
mattress,/
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).


Friday, July 20, 2018

Muslims Making Martyrs of Christians

In the wrong hands, narratives of early Islamic conquest of Christian Syria, Egypt, and Armenia can be turned into unrelenting and unambiguous tales of constant and total bloodshed and violence, the Christians always victims and the Muslims always violent. But we are increasingly seeing important studies published that complicate overly tidy and often tendentious tales of "chosen trauma" (Volkan). One such is set for publication next month: Christian Martyrs under Islam: Religious Violence and the Making of the Muslim World by Christian C. Sahner (Princeton University Press, 2018), 360pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:

How did the medieval Middle East transform from a majority-Christian world to a majority-Muslim world, and what role did violence play in this process? Christian Martyrs under Islam explains how Christians across the early Islamic caliphate slowly converted to the faith of the Arab conquerors and how small groups of individuals rejected this faith through dramatic acts of resistance, including apostasy and blasphemy.
Using previously untapped sources in a range of Middle Eastern languages, Christian Sahner introduces an unknown group of martyrs who were executed at the hands of Muslim officials between the seventh and ninth centuries CE. Found in places as diverse as Syria, Spain, Egypt, and Armenia, they include an alleged descendant of Muhammad who converted to Christianity, high-ranking Christian secretaries of the Muslim state who viciously insulted the Prophet, and the children of mixed marriages between Muslims and Christians. Sahner argues that Christians never experienced systematic persecution under the early caliphs, and indeed, they remained the largest portion of the population in the greater Middle East for centuries after the Arab conquest. Still, episodes of ferocious violence contributed to the spread of Islam within Christian societies, and memories of this bloodshed played a key role in shaping Christian identity in the new Islamic empire.
Christian Martyrs under Islam examines how violence against Christians ended the age of porous religious boundaries and laid the foundations for more antagonistic Muslim-Christian relations in the centuries to come.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Syriac World

One of the biggest and most significant developments in Eastern Christian studies in the postwar period is the rise of great interest in and attention to the Syriac Christian tradition, led by first-rate scholars such as Sebastian Brock of Oxford, Sidney Griffith of CUA, and Susan Ashbrook Harvey at Brown; and now by a new young generation of scholars, including Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent, whom I interviewed here about her book.

Early this fall we will have a hefty new collection that gives a very wide-ranging treatment to diverse aspects of The Syriac World, ed. Daniel King (Routledge, 2018), 840 pages.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This volume surveys the "Syriac world", the culture that grew up among the Syriac-speaking communities from the 2nd century CE and which continues to exist and flourish today, both in its original homeland of Syria and Mesopotamia, and in the worldwide diaspora of Syriac-speaking communities. The five sections examine the religion; the material, visual and literary cultures; history and social structures of this diverse community; and Syriac interactions with their neighbours ancient and modern. There are also detailed appendices examining the patriarchs of the eastern church as well as the relationship between western Syrians and the Maphrians. The last appendix lists useful online resources for students.
The Syriac World offers the first complete survey of Syriac culture and fills a significant gap in modern scholarship. This volume will be an invaluable resource for undergraduate and postgraduate students of Syriac and Middle Eastern culture from antiquity to the modern era.
And we are given a detailed table of contents:
 List of Figures

List of Tables

List of Maps

List of Contributors

Preface

Acknowledgements

Abbreviations

Part 1: Backgrounds

The Eastern Provinces of the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity (Muriel Debié)
The Sasanian Persian Empire (Touraj Daryaee)

Part 2: The Syriac World in Late Antiquity

The pre-Christian Religions of the Syriac-speaking Regions (John F. Healey)
The Coming of Christianity to Mesopotamia (David G. K. Taylor)
Early Forms of the Religious Life and Syriac Monasticism (Florence Jullien)
The Establishment of the Syriac Churches in the Fifth-Sixth Centuries (Volker Menze)
The Syriac church denominations: an overview (Dietmar W. Winkler)
The Syriac Church in the Persian Empire (Geoffrey Herman)
Judaism and Syriac Christianity (Michal Bar-Asher Siegal)
Syriac and Syrians in the Later Roman Empire: Questions of Identity (Nathanael Andrade)
Early Syriac Reactions to the Rise of Islam (Michael Penn)
The Church of the East in the ʿAbassid Era (David Wilmshurst)

Part 3: The Syriac Language

The Syriac Language in the Context of the Semitic Languages (Holger Gzella)
The Classical Syriac Language (Aaron Butts)
Writing Syriac: Manuscripts and Inscriptions (Françoise Briquel-Chatonnet)
The Neo-Aramaic Dialects and their Historical Background (Gefforey Khan)

Part 4: Syriac Literary, Artistic and Material Culture in Late Antiquity

The Syriac Bible and its Interpretation (Jonathan Loopstra)
The Emergence of Syriac Literature to AD400 (Ute Possekel)
Later Syriac Poetry (Sebastian P. Brock)
Syriac Hagiographic Literature (Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent)
The Mysticism of the Church of the East (Adrian Pirtea)
Theological Doctrines and Debates within Syriac Christianity (Theresia Hainthaler)
The Liturgies of the Syriac Churches (Baby Varghese)
Historiography in the Syriac-speaking World 300-1000 (Philip Wood)
Syriac Philosophy (John W. Watt)
Syriac Medicine (Grigory Kessel)
The Material Culture of the Syrian Peoples in Late Antiquity and the Evidence for Syrian Wall Paintings (Emma Loosley)
Churches in Syriac space: architectural and liturgical context and development (Widad Khoury)
Women and Children in Syriac Christianity: Sounding Voices (Susan Ashbrook Harvey)
Syriac Agriculture 300-1250 (Michael Decker)

Part 5: Syriac Christianity beyond the Ancient World

Syriac Christianity in Central Asia (Mark Dickens)
Syriac Christianity in China (Hidemi Takahashi)
Syriac Christianity in India (Istvan Perczel)
The Renaissance of Syriac Literature in the 12th-13th centuries (Dorothea Weltecke and Helen Younansardaroud)
Syriac in a Diverse Middle East: From the Mongol Ilkhanate to Ottoman Dominance, 1286-1517 (Thomas A. Carlson)
The Maronite Church in the Middle Ages and Modern Times (Shafiq Abouzayd)
The Early Study of Syriac in Europe (Robert J. Wilkinson)
Syriac Identity in the Modern Era (Heleen Murre Van den Berg)
Changing Demography: Christians in Iraq since 1991 (Erica Hunter)

Appendices

I The Patriarchs of the Church of the East

II West Syrian Patriarchs and Maphrians

III Online Resources for the Study of the Syriac World

Index to Maps

Subject Index

Monday, July 16, 2018

Hindu and Orthodox Iconology

The last few decades have seen a slow but steady increase in inter-religious dialogue between Orthodoxy and other traditions. Oftentimes Orthodoxy is the last great Christian tradition to enter such dialogues, Catholics and Protestants having been involved in such endeavors for many decades before Orthodoxy.

A recently published book puts Orthodoxy into conversation with a tradition from the far East: The Human Icon: A Comparative Study of Hindu and Orthodox Christian Beliefs by Christine Mangala Frost  (James Clarke & Co., 2017), 368pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
Despite the history that divides them, Hinduism and Orthodox Christianity have much in common. In The Human Icon, Christine Mangala Frost explores how both religions seek to realise the divine potential of every human being, and the differences in their approach. Frost, who has experienced both the extraordinary riches and the all-too-human failings of Hinduism and Orthodox Christianity from the inside, is perfectly placed to examine the convergences and divergences between the two faiths. Inspired by a desire to clear up the misunderstandings that exist between the two, The Human Icon is a study in how two faiths, superficially dissimilar, can nevertheless find meeting points everywhere. The powerful intellectual and spiritual patristic traditions of Orthodox Christianity offer a rare tool for revitalising too-often stalled dialogue with Hinduism and present the chance for a broader and more diverse understanding of the oldest religion in the world. Tracing the long history of Orthodox Christianity in India, from the Thomas Christians of ancient times to the distinctive theology of Paulos Mar Gregorios and the Kottayam School, Frost explores the impact of Hindu thought on Indian Christianity and considers the potential for confluence. With a breadth of interest that spans Hindu bhakti, Orthodox devotional theology, Vedānta and theosis, as well as meditational Yoga and hesychastic prayer, Frost offers a fresh perspective on how the devotees of both faiths approach the ideal of divinisation, and presents a thoughtful, modern methodology for a dialogue of life.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Sins of the Turkish Fathers

I recently noted yet another publication devoted to the long-term psychological effects of the Armenian Genocide. And then Herder and Herder, now published by Crossroad, sent me their newest catalogue in which we find a book released this year: The Sins of the Fathers: Turkish Denialism and the Armenian Genocide by Siobhan Nash-Marshall  (Crossroad, 2018), 256pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
We hear much talk today about post-truth. Journalists and intellectuals describe it as a shocking new phenomenon caused by recent electoral campaigns. They point to contemporary political statements as horrendous post-truths. Nothing is more misleading. ‘Historical engineering’ is not a new phenomenon. Nor are the events to which journalists point as exemplary instances of ‘post-truth’ particularly poignant. ‘Historical engineering’ is the intellectual twin of ‘social engineering’ and has been taking place on increasingly large scales since the dawn of the modern world. It is a consequence of the premises, methods, and ambitions of modern philosophy. This book is the first part of a trilogy – The Betrayal of Philosophy – that concerns the roots of the post-truth phenomenon. Its intent is to provide the philosophical world with a phantasm in which it can see not just the what of ‘historical engineering,’ but the why: to show the flaws of modern philosophy itself. The phantasm regards the most successful modern project of historical and social engineering: the Armenian Genocide. It includes both Turkey’s ‘historical engineering’ – its official policy of genocide negation – and the massive late Ottoman project of social and territorial engineering which led to the murder of the first Christian nation: Armenia.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

On Misunderstanding Sacrifice

I have just finished reading and being edified by Terry Eagleton's newest book, Radical Sacrifice (Yale UP, 2018), 204pp.

Eagleton, for those who don't know him, is a wide-ranging and prolific theorist, literary scholar, and cultural critic who comes out of that always-fascinating world of the post-war British left. But unlike others whom one might mention here--the late Christopher Hitchens, say, or the tiresome pamphleteer Richard Dawkins--Eagleton has a Catholic background which shows up in some of his many books, including this one, where his grasp of both Scripture and theology is impressive and far outstrips many other academics who try to write about these matters.

In this regard, he is part of the world shaped by the late Herbert McCabe, and still populated by the great Alasdair MacIntyre. All three of these men, in ways that seem depressingly rare, understand the radical nature of the gospels and the fact that, properly understood and lived, Christianity is revolutionary in overturning so much of the neoliberal capitalism and violence of our world today. All three have sought to show (as, discussing McCabe and MacIntyre, I also did a bit here and here; and as Dorothy Day also did--for more on her see the book that Lance Richey and I edited for the splendidly named Solidarity Hall Press) that the relationship between Christianity and Marxism is far less antagonistic than has often been portrayed.

Christianity, as Eagleton, McCabe, MacIntyre, and Day have helped us to see, is also far more critical of the capitalistic world than most Christians realize. Every Christian, instead of making placards with John 3:16 on them to wave at sports events, should instead write this to chasten and harrow players (and their corporate sponsors) making millions for whacking balls and pucks around: "Capitalism is bad for those who succeed by its standards as well as for those who fail by them." If they have especially big placards, they can put the whole quote from MacIntyre:
Capitalism is bad for those who succeed by its standards as well as for those who fail by them, something that many preachers and theologians have failed to recognize. And those Christians who have recognized it have often enough been at odds with ecclesiastical as well as political and economic authorities.
Getting back to Eagleton's new book, I would note that among its several virtues, it makes some necessary and, it seems to me, overdue criticisms of parts of Girard's theories about sacrifice, mimesis, and the scapegoat. Eagleton, greatly respecting Girard's insights and achievements, nonetheless rightly says that, inter alia, Girard often greatly exaggerates, provides too few concrete historical examples, and ignores questions of class.

Eagleton begins by noting that the notion of sacrifice is too little understood today and too often derided based on narrow, incomplete, or outright faulty notions. So the first part of the book is an exercise in clearing the ground to help us move beyond the idea that sacrifice means nothing more than "the voluntary relinquishing of what one finds valuable. But renunciation is only one feature of sacrifice, and not always the most prominent" (3). As he goes on to say, "sacrifice cannot be reduced to self-denial" (4). It is, rather, a "polythetic term, encompassing a range of activities that have no single feature in common." If this is true in general, a fortiori it is so in Christianity where it "spans a number of activities (praise, thanksgiving, prayer, witness, peacemaking, dedication to God and the like)" (6).

What makes Christian notions and practices of sacrifice even more unique, as Eagleton notes later in the book, is their lavish, superabundant, extravagant, and promiscuous nature: turning the other cheek, returning good for evil, blessing those who curse us, forgiving seventy times seven, etc. In doing all these things, Christians are engaged in "eschatological forms of excess--absurdist, avant-gardist, over-the-top gestures foreshadowing a future in which exchange-value will have been surpassed for what Paul Ricoeur terms 'an economy of superabundance'" (104).

Incidentally, this theme of superabundance puts me in mind of Hans Urs von Balthasar's winsome sermon for Trinity Sunday that I have often read to my students over the years where he says:
God is not a sealed fortress, to be attacked and seized by our engines of war (ascetic practices, meditative techniques, and the like) but a house full of open doors, through which we are invited to walk. In the Castle of the Three-in-One, the plan has always been that we, those who are entirely "other," shall participate in the superabundant communion of life. 
With an eye on anthropological work, especially that of another fascinating British Catholic and highly regarded scholar, Mary Douglas (whose book, Natural Symbols, should be required reading for liturgists, inter alia), Eagleton looks at sacrifice in a number of cultures, ancient and modern, and finds there common themes of power and the exchange of powers, especially with a divine figure or figures. There is, here and elsewhere, a paradox at work: to sacrifice something is in some instances to be able to go on to possess it more deeply later and in different ways. So what looks like a loss initially is often but the gateway to a much deeper and more powerful grasp of it, or by it, later on.

With a second eye on the Old Testament in particular, Eagleton notes that it generally takes a dim if not hostile view of sacrifice at least insofar as it is thought to be a means of averting God's gaze from injustice or a cheap trinket thought to appease divine wrath in the face of unchanged and unjust behavior. (See, e.g., much of Jeremiah or Micah.) This leads Eagleton on, in the next chapter, to argue that sacrifice-as-suffering cannot be blithely endorsed for others to endure, let alone forced to volunteer for: "Jesus never once counsels the diseased and disabled who flock around him to reconcile themselves to their misfortune" (38).

This is an especially important thing for Catholics to hear who may be inclined, as the Church often is, towards a passive siding with reactionary regimes whose injustices are downplayed while people are told to "offer up" various sacrifices of poverty, human rights, and injustice. In doing so, Christianity, whether inadvertently or not, presses its ascetical tradition into the service of profit and the violence that so often attends profiteers and capitalists: "Asceticism, Marx considers, is an integral part of a profit-driven social order" (180, referring to the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts). (For more on this, see my notion of an "ascetical politics" which I discussed in three parts here by drawing on the fascinating and valuable work of Todd McGowan, Enjoying What We Don't Have: The Political Project of Psychoanalysis.)

But that is not to say that voluntary acceptance of injustice and suffering is without merit. Indeed, in the example of Christ Himself voluntarily accepting the horrors of arrest, torture, and crucifixion, we come once again to the notion of sacrifice as an exchange of powers enabling one to go far deeper and far beyond what one otherwise could have done. Here Mary Douglas is pressed into service, when she notes (in Purity and Danger) that "when someone freely embraces the symbols of death, or death itself,...a great release of power for good should be expected to follow." Nowhere is that more true than in the case of Christ.

In addition to his work on Marx, Eagleton has also read Freud (and Lacan, inter alia) very perceptively, which most people today seem incapable of doing. This allows him to say--without, alas, developing it to the extent I wished--that the silence of the Father faced with His Son on the Cross "may be compared to the silence of the psychoanalyst who refuses the role of Big Other or transcendental guarantor" (41). (One thing it took me a long time on the couch to realize was that such silence was not neglect or lack of interest on the part of the remarkable woman who was my analyst. It was, rather, the very condition of freedom, and a very necessary reminder that the responsibility for the authorship of our lives must not mindlessly be handed over to others, tempting though that often is for many of us--cf. both Fromm and Winnicott on this point--as well as Adam Phillips.)

Here as elsewhere, Eagleton, discussing notions of sin, puts these Christian theological claims into dialogue with Freud and his notion of the death drive. Picking up a theme--that of desire--that one finds increasingly today in a good deal of work in philosophy, theology, and psychology, Eagleton notes that "desire itself can become ritualized and automated, assuming all the coercive, anonymous force of a law. If Freud names this condition neurosis, Paul gives it the title of sin, which he regards as a matter of the unconscious. When I sin, he writes in Romans, 'I do not understand my own actions'" (47). In this light, sin is a fake floor or false consciousness that prevents us from having access to and "being aware of our true desire" (48).

Eagleton, however, later turns the death drive around in a way that perhaps only a Christian could to argue that "there is a sense in which the death drive, striving to defeat the flow of temporality with its compulsive repetitions, represents a way of being undead, and so lies on the side of the living" (95).


Monday, July 9, 2018

Iconography in the Western Church

Today is the first full day of "Beauty Will Save the World!", a camp for high-school students I am running on the campus of the University of Saint Francis this week. Twenty-five students from five states are attending the second such camp we have run thanks to a grant I secured from the Lilly Endowment. Last year's went fantastically well, and we are even more confident for this year. The grant runs another two years at least, so if you have kids who would be interested, send me an e-mail (adeville@sf.edu) and I can put you on the list to receive word about next year's camp.

The centerpiece of the week is a workshop in Byzantine iconography taught by the lovely and talented Lorie Herbel, wife of the Orthodox priest and scholar Fr Oliver Herbel (whose book you must read!).

They will also be reading Icons in the Western Church: Toward a More Sacrament Encounter by the lovely and talented Sr. Jeana Visel. You can read my review of this hugely helpful and important book here. It is very affordable; and if you are Roman Catholic and can spare it, buy an extra copy and give it to your priest or bishop.


Friday, July 6, 2018

Transgenerational Trauma: The Armenian Genocide Considered

To my mind one of the most important and far-reaching insights Freud first helped us to understand, and many analysts--as well as other psychologists, sociologists, historians, and churchmen--have deepened in the years after Freud (and in particular after the Holocaust) is the long-lasting nature of major trauma, and the very real ways in which something of those traumatic memories will shape later generations who did not experience the trauma directly.

In this instance, Eastern Christians have first-hand experience, starting in 1915 (though, of course, actually much earlier, given a centuries-long trail of blood and tears among Armenian Christians, subject to periodic mass slaughters under the Ottomans) with the Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek genocides. The first of these was the largest, and has attracted a good deal of attention in the last two decades. Now that a century and more has passed, and all survivors are dead, the memories and effects of the genocide are not, as a new book reminds us: Anthonie Holslag, The Transgenerational Consequences of the Armenian Genocide: Near the Foot of Mount Ararat (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 291pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
This book brings together the Armenian Genocide process and its transgenerational outcome, which are often juxtaposed in existing scholarship, to ask how the Armenian Genocide is conceptualized and placed within diasporic communities. Taking a dual approach to answer this question, Anthonie Holslag studies the cultural expression of violence during the genocidal process itself, and in the aftermath for the victims. By using this approach, this book allows us to see comparatively how genocide in diasporic communities in the Netherlands, London and the US is encapsulated in an historic narrative. It paints a picture of the complexity of genocidal violence itself, but also in its transgenerational and non-spatial consequences, raising new questions of how violence can be perpetuated or interlocked with the discourse and narratives of the victims, and how the violence can be relived.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Mohammad as Heretic, Islam as Heresy: Some Latin Views

If you survey the history of Christian thought on Islam, you find in the first millennium a question sometimes posed: is "Islam" just a heretical offshoot of Christianity--a strange kind of Arianism in Arab dress, say? Clearly some Christians, both Greek and Latin, thought that what we today call Islam was not a separate tradition but an unorthodox derivative of Christianity.

Some of those views are gathered together in a new book: Medieval Latin Lives of Muhammad, trans. Julian Yolles and Jessica Weiss (Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 2018), 712pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
Throughout the Middle Ages, Christians wrote about Islam and the life of Muhammad. These stories, ranging from the humorous to the vitriolic, both informed and warned audiences about what was regarded as a schismatic form of Christianity. Medieval Latin Lives of Muhammad covers nearly five centuries of Christian writings on the prophet, including accounts from the farthest-flung reaches of medieval Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, and the Byzantine Empire. Over time, authors portrayed Muhammad in many guises, among them: Theophanes’s influential ninth-century chronicle describing the prophet as the heretical leader of a Jewish conspiracy; Embrico of Mainz’s eleventh-century depiction of Muhammad as a former slave who is manipulated by a magician into performing unholy deeds; and Walter of Compiègne’s twelfth-century presentation of the founder of Islam as a likable but tricky serf ambitiously seeking upward social mobility.
The prose, verse, and epistolary texts in Medieval Latin Lives of Muhammad help trace the persistence of old clichés as well as the evolution of new attitudes toward Islam and its prophet in Western culture. This volume brings together a highly varied and fascinating set of Latin narratives and polemics never before translated into English.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Why Study the Past?

To my horror, my students have often complained in my courses on the history of interactions between Eastern Christians and Muslims that "there's too much history" in the books we read. That, however, is, I'm relieved to note, a complaint that usually comes about one-third, or no more than one-half, of the way through the semester. By the time we get to the end of the semester, they note, with a charming mixture of relief and chagrin, that the history has been well worth it to understand the whole picture we are looking at in 2018.

I do not know what history they are learning, or what they are learning about historiography, if anything, in their prior schooling. But it seems universally to be appallingly thin stuff if my posing random questions of them, and being met with utterly blank stares, is any indication. I mean by this what I regard as the basic understanding of any moderately schooled and sensate person: e.g., when was the First World War? If such general history escapes them, Christian history does so a fortiori. But here ignorance is combined with disbelief and disdain: whadday mean they punched each other up at Nicaea over doctrine, or the churches divided bitterly after Chalcedon? Nobody understands that stuff and nobody cares! 

This is just a preface to say that I'm glad to see, from the fall 2018 catalogue Eerdmans sent me last week, that they are bringing out a new edition of Rowan Williams' welcome book, Why Study the Past: the Quest for the Historical Church. Williams, of course, is not just the retired archbishop of Canterbury, but one of the United Kingdom's leading scholars of the Christian East (and much else), and has been for decades, author of, inter alia, books on icons, Dostoevsky, and much else besides.

You can, for the time being, find inexpensive copies of the 2005 edition of Why Study the Past here. The description has not changed:

The well-worn saying about being condemned to repeat the history we do not know applies to church history as much as to any other kind. But how are Christians supposed to discern what lessons from history need to be learned?
In this small but thoughtful volume, respected theologian and churchman Rowan Williams opens up a theological approach to history, an approach that is both nonpartisan and relevant to the church's present needs. As he reflects on how we consider the past in general, Williams suggests that how we consider church history in particular remains important not so much for winning arguments as for clarifying who we are as time-bound human beings. Good history is a moral affair, he advises, because it opens up a point of reference that is distinct from us yet not wholly alien. The past can then enable us to think with more varied and resourceful analogies about our identity in the often confusing present.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Inventing Gregory Palamas

I just received in the mail Oxford University Press's catalogue of forthcoming works. As always, there are lots of interesting books in the works, but none more so, it seems to me, than this book, not due out for nearly a year, but well worth the wait both because of the author (who is a widely respected translator and author of many books) and especially the timeliness of the topic: Gregory Palamas and the Making of Palamism in the Modern Age by Norman Russell (OUP, 2019).

For those who have followed Orthodox constructions of identity in the West in the last three decades, as well as Orthodox apologetics, the figure of Gregory Palamas looms large, almost always as a cipher and a rock against whom the horrors of (inter alia) Thomism, rationalism, and scholasticism can be dashed to pieces in triumphalist fashion. But that narrative construction, always shaky at best as far as real scholars were concerned, really began to fall apart when Christiaan Kappes (interviewed here) published his book on the Immaculate Conception; and when, a few months later, Marcus Plested published his book on Orthodox Readings of Aquinas. Both showed that Palamas was far from the anti-Western figure he had been made out to be; both showed that he engaged, often quite positively, with Thomism and other Western schools of thought. (For an interview with, engagement of, and lecture by Plested, go here and follow the links.)

To be fair, it is not only Orthodox apologists who got into this act. As Russell's forthcoming book notes, a key figure in Western distortions of Eastern thought, a key figure in Western polemics and triumphalism of an equally repellent variety, is Martin Jugie, who had an obvious hatred of Palamas and did everything he could to poison Western Catholicism against him. As Jaroslav Pelikan once archly said of Jugie, his tragedy was that he knew so much but understood so little.

Jugie and others figure prominently in Russell's forthcoming book, for which the publisher has given us this table of contents:

List of Abbreviations
Introduction
Part I THE HISTORICAL RECEPTION OF PALAMITE THEOLOGY
1. The Orthodox Struggle to Assimilate Palamite Thinking
2. Martin Jugie and the invention of Palamism
3. John Meyendorff's Response to Jugie
4. New Directions since Meyendorff
Part II RAISING THE LARGER QUESTIONS
5. What Does Doctrinal Development Mean?
6. How is a Participatory Understanding of the Divine Mystery to be Attained?
7. What is the Reality of Divine-Human Communion?
8. Could Palamas Become 'the Inheritance of all Christians'?
Bibliography

And this description:
The fourteenth-century Greek hesychast and controversialist, Gregory Palamas, has been so successfully cast as 'the other' in Western theological discourse that it can be difficult to gain a sympathetic hearing for him. In the first part of this book, Norman Russell traces the historical reception of Palamite thought in Orthodoxy and in the West, and investigates how 'Palamism' was constructed in the early twentieth century by both Western and Eastern theologians (principally Martin Jugie and John Meyendorff) for polemical or apologetic purposes. Russell argues that we need to go behind these ideological constructions in order to gain a true perception of the teaching of Gregory Palamas. In his recent survey of Palamite scholarship, Robert Sinkewicz noted that it is now time to raise the larger questions. The second part of the book attempts to do this, following the contours of Palamas' thinking in three areas: his relationship to tradition, his philosophy, and his theology. Russell shows that Palamite thought, when freed of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, has the potential to enrich our understanding of divine-human communion. This study contributes to the changing paradigm of scholarship on Palamas, nudging it towards the point at which Palamite thought can be used fruitfully by contemporary Western and Eastern theologians without the need to subscribe to what has been regarded as 'Palamism'.
When the book is published next year, I will have more to say about it then. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

John Henry Newman

While John Henry Newman is a pivotal figure in 19th-century Western Catholic Christianity, he is unique insofar as he is not confined there or constrained by its categories--as so often happens to Western figures unknown in the East. Early in his life, half of which he spent as an Anglican of course, he was shaped by that uniquely patristic ethos of Oxford and the Church of England of his time (as Benjamin King has demonstrated in more detail than just about anybody in his book, Newman and the Alexandrian Fathers), and this formation made him of such interest to 19th-century Greek Orthodox thought that he was--as George Dion Dragas and C.S. Dessain had earlier showed--just about the only Western figure of that era to be translated into Greek and studied by Orthodox scholars.

Since his death in 1890, and more especially since the Second Vatican Council, the field of Newman studies has exploded, with many new books published and annual conferences organized about his thought, and journals devoted entirely to him. For those trying to find a place to begin in sorting out the riches of this vast world, you could start with a forthcoming collection set for release this fall: The Oxford Handbook of John Henry Newman, eds. Frederick D. Aquino and Benjamin J. King (Oxford UP, 2018), 640pp.

About this collection--edited by two who have published their own monographs and other collections on Newman--the publisher has this to say:
John Henry Newman (1801-1890) has always inspired devotion. Newman has made disciples as leader of the Catholic revival in the Church of England, an inspiration to fellow converts to Roman Catholicism, a nationally admired preacher and prose-writer, and an internationally recognized saint of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, he has also provoked criticism. The church authorities, both Anglican and Catholic, were often troubled by his words and deeds, and scholars have disputed his arguments and his honesty.
Written by a range of international experts, The Oxford Handbook of John Henry Newman shows how Newman remains important to the fields of education, history, literature, philosophy, and theology. Divided into four parts, part one grounds Newman's works in the places, cultures, and networks of relationships in which he lived. Part two looks at the thinkers who shaped his own thought, while the third part engages critically and appreciatively with themes in his writings. Part four examines how those themes have shaped conversations in the churches and the academy. This Handbook will serve as an important resource to critical and appreciative exploration of the person, writings, controversies, and legacy of Newman.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Neilos of Rossano and His Life

Ines Murzaku recently sent me a copy of her newest publication, which I very gladly draw to your attention. She has graciously agreed to an interview about it in the coming days. (For a previous interview I did with her, see here.)

The first is a translation she worked on along with Raymond Capra and Douglas Milewski and published by Harvard University Press under its prestigious Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library imprint: The Life of Saint Neilos of Rossano (2018), 384pp.

The titular figure occupies a truly liminal place both geographically and historically in East-West relations. As the publisher tells us:
The Life of Saint Neilos of Rossano is a masterpiece of historically accurate Italo-Greek monastic literature. Neilos, who died in 1004, vividly exemplifies the preoccupations of Greek monks in southern Italy under the Byzantine Empire. A restless search for a permanent residence, ascetic mortification of the body, and pursuit by enemies are among the concerns this text shares with biographies of other saints from the region. Like many of his peers, Neilos lived in both hermitages and monasteries, torn between the competing conventions of solitude and community. The Life of Neilos offers a snapshot of a distinctive time when Greek and Latin monasticism coexisted, a world that vanished after the schism between the churches of Rome and Constantinople in 1054. This is the first English translation, with a newly revised Greek text.
The figure under examination here, and some of the themes, have been partly treated in some of her other recent publications as noted here.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Austerity Britain

This book has nothing especially to do with Eastern Christianity; but I make note of it in case there are others who would be interested in the history it recounts so splendidly: David Kynaston, Austerity Britain 1945-1951 (New York: Walker & Co., 2008), viii + 692pp.

It's been out for a decade, but I just found a copy in a used bookstore a few weeks ago, and read it not merely with interest but with something approaching delight in the prose and the author's deft control of what, in lesser hands, could easily have been a sprawling and uncontrolled narrative bloated on masses of data. It has won consistently, and deservedly, high praise from all the reviews I've seen. You might think, given the unrelentingly grim era it covers, and the masses of data it draws on, that this book would be a plodding dullard, but you would be wrong. The author's wry outlook and propensity for finding the telling detail without being overwhelming is excellent.

I read it because I wanted to understand in more detail what drove my Glaswegian grandparents to flee to Canada after the war, my grandfather leaving in 1948 to find work and a home, and my grandmother, with my mother and her brother, following in 1949. They never really talked in a lot of detail about why they left, other than vaguely mentioning "greater economic opportunities." And, regrettably, I never thought to ask them about all this when they were still alive.

One thing, after reading Kynaston's book, that is now clear to me is the timing: my grandfather left in early 1948, not long after the worst and coldest winter (1947) in modern British history. Now I understand why, whenever I visited their house in Canada, the heat was always utterly unbearable: 85 degrees and above. You absolutely sweltered in their house (or in the car, if driving with them) and longed to go outside and roll in a snowbank. But for them it could never be too warm.

I knew that they had had many close calls during the war, living as they did along the River Clyde, then the largest shipbuilding site in the British Empire and thus an object of particular attention from the Luftwaffe; and I knew, vaguely, of the rationing; but I knew nothing of the detail and extent of the destruction--how many hundreds of thousands were living in the barest of "houses" with no plumbing, dozens packed into a few rooms without heat; and I did not understand how grim and far-reaching was the rationing--until reading Kynaston's book, which shows how the rationing got worse after the war, and in some cases things that were never rationed during the war ended up so afterwards. Again a piece clicked for me: my grandmother used to apply butter to her bread with a trowel, half an inch thick. Now I understand why--as, also, I understand why every meal included as fat a roast (pork, beef, ham) as they could lay their hands on. Oh, and the sugar. My grandfather was notorious for putting huge quantities of sugar on everything along with gallons of cream. They were making up for what they had not known for so long during a pivotal and memorable part of their life.

These factors--food, the cold, and the need for basic housing for hundreds of thousands of people--when combined with the huge numbers suffering from medical conditions they could not afford to treat also helped me understand the seemingly mysterious 1945 election with Labour's massive majority: it wasn't a repudiation of Churchill (whom my grandmother taught me to revere), who remained hugely popular and venerated; but it was a long-simmering desire for much better social conditions after enduring so much hardship in the war. (This election, I'm somewhat chagrined to admit, was also, I recall, one of the factors that my grandparents said drove them to leave. My grandfather's family were small business owners who felt like Labour would destroy the economy.)

Thus, for those interested in politics, this book covers, of course, the Labour government under Clement Atlee, when dramatic social changes--not least the National Health Service--were brought in. Had members of that government--in particular the fascinating and fiery orator and Welshman Aneurin Bevan--had their way, the changes might have been even more dramatic. The battles Bevan (who grew up in the staggeringly horrid conditions of the coal mines of Wales) fought against other more right-wing Labour ministers and members--to say nothing of the reactionaries in the British medical establishment--are retold in this book, making it of interest to those who follow, as I do, some of the intellectual developments of postwar British politics of the left. Nobody who doubts the existence of "class warfare" can do so after reading Kynaston's fascinating book--the first of a series, followed by, inter alia, Family Britain 1951-1957, and Modernity Britain 1957-1962, both of which I look forward to reading.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Ukrainian Catholic and Russian Orthodox Perspectives on the Ps-Sobor of 1946

Last week, Daniel Galadza (author of this book which you must read) and I finished editing a volume we hope to see in print next year: The 'Lviv Sobor' of 1946: Arriving at a Common Narrative. It is a collection of scholarly papers given at a private conference we both attended at the University of Vienna (where Daniel teaches) and hosted by the Pro Oriente Foundation of that city in June 2016. This is just a shamelessly self-promoting and very advanced notice of the book. I will post more details as they are available.

What is this book about? As we said in our prospectus:
The volume consists of papers presented at an international conference in Vienna, Austria, in 2016, organized by Pro Oriente Stiftung and the University of Vienna, dealing with the 'Lviv Sobor' of 1946, a gathering of Greek-Catholic clergy in the Western Ukrainian city of Lviv organized with the help of the Soviet government, with the aim of liquidating the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. Depending on whose perspective one accepts, the event is seen either as the 'reunion' of 'Uniates' to Orthodoxy or the perpetration of a violent act against human rights and freedom of conscience. Thus, one side views it as a church council, while the other sees it as a pseudo-synod.
Why look at a little-known event now more than 70 years old? The simple answer to that finds the old line very true: the past is never truly past in Eastern Europe at least, and so 1946 is a live issue in part because, in the minds of Russian Orthodox Christians at least, it is the righting of the "injustice" of the Union of Brest of 1595/96, that event which created the modern method of "uniatism" everybody (or almost everybody) has been reprobating for a quarter-century now.

1946 has not, until our book, been given a lot of attention apart from Bohdan Bociurkiw's pioneering monograph, published in 1996: The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Soviet State (1939-1950).

For its part, though, Brest has been subject to earlier scholarly treatments. The best two books for those looking to begin to understand these events and their context would be the collection of scholarly articles edited by B. Goren et al: Four Hundred Years Union of Brest (1596-1996) A Critical Re-evaluation.

The other important work is Borys Gudziak (who was in Vienna), Crisis and Reform: The Kyivan Metropolitanate, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and the Genesis of the Union of Brest.

For those wanting wider and longer historical contexts, then two well-known historians who were in Vienna, one of whom contributes to our volume, have authored important works: Frank Sysyn and Serhii Plokhy.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Religions and the Public Squares of Our Time

A full thirty years ago now, the late Richard John Neuhaus (whose biographer, Randy Boyagoda, has done a splendid job here) continued to make quite a splash in these United States at least with the publication of the second edition of his The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America.

At the time, of course, the Cold War was still going on, and these questions were thought a uniquely American preoccupation, the Soviet Union and much of the rest of the world having neither democracy nor "religious freedom" in any serious way.

Since then, of course, much has changed here and abroad, and now Eastern Christians (and all of us) in Europe and here find the debates still going on, often to the surprise of many who, e.g., are confronting forms of Islam in the Western world that are challenging the broad if at times lazy "secular" consensus about interactions between mosque/church and the public square.

Along comes a new collection of scholarly pieces to look at these issues in a variety of places, containing chapters not just on politics in the strict sense but also on ecology and violence, some authored by some of the leading lights of our time--Charles Taylor, Rowan Williams, and John Milbank, inter alia: Religion and the Public Sphere: New Conversations, eds. James Walters, Esther Kersley (Routledge, 2018), 110 pages.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Religion and the Public Sphere: New Conversations explores the changing contribution of religion to public life today. Bringing together a diverse group of preeminent scholars on religion, each chapter explores an aspect of religion in the public realm, from law, liberalism, the environment and security to the public participation of religious minorities and immigration. This book engages with religion in new ways, going beyond religious literacy or debates around radicalisation, to look at how religion can contribute to public discourse. Religion, this book will show, can help inform the most important debates of our time.

milbank
taylor
williams

Monday, June 18, 2018

Soloviev and Divinization

Among the "rediscovered" themes and personages of contemporary Eastern Christian scholarship, and Christian theology more generally, we find many recent books devoted to deification/divinization/theosis; and a similar number of recent books devoted to the luminaries of Russian Orthodoxy's so-called Silver Age. A forthcoming book unites both: J. Pilch, Breathing the Spirit with Both Lungs': Deification in the Work of Vladimir Solov'ev (Peeters, 2017),

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
This book is an examination of the teaching of the Russian religious thinker Vladimir Solov'ev (1853-1900) about divine-humanity, the term he used to express the patristic doctrine of deification. The first chapter examines the theme of deification in the patristic tradition and shows the he himself was extremely familiar with the writings of the Church Fathers and the doctrinal teachings of the early Church Councils. The following three chapters are devoted to specific works of Solov'ev which are in detail, Lectures on Divine Humanity, The Spiritual Foundations of Life, and The Justification of the Good. Of these, the latter two have, to date, received little extended scholarly study.
The over-arching thrust of this work is that Solov'ev's concept of deification started as a reflection of the mystical and cosmic expressions of deification characteristic of the late Greek patristic period but develops so to be expressed in the western terminology of grace and focuses on the active implementation of deification in the world, taking the teaching out of its original monastic context. Chapter Two reveals the significant impact of Maximus the Confessor on Solov'ev's thought and identifies the dyothelite Christological model which Maximus develops from the dogmatic definition of the Council of Chalcedon as a crucial hermeneutical principle in Solov'ev's thought. Chapter Three shows the development of Solov'ev's teaching about deification, examining how it expands to embrace different models of deification, adopting western as well as eastern theological approaches and finding its centre in the life of the Church. Finally, Chapter Four shows how Solov'ev's deepening understanding of the western approach to deification through the language of grace is combined with an eastern understanding of human anthropology, enabling him to integrate realistic and moral approaches to deification, and address the whole range of human experience in terms of divine union and the Kingdom of God.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Praying with the Senses

I've previously noted a new interest in the role of the senses within Christian experience, a trend that was begun in part by the Orthodox scholar Susan Ashbrook Harvey's well-received book on the olfactory, now some dozen years ago.

Now we have a new and wide-ranging collection to continue this exploration: Praying with the Senses: Contemporary Orthodox Christian Spirituality in Practice, ed. Sonja Luehrmann (Indiana University Press, 2017), 280pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
How do people experience spirituality through what they see, hear, touch, and smell? Sonja Luehrmann and an international group of scholars assess how sensory experience shapes prayer and ritual practice among Eastern Orthodox Christians. Prayer, even when performed privately, is considered as a shared experience and act that links individuals and personal beliefs with a broader, institutional, or imagined faith community. It engages with material, visual, and aural culture including icons, relics, candles, pilgrimage, bells, and architectural spaces. Whether touching upon the use of icons in age of digital and electronic media, the impact of Facebook on prayer in Ethiopia, or the implications of praying using recordings, amplifiers, and loudspeakers, these timely essays present a sophisticated overview of the history of Eastern Orthodox Christianities. Taken as a whole they reveal prayer as a dynamic phenomenon in the devotional and ritual lives of Eastern Orthodox believers across Eastern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia.
And we have a nicely detailed table of contents as well:

Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Senses of Prayer in Eastern Orthodox Christianity / Sonja Luehrmann

Part I: Senses
1. Becoming Orthodox: The Mystery and Mastery of a Christian Tradition / Vlad Naumescu
          A Missionary Primer / Ioann Veniaminov
2. Listening and the Sacramental Life: Degrees of Mediation in Greek Orthodox Christianity / Jeffers Engelhardt

Creating an Image for Prayer / Sonja Luehrmann
3. Imagining Holy Personhood: Anthropological Thresholds of the Icon / Angie Heo
          Syriac as a lingua sacra: Speaking the Language of Christ in India / Vlad Naumescu
4. Authorizing: The Paradoxes of Praying by the Book / Sonja Luehrmann

Part II: Worlds
5. Inhabiting Orthodox Russia: Religious Nomadism and the Puzzle of Belonging / Jeanne Kormina
          Baraka: Mixing Muslims, Christians, and Jews / Angie Heo
6. Sharing Space: On the Publicity of Prayer, between an Ethiopian Village and the World / Tom Boylston
    Prayers for Cars, Weddings, and Well-Being: Orthodox Prayers en route in Syria / Andreas Bandak
7. Struggling Bodies at the Crossroads of Economy and Tradition: The Case of Contemporary Russian Convents / Daria Dubovka
          Competing Prayers for Ukraine / Sonja Luehrmann
8. Orthodox Revivals: Prayer, Charisma, and Liturgical Religion / Simion Pop

Epilogue: Not-Orthodoxy/Orthodoxy's Others / William A. Christian Jr.
Glossary
Index

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Armenia Christiana: Between Old Rome and New

I have long been fascinated by the Armenian Church. In my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy, I spent no little time on her because her structures are utterly unique amongst all the apostolic churches of East and West. There is much else that is unique and admirable in her liturgical traditions--and food! The best vegetarian meal I ever had was at an Armenian parish in Cleveland last fall when I was giving a lecture there.

Armenia has often been a point of contact between old and new Romes. Its history is a complex one, as a new book will allow us to see more fully: Krzysztof Stopka, Armenia Christiana: Armenian Religious Identity and the Churches of Constantinople and Rome (4th – 15th century) (Jagiellonian University Press, 2018), 400pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
This book presents the dramatic and complex story of Armenia's ecclesiastical relations with Byzantine and subsequently Roman Christendom in the Middle Ages. It is built on a broad foundation of sources – Armenian, Greek, Latin, and Syrian chronicles and documents, especially the abundant correspondence between the Holy See and the Armenian Church. Krzysztof Stopka examines problems straddling the disciplines of history and theology and pertinent to a critical, though not widely known, episode in the story of the struggle for Christian unity.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Ashley Purpura on God, Hierarchy, and Power

I briefly met Ashley Purpura last November at a conference on the future of the liberal arts hosted at Purdue University. I have been greatly edified by her book God, Hierarchy, and Power, and will be drawing on it for a presentation I'm giving next January in Romania at the inaugural conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association, at which I am also one of the official ecumenical observers. I was delighted to be able to arrange an interview with her about this new book. Here are her thoughts.

AD: Tell us about your background

I grew up Orthodox and started really reading about saints’ lives, theology, and Christian history as a teenager. I graduated from Florida State with B.A. in Religion, and then earned a M.T.S. at Harvard Divinity School where I studied the history of Eastern Christianity (primarily in Syriac and Greek sources). I went on to complete my Ph.D. in theology at Fordham University, where I specialized in the history of Byzantine and Orthodox Christianity. Currently, I am an assistant professor of Religious Studies at Purdue University in Indiana, where I live with my husband and four children.

AD: What led to the writing of God, Hierarchy, and Power?

I wanted to write something grounded in historically Byzantine sources, but that spoke to present conversations and concerns. I thought of this project as a way to step back from the more commonly (and to my mind, unsatisfactorily engaged) question of “Why can/’t women be priests?” and address instead, why there is a hierarchy at all, and how it functions theologically when confronted with pragmatic challenges. Certainly, the experience of having an ecclesial leader who appears to fall short of the ideal of his calling is nothing new! In so many hagiographies, liturgical moments, patristic writings, etc. maintaining proper order, offering total obedience, and serving with humility appear as important markers of spirituality—and I wanted to see how theologians who address the nature and limits of hierarchy negotiate these ideals in theological, ritual, and practical terms. This led to some insights about power and about the iconic nature of hierarchy that I had not originally anticipated—but that I am very glad to have had the opportunity to explore.

AD: Your introduction notes how historically saturated Orthodoxy is with hierarchy in its ecclesio-sacramental life while facing three contemporary challenges: inclusivity, exclusivity, and the relationship between power and hierarchy. Tell us a bit about each.

By these challenges, I point to the way that hierarchy functions and is perceived to function at both theological and pragmatic levels. The hierarchy determines by councils, sacraments, etc. who is inside the Church (inclusivity) and where the Church is recognized. At the same time, however, it also excludes not only those who are not included in ecclesial participation, but also certain categories of individuals from joining the priestly hierarchic ranks (women, for example). I suppose you could say by that by naming certain boundaries of Orthodoxy, the hierarchy includes some and excludes others—but of course as Dionysius would note, the divine hierarchy is not limited to or actually subject to our ecclesiastical administration.

In terms of power and hierarchy, I really explore this in the final chapter, but even in the introduction I consider how the visible leaders of the Church have authority and in what ways this authority is limited. The relation between power and hierarchy is very much tied to spiritual leadership and authority, under what conditions does a bishop, for example, have authority to lead and speak on behalf of the Church, especially considering cases of potential abuses of power. I think being able to articulate and respond to these challenges will help contemporary Christians (and perhaps others) develop a greater understanding of how and why hierarchy functions religiously. Although it can indicate lines of demarcation, it also is divinely dynamic in ways that often are obscured.

AD: I well remember a doctoral seminar with the Orthodox scholar John Jillions some 15 years ago (while teaching in Ottawa and before he became chancellor of the OCA) who said very forcefully that he thought the ideas of Dionysius the Areopagite about hierarchy had created significant problems for Orthodoxy and the Church in general. You draw on Dionysius. Tell us your own take on him—is he problematic? 

I do not read him problematically, although several scholars I greatly respect do take issue with his writings and his legacy. Dionysius has always been debated in terms of where he fits christologically, and for some more contemporary authors, in terms of his heavy reliance on Neoplatonism. Historically, Dionysius’s concept of hierarchy was widely influential and later patristic authors cite him as an authority on a range of soundly Orthodox topics (icons, liturgy, etc.). There are certainly ambiguities in his writings, and places where he does not necessarily speak to issues modern readers would like to see him specify—so in that way he does provide us with challenges for interpretation. He is very insistent on one properly fulfilling the function of a particular rank to be actually in that hierarchic rank. Dionysius’s insistence that correction come from above rather than below one’s rank, in my read is not giving hierarchs a free pass to do what they want until the other hierarchs chastise them, but rather idealizing that those in the hierarchic positions have more knowledge to do things that may not yet be understood by those hierarchically beneath them. I think Dionysius offers us a way of understanding and speaking about God’s relation to the world and the Church that can be read as quite beneficial and insightful.

AD: The bulk of your book, after Dionysius, is spent on three Byzantine figures—Maximus, Niketas, and Nicholas—and you say (p.133) that they offer us two key insights: God alone is the source all power, and any power, to be authentic, must be divine. Those seem to me quietly subversive claims! In other words, where we may be tempted rather lazily to excuse certain exercises of power as just a lot of political intrigue or patriarchal egos on the global stage (a kind of ecclesiological “crypto-Arianism” if you will), these insights challenge us always to remember that the Church is both human and divine, and thus human hierarchy is always held to divine account, and at its best is an icon of the divine. Is that a fair read of your argument? 

Yes, I don’t intend it to be a type of rebuke as much as reminder—but it is still subversive for those who would claim for themselves power instead of humbly considering how they are empowered and to what end. For those perhaps who feel disconnected or put off by the business of church politics and egos, in very simple terms, God is bigger than all of that! His gift of love (especially sacramentally) is not somehow impaired by our sinful humanness (although our ability to receive/perceive it might certainly be).

AD: Tell us a bit about how you arrived at your four modern interlocutors: Marx, Foucault, Butler, and Arendt. Two of them in particular—Foucault and Butler—are of course well known for their reflections not just on power but also on gender and sexuality, which themes also come up to some extent in your (65-68) discussion of Maximus the Confessor. Is it possible in Orthodoxy (and Catholicism for that matter) ever to separate out questions of power and hierarchy from sex and gender, or does such an attempted separation merely reinforce certain problems, including exclusivity and inclusivity mentioned in your introduction?

I think it is important when reframing the position of power in the world as unconventionally as I do to consider the other ways in which power has been interpreted quite influentially. With these particular four interlocutors I found parallels and reframing of the source of power and authority and how they function, that was helpful in articulating what I found going on in the Byzantine authors.

To your second question, I think gender is a category largely constructed around disparate power dynamics, so I do not think one could talk about power and hierarchy, and sex and gender separately. Even to just talk about power and hierarchy and omit sex and gender really just reinforces the notion that these issues and identities are excluded from the authoritative dominant (arguably male) discourse. This of course is a modern take, and one that I think fruitfully can be considered with pre-modern theologians. As you mention, I do give some attention to gender in its relation to hierarchy in this book, but there is still so much work to be done on how disparate power dynamics relate to gender constructions, religious ideals of authority, and one’s sex. I would like to see more consideration on these intersections, but I think there are numerous ways of entering into conversation on these topics and even a more segmented approach may prove insightful for a broader sustained and integrated reflection.

AD: This is less a question than a comment: I think the most outstanding feature of your book is its refusal to shrink from theology proper, which seems to me a particular weakness of too much ecclesiology today, focused as it often is on the understandable temptation to treat everything in terms of human politics and dynamics of power. Thus I greatly cheered your argument at both the beginning and end of the book where you insist that “hierarchy as developed and reflected by Byzantine theologians is most fundamentally and consistently rendered as the communication of divinity” (p.16) and that “justifications for breaks in communion, even when grounded in differing ecclesiological or administrative conceptions, need to be discussed at the level of divine reflectivity, divine participation, and divine communication” (164). Is it hard to keep God in the picture sometimes when the humanity of it all—the offices, personalities, rituals, and vestments of hierarchy—weighs so heavily?  

Yes, I think there is a temptation at times to want to hold tightly onto all of the “things” of our religious identities as the essence of what makes us Orthodox (or some other religion). Such offices, rituals, jurisdictions, and vestments, etc., however, do not determine our Faith. Being in communion with God, being in His image and likeness, recognizing and venerating God in others—these get to the essence of who we are as Christians! The hierarchy is about communicating God to the world through material and relational means, allowing humans to be in communion with God sacramentally, and increasingly forming humans in His likeness. I think this is the insight I find appealing in Dionysius and the later Byzantine authors I present—that the authenticity and authority of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, as we perceive it (and its assorted trappings that you mention) are dependent on communicating God to the world and bringing us into communion with Him.

AD: On that point, you weave into a good deal of your work reflections on the ritual and liturgy of hierarchy. I’ve often heard it said that Byzantine hierarchical liturgy—e.g., the greeting and vesting of the bishop, the kissing of his hands, the repeated singing of Εις πολλά έτη—reinforces certain habits of mind that may be less than healthy or desirable and that such liturgies should be reformed today. What are your thoughts on the rituals surrounding ecclesial hierarchy? 

I think there are ways in which ritually greeting and vesting the bishop the participants are reverencing and icon of God, even if it is at times a poorly depicted icon, the one who venerates it is still blessed. I do think the rituals and liturgies need to be intelligible to and understood by their participants. That has quite a bit to do with education, and perhaps a little with reform. Outside of liturgical contexts and ritual actions of respect, personal and pastoral interactions with a bishop can be more challenging if a bishop thinks something is owed him based on his position, rather than gaining loving respect from manifesting Christ-like kenotic service on behalf of his flock.

AD: What are your hopes for this book, and who especially should read it?

I hope this book will encourage scholars, clergy, and laity to reflect further about how power in general and hierarchy specifically, functions theologically within Christianity (and perhaps reflect on parallels in other religions). Additionally, I think this book prompts a reconsideration of how theological interpretations of power relate to religious structures of authority and diverse devotional expressions. For the more Byzantine-minded reader (academic or otherwise), I hope this book sheds light on the ways four historically disparate (and in the case of Stethatos and Cabasilas, understudied) theologians can be brought into conversation with each other to inform contemporary Orthodox thought, and how our understanding of pre-modern authors can be accentuated by considering modern critical theoretical developments.

AD: Having finished God, Hierarchy, and Power, what are you at work on now?

Presently, I am working on a series of articles that focus on the constructions of gender, “the other,” and Orthodox identity in Byzantine hymns, rituals, and hagiographies. In working on these manuscripts, I find myself still coming back to power and authority quite a bit, but by focusing more on patriarchy instead of hierarchy.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...