"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).


Monday, January 27, 2020

The Icons of the Tbilisi Bible

One of the books I'm using this semester really deserves wider recognition, especially for Western Christians wondering about the relationship between the Bible as word, and the Christian devotional use of images. It is the collection put together by the biblical scholar Francis J. Moloney, Life of Jesus in Icons from the "Bible of Tbilisi", which has been out for over a decade, but really remains very valuable for several reasons: first, the quality of the commentary, which is very solid and succinct; second, the colour of the images; and finally the fact that all this is put together in a relatively brief but very affordable hardback book.

If you don't have a copy, if you want to grow in your understanding of verbal and visual revelation alike, if you have Western Christian family and friends somewhat leery of the relationship between text and image, then get them this book.

Friday, January 24, 2020

American Christian Orientalism

Though this recent publication focuses on 19th-century Protestants, there is a good deal of evidence that such essentializing orientalism lives on today in American evangelicalism, and Christianity more generally. Current views of, e.g., Christianity in the Middle East as seen in the eyes of many of my students would reflect this. In any event, a welcome new study: An American Biblical Orientalism: The Construction of Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Nineteenth-Century American Evangelical Piety by David D. Grafton (Fortress Press, 2019), 246pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
An American Biblical Orientalism: The Construction of Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Nineteenth-Century American Evangelical Piety examines the life and work of Eli Smith, William McClure Thomson, and Edward Robinson and their descriptions of the “Bible Lands.” While there has been a great deal written about American travelogues to the Holy Lands, this book focuses on how these three prominent American Protestants described the indigenous peoples, and how those images were consumed by American Christians who had little direct experience with the “Bible Lands.” David D. Grafton argues that their publications (Biblical Researches, Later Biblical Researches, and The Land and the Book) profoundly impacted the way that American Protestants read and interpreted the Bible in the late-nineteenth century. The descriptions and images of the people found their way into American Bible dictionaries, theological dictionaries, and academic and religious circles of a growing bible readership in North America. Ultimately, the people of late Ottoman society (e.g. Jews, Christians and Muslims) were essentialized as the living characters of the Bible. These peoples were fitted into categories as heroes or villains from biblical stories, and rarely seen as modern people in their own right. Thus, in the words of Edward Said, they were “orientalized."

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Therapists and Spiritual Directors: Learning from Each Other

This has been out for a couple of years now, but I just came across it. For those interested in the very fluid boundary between therapy and spiritual direction this looks to be a promising collection edited by Peter Madsen Gubi, What Counsellors and Spiritual Directors Can Learn from Each Other (2017), 192pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This new edited collection explores the intersection of spiritual direction and counselling/psychotherapy, and the relationship between the two. Citing the influencing effect prayer and counselling have had on each other, the contributors offer insight into the similarities and differences of spiritual direction and counselling, and of what the disciplines have to learn from each other.
Advocating the importance of addressing the spiritual dimension of care in areas such as mental health and social care, this book promotes a synthesis of pastoral guidance and psychological counselling. The chapters offer insight to the healing role spirituality and prayer can play when counselling for trauma, sexual abuse or loss of a loved one. Whether discussing training counsellors to be spiritually literate, or exploring how spiritual accompaniers can take a psychologically-informed approach, all the contributors bring their extensive experience to bear working with spiritual and psychological issues.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Christian Martyrs Under Islam

First published in the summer of 2018, a new paperback version is to be released in just a few short weeks. Unlike some apologetic and hagiographic texts, which would have us believe this history is unidirectional and entirely bloody and violent for Christians, this author recognizes the complexities: Christian Sahner, Christian Martyrs Under Islam: Religious Violence and the Making of the Muslim World (Princeton University Press, 2020), 360pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
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.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Trauma and Grace

Westminster/John Knox Press recently sent me the second edition of Serene Jones' book Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World (2019), 227pp. About this book the publisher tells us this:
This substantive collection from noted scholar Serene Jones explores recent work in the field of trauma studies. Central to its overall theme is an investigation of how individual and collective violence affect one’s capacity to remember, to act, and to love; how violence can challenge theological understandings of grace; and even how the traumatic experience of Jesus’ death is remembered. Jones focuses on the long-term effects of collective violence on abuse survivors, war veterans, and marginalized populations and the discrete ways in which grace and redemption may be exhibited in each context. At the heart of each essay are two deeply interrelated faith claims that are central to Jones’s understanding of Christian theology: (1) We live in a world profoundly broken by violence, and (2) God loves this world and desires that suffering be met by words of hope, love, and grace. This timely and relevant cutting-edge book is the first trauma study to directly take into account theological issues.
I have read it with great interest as part of a research project on trauma and Eastern Christians, especially in Russia and Ukraine. While a good deal of it is personal, and much of the rest of it rather particular to American politics of the last decade or so (not least racism and police brutality against African-Americans), there is enough material in here that all Christians of whatever tradition could profitably read it.

She rightly begins by noting that "the Bible is one long series of traumatic events and accounts of how people struggle to speak about God in the face of them" (xi). She also has an interesting analysis of so-called doubting Thomas, arguing that what if he was not engaged in some impertinence but was in fact manifesting "dissociation," a key hallmark of trauma, which led to his disbelief?

Additionally her take on the story of the encounter on the road to Emmaus, which I first proposed last spring before coming across Jones' work, matches my own: the inability to "see" Jesus here is very much the result of arguably not just post-traumatic stress but an acute stress disorder by people in the immediate throes of post-crucifixion trauma and overwhelming grief.

Jones ends on what I might call a Balthasarian note, focusing on the importance of recovering the capacity for what he called a "metaphysics of wonder." This, as Jones rightly notes, does not obliterate trauma but is both important in itself and a sign of surviving and even coming again to thrive on the far side of trauma.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Uncommonly Fine Prayers and Thoughts of Michael Plekon

In the summer of 2016 I was able to interview my friend Michael Plekon about his then-new book, Uncommon Prayer. You can read that interview here.

I am delighted to be able finally to use Uncommon Prayer: Prayer in Everyday Experience in a course I am teaching this semester. If you haven't read it yet, you will not want to miss it. Like all his books, it is marked by an uncommonly and un-apologetically large and gracious breadth of themes, sources, and personages rendered in very accessible and inviting style--never thou shalt believe this, but instead: here, have a look at this where God may be found. I think the chapter on prayers and pirogi making is perhaps my favourite--but then I always think, as it were, with my stomach! 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Ivan Illich and Erich Fromm on the Corrupt Church

I've started working on a long essay on what we still have not learned from Erich Fromm, the 40th anniversary of whose death we will shortly mark. I think, and hope to show, that he has much to teach Catholics in particular in the sex abuse crisis, about which I published my new book several months ago now. In that book, Everything Hidden Shall be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power, I drew on Fromm a little bit (and other psychoanalytic critics), but I want to expand that focus in this new essay.

Part of what has motivated me is finally being able to do a serious reading of Lawrence Friedman's magisterial biography, The Lives of Erich Fromm: Love's Prophet, where he notes that while Fromm wrote many books that sold millions of copies, and are still in print today, he has nonetheless been largely ignored by North American academics (those in other parts of the world are a different story).

As I've been discovering this is true, a fortiori, of academic theologians, especially Catholics and Orthodox theologians. (Fromm got some attention in the post-war period from Protestants, but most of that dried up long before he died.) This is all the stranger given how many books Fromm wrote on topics so obviously and overwhelmingly amenable to theology: love, hope, sin, freedom, illusion, idolatry, and much else.

His 1941 book Escape from Freedom is one I am also re-reading, and it has key insights also unassimilated by Catholics, but very much in need of being considered today as I shall show.

In going back to Fromm as I am doing, I realized I also have to go back to Ivan Illich, sometime Catholic priest and powerful critic of many social institutions, including churches and schools. I read his Deschooling Society in the 90s, and it has remained with me as a singular challenge.

I also spy a new collection of his writings that I'm looking forward to reading: The Powerless Church, just republished late last year. About this book the publisher tells us this:
Dalmatian-Austrian philosopher, Roman Catholic priest, and radical cultural critic Ivan Illich is best known for polemical writings such as Deschooling Society and Tools for Conviviality, which decried Western institutions of the 1970s. This collection brings together Illich’s shorter writings from his early publications through the rise of his remarkable intellectual career, making available works that had fallen into undue obscurity.
A fervent critic of Western Catholicism, Illich also addressed contemporary practices in fields from education and medicine to labor and socioeconomic development. At the heart of his work is his opposition to the imperialistic nature of state- and Church-sponsored missionary activities. His deep understanding of Church history, particularly the institutions of the thirteenth century, lent a historian’s perspective to his critique of the Church and other twentieth-century institutions.
The Powerless Church and Other Selected Writings, 1955–1985 comprises some of Illich’s most salient and influential short works as well as a foreword by philosopher Giorgio Agamben. Featuring writings that had previously appeared in now-defunct publications, this volume is an indispensable resource for readers of Illich’s longer works and for scholars of philosophy, religion, and cultural critique.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Trauma, Abuse, and the Church

At Catholic World Report you can read my latest thoughts about several new books I had a chance to read over the Christmas break, some of which I will discuss in more detail on here in the coming days.

I would especially recommend to you Judith Herman's landmark 1992 book Trauma and Recovery. Unlike a lot of other books in the social and medical sciences, this one is wonderfully cogent, clearly written, and blessedly free of a lot of horrid jargon. It brings together a wide body of literature in a compelling way that never loses its focus on understanding and helping people.

For some engagement of trauma theologically, I have already drawn attention to Marcus Pound, but will do so again, especially for his focus on the liturgy as itself a therapeutic not just individually or as an adjunct to clinical therapy, but collectively for us all. Others who have recently written theologically on trauma tend to be Protestant, but Pound writes explicitly as a Catholic grounded in Thomist thought.

Gabriele Schwab, whom I didn't mention, deserves to be read as well. Her book Haunting Legacies: Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma is especially valuable for Eastern Christians still marked by and grappling with the legacy of Soviet brutality, violence, and trauma--as well as earlier traumas like the Armenian Genocide, or more recent ones like the Russian war against Ukraine.

About this book we are told this by the publisher (Columbia University Press, 2010):
From mass murder to genocide, slavery to colonial suppression, acts of atrocity have lives that extend far beyond the horrific moment. They engender trauma that echoes for generations, in the experiences of those on both sides of the act. Gabriele Schwab reads these legacies in a number of narratives, primarily through the writing of postwar Germans and the descendents of Holocaust survivors. She connects their work to earlier histories of slavery and colonialism and to more recent events, such as South African Apartheid, the practice of torture after 9/11, and the "disappearances" that occurred during South American dictatorships.
Schwab's texts include memoirs, such as Ruth Kluger's Still Alive and Marguerite Duras's La Douleur; second-generation accounts by the children of Holocaust survivors, such as Georges Perec's W, Art Spiegelman's Maus, and Philippe Grimbert's Secret; and second-generation recollections by Germans, such as W. G. Sebald's Austerlitz, Sabine Reichel's What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?, and Ursula Duba's Tales from a Child of the Enemy. She also incorporates her own reminiscences of growing up in postwar Germany, mapping interlaced memories and histories as they interact in psychic life and cultural memory. Schwab concludes with a bracing look at issues of responsibility, reparation, and forgiveness across the victim/perpetrator divide.

The Orthodox Church in Ukraine

For those who read German and want (in addition to the landmark study of Nicholas Denysenko, interviewed here) a new book to understand the ongoing developments and difficulties in the newly autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine, see this recent study: Orthodoxe Kirche in Der Ukraine - Wohin?: Dokumente Zur Debatte Um Die Autokephalie (Aschendorff Verlag, 2019), 156pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
In der Ukraine bestanden seit langer Zeit verschiedene Orthodoxe Kirchen, die sich gegenseitig nicht anerkannten. Am 6. Januar 2019 unterzeichnete Patriarch Bartholomaus von Konstantinopel eine Urkunde (Tomos) fur eine neu gegrundete "Orthodoxe Kirche der Ukraine" und verlieh ihr Autokephalie, d.h. Unabhangigkeit und das Recht zur Selbstverwaltung. Nur ein Teil der orthodoxen Bischofe der Ukraine schloss sich dieser Kirche an. Wo befindet sich durch die jungsten Entwicklungen die Orthodoxe Kirche in der Ukraine? In einer neu erlangten Einheit und Unabhangigkeit? auf einem "Minenfeld", wie Erzbischof Anastasios von Albanien sagt? in einer schlimmeren Spaltung als vor der Gewahrung der Autokephalie? Dieser Band ermoglicht eine Urteilsbildung durch deutsche Ubersetzungen kirchlich relevanter Dokumente, beginnend mit dem "Tomos der Autokephalie" bis hin zur Verwerfung des Tomos durch einen seiner Adressaten. Eine Einleitung und Kommentierungen machen die Dokumente auch fur ein breiteres interessiertes Publikum verstandlich. Die Dokumentation deckt Fragen auf - vor allem nach dem Wesen und der Leitung der Kirche -, die auch das kirchliche Leben im Westen betreffen.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Prayerful Distractions as Psychological Free-Associations

Almost two years ago I was speculating rather cautiously on the possibility of a kind of "psychoanalytic" reading of Herbert McCabe's ideas around prayer, drawing on his helpful notion about "distractions" which come from his short chapter in God, Christ, and Us.

Well last night I had a chance to read another of his works, God Still Matters, with additional chapters on prayer and the Trinity. It was in this work that he acknowledges that his thoughts on distractions--which he says reveal to us what we really want, and instead of fighting them we should encourage their surfacing, the more easily to pray about and for them--were not his own, but came from a fellow Dominican, Victor White.

Now it all makes sense and I feel vindicated in my speculation. For White was a long-time dialogue partner with Carl Jung, and in fact wrote works about Jungian psychoanalysis, including God and the Unconscious.

All this, of course, takes us back to the great Viennese master himself, whose reflections on free association were and are so profoundly revealing and revolutionary. (At Strands in New York over Christmas, I picked up a short book by Anton Kris, Free Association: Method and Practice, which you may find interesting. Christopher Bollas also has interesting things to say about this in a variety of places, including here.)

We think that freely associating on the analyst's couch is a spectacular waste of time. And, wouldn't you know it, that's precisely the argument most of us use against prayer. McCabe again:
For a real absolute waste of time you have to go to prayer. I reckon that more than 80% of our reluctance to pray consists precisely in our dim recognition of this and our neurotic fear of wasting time, of spending part of our life in something that in the end gets you nowhere, something that is not merely non-productive, non-money making, but is even non-creative. it doesn't even have the justification of art and poetry. It is an absolute waste of time, it is a sharing into the waste of time which is the interior life of the Godhead. 
Finally for my students this semester in addition to reading McCabe, Plekon, and others, we will be reading Romano Guardini's lovely little classic, The Spirit of the Liturgy, where he also winsomely writes about liturgy being utterly wasteful of time for it is simply children at play in the Father's playground.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Orthodox Nationalism and Intolerance in SE Europe

Focus on nationalism and Orthodoxy has been a staple of scholarly discussions for decades, and given the revival of nationalism all over the world, including in Orthodox Europe, it is no surprise that scholarly studies continue to emerge, including S.P. Ramet, ed., Orthodox Churches and Politics in Southeastern Europe: Nationalism, Conservativism, and Intolerance (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 267pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Orthodox Churches, like most religious bodies, are inherently political: they seek to defend their core values and must engage in politics to do so, whether by promoting certain legislation or seeking to block other legislation. This volume examines the politics of Orthodox Churches in Southeastern Europe, emphasizing three key modes of resistance to the influence of (Western) liberal values: Nationalism (presenting themselves as protectors of the national being), Conservatism (defending traditional values such as the “traditional family”), and Intolerance (of both non-Orthodox faiths and sexual minorities). The chapters in this volume present case studies of all the Orthodox Churches of the region.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Trauma in the Soviet Union and Beyond

I recently mentioned how much I have learned and continue to learn from Robert Jay Lifton. This short note is a supplement to that, drawing your attention to a book which I have just finished: Beyond Invisible Walls: the Psychological Legacy of Soviet Trauma, eds. Jacob D. Lindy and R.J. Lifton and  (Routledge, 2001).

This is a unique collection both in its origins and its contents--as well as structure. The book brought together clinicians from the former Soviet Union (though Ukraine is a major absence here), including Russia and Armenia, as well as other Eastern Bloc countries, including Romania (easily the most harrowing chapter in the book) and Eastern Germany. Clinicians discussed not only particular cases and their history, but also the history of psychology and psychiatry in the Soviet context, and how often those disciplines were used and abused for political purposes--e.g., "enemies of the revolution" were bogusly diagnosed as "psychotic" (etc.) and drugged and hospitalized against their will.

The chapters on Romania, Armenia especially, and Russia slightly, all touch briefly on the role that Orthodox Christianity plays and played in

In addition, perhaps the most outstanding feature of the book is that all the cases of individual patients are told by clinicians, and then discussed by others, with the counter-transference being front and centre and often given as much space as the case history. Normally this would be bad clinical practice, but what becomes clear is that even "professionals" like therapists were so badly caught up in and themselves traumatized by the Soviet experience that any attempt at working with patients immediately raised floods of issues in themselves.

Lacking in most cases remotely adequate access to supervision or even to other therapists whom they could trust, these therapists also engaged in the dissociation and splitting so characteristic of traumatized people. Since so much was forbidden in former USSR, inhibiting patients from openly sharing all details, the counter-transference becomes even more important as it raises things the pt. cannot or will not talk about not just individually but collectively. Thus the counter-transference is not just personal to therapist, but expresses something of what Jung famously called the collective unconscious. As a result, as Jacob Lindy’s chapter, “Invisible Walls,” notes, clinicians and survivors both are thrust into the role of understanding the “historical implications” of the trauma under question, and clinicians “find themselves in the role of psychohistorian, for the stories of trauma often contain information about our times that is not otherwise available” (197).

What is clearly available, however, thanks to this book and more recent research, is an awareness--Lindy again--that "in Russia and throughout Eastern Europe, the impact of political trauma has been so pervasive for three generations as to have affected nearly every family” (198). That trauma, though, is vast and still poorly understood, as Lifton notes in his conclusion: Soviet “trauma operates on many levels and its complexities defy our ordinary categories. It lacks the structure and limits of a discrete disaster such as an earthquake….The effects reverberate over years or even decades….What we are discussing here is on the order of a sustained catastrophe that never goes away.”

Part of the challenge Lifton sees in conclusion is that in the West both the clinical categories of PTSD and some semi-literate and popular acceptance of the same, has gained a foothold in last 30 years, but not so in East: “the concept of PTSD as a legitimate medical condition does not match easily with the stoic, suppressive, minimizing adaptations to trauma and loss” Part of my lecture for next June will be to tackle this issue and to suggest that Eastern Christian spiritual, theological, and liturgical resources have much to offer.

To do so, I will be drawing on another book just finished--about which more another time: Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery. The Aftermath of Violence--From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. This book, rightly, is a landmark and has been translated into multiple languages. It is pellucid in its clarity and cogency, which is not a small thing if you know how many books in the social sciences are so atrociously written. 

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Jewish Philosophers and the Jewish Jesus

Sometimes it's the books one picks up casually, with initially only very moderate interest, that end up staying with one, shaping one's thinking in a permanent manner, and being so often returned to in one's mind and quoted over and over again.

So it was with me when, at a used bookstore in Ottawa in the mid-1990s, when I was an undergraduate student, I picked up The Levinas Reader. It seemed only moderately interesting at the time, but it was wonderfully discounted so that was sufficient to tempt me to buy it. That was my introduction to the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, some of whose other works I would later attempt to read.

One in particular is Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, where he writes so memorably about the "ethics of the face" and the face-to-face encounter, noting that the dangers of abstraction and reduction, by which a person is dehumanized, are much harder to sustain when I am confronted by the ethical obligation posed by the mere existence of the person facing me.

From him I have ever after returned to, and lectured about, the "ethics of the face." I thought of him again in writing this piece at Our Sunday Visitor. And in particular in my mind's eye as I was writing, my friend mentioned in the piece was front and centre. As we approach the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, it is astonishing to me that anti-Semitic attacks continue and seem to be increasing in one of the last places on earth one would expect them. Kyrie eleison.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Orthodox Christian Renewal Movements in Europe

Released at the beginning of this month is a fascinating-looking collection ranging widely over movements it is too easy to dismiss as composed of fanatics and freaks: Orthodox Christian Renewal Movements in Eastern Europe, eds., Aleksandra Djurić Milovanović and Radmila Radić (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 339pp.

About this book, which is a softcover reprint of the 2017 original, the publisher tells us this:

This book explores the changes underwent by the Orthodox Churches of Eastern and Southeastern Europe as they came into contact with modernity. The movements of religious renewal among Orthodox believers appeared almost simultaneously in different areas of Eastern Europe at the end of the nineteenth and during the first decades of the twentieth century.
This volume examines what could be defined as renewal movement in Eastern Orthodox traditions. Some case studies include the God Worshippers in Serbia, religious fraternities in Bulgaria, the Zoe movement in Greece, the evangelical movement among Romanian Orthodox believers known as Oastea Domnului (The Lord’s Army), the Doukhobors in Russia, and the Maliovantsy in Ukraine. This volume provides a new understanding of processes of change in the spiritual landscape of Orthodox Christianity and various influences such as other non-Orthodox traditions, charismatic leaders, new religious practices and rituals.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Daniel Galadza Interviewed on Jerusalem's Liturgy: Byzance après Byzance

It is always a delight to interview scholars on here, but--in the interests of full disclosure--it is an especial delight with Daniel Galadza, whom I have known for the better part of two decades now. He is not just a friend, but also co-editor on a book we are finishing for Peeters about the pseudo-sobor of Lviv of 1946. (More on that soon.) In any event, he is the consummate gentleman and scholar who wears his vast learning very lightly on his diaconal riassa. Following my usual practice, I sent him some questions about his recent book, and here are his thoughts.

AD: Tell us about your background

DG: I am a deacon of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church (UGCC), born in Chicago, raised in Toronto and Ottawa by my parents, Fr. Peter and Olenka Galadza. After studies at Trinity College in the University of Toronto and the Sheptytsky Institute, then at St. Paul University in Ottawa, I did a licentiate and a doctorate in Rome with Stefano Parenti, my doctoral supervisor, at the Oriental Institute, with a year as a junior fellow in Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks in 2011–2012.

In Rome, I paid close attention to how the coffee was made at my college, the Russicum, assuming that as a layman with a doctoral in Byzantine liturgy I might end up working at Starbucks--if I were lucky. But God had a different plan and I ended up as an assistant professor in the Catholic Theology Faculty at the University of Vienna in 2013, with Prof. Hans-Jürgen Feulner as my boss and Sr. Vassa Larin as a colleague.

Vienna is known as a “Byzantinists paradise” (well, perhaps not in the guidebooks) and I got to know the scholars in Byzantine Studies at the University of Vienna and the Austrian Academy of Sciences. For the last few years, Prof. Claudia Rapp had led the team of the “Vienna Euchologia Project,” of which I am honoured to be a member (officially as an “international research partner” since I no longer live in Vienna).

Since 2018, I have been in Kyiv as a deacon of the Kyiv Archeparchy, a lecturer at the seminary, and a member of the liturgical commission, at the same time trying to keep up with scholarly work in Europe and North America.

During the fall semester 2018 I was a visiting lecturer at the Sheptytsky Institute, now at University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto, and from 2019 I am a fellow of the Centre for Advanced Studies at the University of Regensburg, splitting up semesters between Bavaria and Ukraine.

AD: What led you to write Liturgy and Byzantinization in Jerusalem?

In May 2008, I had finished my Bacherlor of Theology degree and had applied to study at the Pontifical Oriental Institute (PIO) in Rome. I wasn’t really sure about how things worked at the universities in Rome, so I made a trip to investigate and made an appointment with Fr. Robert Taft, SJ, whom I had known through my parents since childhood. He immediately sat me down and gave me a list of four different doctoral thesis topics. One of them was about the Basilians and the decline of the UGCC’s liturgical tradition, which is a fascinating topic, but I didn’t want to start my academic work immediately making enemies, so I chose the topic on the list about which I knew the least: the “liturgical Byzantinization” of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. That ended up being my thesis topic for the licentiate and doctorate.

Upon arrival in Rome in September 2008, I already knew my thesis topic and was fortunate enough to live in a college next door to the PIO library, so I was able to take advantage of the amazing resources there and read all about a whole other, fascinating world of Eastern Christianity I knew of only generally through my studies in Canada. The thesis then turned into the book, which was published in 2018 by Oxford University Press and came out as paperback in 2019.

AD: Among Eastern Catholics, the notion of “Latinization” is fairly common, and since at least Vatican II, almost always reprobated. Is “Byzantinization” a similar process, and if so, of what and of whom? Does it carry the same negative connotations today as “Latinization” does for many?

In a way, the two phenomena are similar. Byzantinization, like Latinization, is, generally speaking, the adoption of foreign customs and practices, potentially including also theology, culture, and even language, to the detriment of the local, “authentic” tradition. More specifically, the liturgical Byzantinization of Jerusalem involved the supplanting of liturgical tradition of Jerusalem by the rite of Constantinople. The process was complex, due to the natural evolution of the Byzantine liturgical tradition, which was a synthesis of elements from Constantinople, Jerusalem, and elsewhere.

Like Latinization, Byzantinization was never officially imposed on the other Eastern Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, although due to the cultural climate of the post-Iconoclast Eastern Mediterranean, the factions within these Eastern Patriarchates that were faithful to the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon (451) willingly adopted most of the synthesized Byzantine practices. This was partly due to a desire to show unity with Constantinople and partly due to the declining material situation of each of the Eastern Patriarchates as a result of invasions and non-Byzantine rule from the seventh century onward. In such a context, the prestige of Constantinople was felt even more strongly among the Chalcedonians outside the constantly shrinking borders of the Byzantine Empire.

Latinization for the Eastern Catholics is similar. It was rarely imposed officially by the Holy See and usually adopted willingly by Eastern Catholics because of Rome’s prestige as a center of authority and education. (A notable exception might be the 1720 Synod of Zamosc, which officially imposed numerous Latin practices based on Tridentine scholastic theology, in an attempt to bring order to the chaos of the Uniate Church in the century following the Union of Brest. Because Rome has since the Second Vatican Council officially encouraged the Eastern Catholic Churches to return to their ancestral traditions, it will be interesting to see how the UGCC will commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Synod of Zamosc in 2020.)

Around the time of the Second Vatican Council, the Melkite Greco-Catholic Church was also eager to rediscover its ancestral traditions and a group of scholars and clergy, known as the Cairo Circle, began discussing ideas about the restoration of an authentic Melkite liturgy, since for them Byzantinization was their version of Latinization. However, as far as I am aware, not much came of it, because the authentic practices from Jerusalem had not yet been sufficiently researched and there was no continuity with the liturgical tradition of Jerusalem because it had been completely lost. Thus, it was almost impossible to restore and implement in a practical manner.

Although they are similar as phenomena, the histories of Latinization and Byzantinization are, however, quite different, of course, but so are the histories of the Byzantinization of each of the three Eastern Patriarchates, due to their specific linguistic and political contexts.

AD: In an era when much of the academy has been drawing critical attention to the phenomena of colonialism and imperialism, you seem to suggest that the Byzantinization of Jerusalem does not constitute a straightforward case of imperial subjugation and transformation at the hands of Constantinople—that, as your introduction nicely puts it, “the periphery of one centre can become the centre of yet another periphery.” Tell us a bit more about these dynamics.

The phenomenon in question here is certainly not straightforward. Liturgical Byzantinization in Jerusalem—which is not the same as political, literary, cultural, etc. forms of Byzantinization—began only after Jerusalem was no longer under Byzantine imperial and political control. The same is the case for Alexandria, although Antioch’s history is somewhat different, due to the Byzantine reconquest of Syria in the tenth century.

Previous theories about Byzantinization in Jerusalem suggested it was imposed and happened suddenly. A common narrative used to go like this: after the destruction of the Holy Sepulcher, also known as the Anastasis Church, in 1009, the rite of Jerusalem was lost and its patriarchs were exiled to Constantinople in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, where they learned the Byzantine Rite and brought it back with them to Jerusalem along with ready-made books.

However, the sources suggest otherwise, painting a picture of a gradual change to the liturgical tradition that was carried out locally, often times by scribes copying liturgical books and attempting to reconcile differences in liturgical practice.

AD: Part of your argument seems to be that Byzantinization was less about imperial imposition of liturgical trends and traditions, and more about local alterations, based partly on the changing geopolitical and topographical realities of the city. Give us, if you would, an example or two of these changes.

If I haven’t mentioned it already, perhaps this is the time to do so: there are no historical or legal documents from Constantinople, Jerusalem, or elsewhere that explicitly prescribe how liturgical Byzantinization was to be carried out, such as a conciliar document or the decree of a patriarch or emperor, nor do any sources, such as chronicles or other historical accounts, describe exactly how it happened.

The main sources for information are liturgical manuscripts, the books used for prayer during the liturgy, dating from the eighth century onwards. The most important collection for the study of the Byzantinization of Jerusalem is the library of the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai, which houses hundreds of manuscripts in a variety of ancient languages and is also the place some of these manuscripts were copied and used.

At Mount Sinai, the Georgian collection of manuscripts is of particular importance, not just because of the local Georgian monastic community there in the Byzantine period, but also because of the migration of the Georgian monks of the Lavra of St. Sabas in Palestine near Jerusalem to Sinai in the tenth century. Among them was Iovane Zosime, a Georgian monk and scribe who copied numerous and diverse manuscripts, many of them liturgical. What is significant about Iovane Zosime is that he is aware of his sources and gives information about them. What is more, he often dates and signs his work, which isn’t always the case with scribes.

The calendar he copied in codex Sinai Georgian Old Collection 34—one needs to distinguish between the old and new collection, because a whole trove of manuscripts was rediscovered at the monastery in 1975—presents a liturgical calendar for the whole year based on several sources, including ones from Constantinople, Jerusalem, and the Lavra of St. Sabas. Thus, Iovane Zosime was, in a way, one of the first scholars of “comparative liturgy” and his work confirms that already in the tenth century, monks and scribes at the Sabas Lavra and Mount Sinai knew of multiple liturgical traditions, these traditions were in contact with one another in Jerusalem, and they were also changing. Specifically in the calendar, the feast of St. James the Brother of the Lord is mentioned on multiple days—both on the days his feast was celebrated in Jerusalem (December 1, December 26, May 25) and in Constantinople (October 23)—showing the gradual nature of the change.

Two centuries later, we know of the work of another scribe, Basil the Hagiopolite, a reader and scribe at the Church of the Anastasis in Jerusalem, from an important manuscript copied in 1122 and known in liturgical scholarship as the “Typikon of the Anastasis.” The manuscript contains all the hymns, readings, and prayers necessary for Holy Week and Easter at the Anastasis, mentioning local practices native to Jerusalem, like the Liturgy of St. James, but also a loss of other local elements and revealing an influx of general Byzantine practices. Basil the Hagiopolite himself shows an awareness of two different traditions and tries to make sense of them in his manuscript. Most notably, the processions on Palm Sunday that Basil describes have been lost and the gospel readings for Holy Week have changed.

AD: You note that much of the Byzantinization comes after the three conquests—the Persian, the Arab, and the Crusaders, in a period leading up to the thirteenth century. A contemporary reader might wonder if there is any kind of causal link between events here? In other words, is it conceivable to think that Jerusalem Christians, feeling under siege and perhaps worried about loss of their “identity” (as we might call it today), would seek to buttress and solidify that identity by conforming their external appearances and practices to be more like other Christians, including those in the still unconquered imperial capital?

Most certainly! I would argue that there is very little change in theological content when examining Byzantinization and that it has much more to do with religious identity and affiliation. Once the Greek-praying Christians become the minority in Jerusalem and are no longer under Byzantine rule, they look to their coreligionists for moral—and sometimes financial—support. Although the Chalcedonian Christians of Jerusalem were unique because they had no homegrown non-Chalcedonian Church in Jerusalem and Palestine, unlike the case in with numerous non-Chalcedonians in Syria and Egypt, nevertheless they seemed eager to maintain strong links with Constantinople. It appears that the strong Greek monastic presence in the Holy Land also played a role in buttressing the Greek, Chalcedonian identity in Jerusalem.

AD: For those unfamiliar with Jerusalem’s liturgical calendar (ch.4), and lectionary (ch.5), what are some of the most notable and distinctive features in your eyes?

In a nutshell, here are some of the most noteworthy elements:

The calendar, from the sixth century onward at least, begins with Christmas rather than September 1, suggesting a theological emphasis on the Incarnation that is understood in the liturgical year as well. The day on which a saint is commemorated depends on the local tradition of Jerusalem. If we take the example of St. James again, December 26 was an ancient day of commemorating James in Jerusalem connected, at least according to Anton Baumstark, with the Jewish celebration of the dedication of the Temple. The October 23 commemoration depended on the transfer of the relics of James to Constantinople. The calendar of Jerusalem also had multiple days of certain saints and sometimes celebrated groups of saints together, often dependent upon the dedication of a church in Jerusalem where their relics were deposed. Octaves, or eight day celebrations of major feasts, were also a significant feature and the most important ones involved stational liturgy during the eight days at some of the more important churches of Jerusalem.

The lectionary is intimately related to the calendar and in some cases lectionary manuscripts give us the most information about the calendar. Unlike the Byzantine lectionary—where the order of the Gospels from Easter to Lent is John, Matthew, Luke, and Mark—the Jerusalem lectionary reads them in the following order: John, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Even when the same Gospel is read during the same liturgical season, the pericopes (or individual excerpts) for a given commemoration are not necessarily the same. For example, the readings from the Gospel of John on the Sundays after Easter have completely different episodes when comparing the Jerusalem and Constantinople lectionaries.

Perhaps the most important and interesting aspect of the Jerusalem lectionary for Orthodox liturgy is that it has an Old Testament reading at the Divine Liturgy. The ancient Armenian and Georgian translations of the Jerusalem lectionary have quite an extensive series of Old Testament readings, but Greek manuscripts with Old Testament readings for the Divine Liturgy are quite rare.

AD: If, in a sense, Jerusalem is the “mother-city” for all Christians, do we find elements of her lectionary and calendar anywhere today in other traditions—a kind of “Jerusalemization” of, say, Coptic or Syriac or Latin or Byzantine traditions? Is her tradition of “stational” liturgies borrowed or copied by other traditions?

The Liturgy of St. James—the local Divine Liturgy of Jerusalem—does in fact refer to Jerusalem, or rather to Sion, as the “Mother of all the Church.” With regard to liturgical practice, Jerusalem certainly did function as a centre of influence over all of Christendom, in effect the “Jerusalemization” of many other Christian traditions. This was particularly felt in Constantinople, where there really wasn’t a sacred topography and much of its liturgy was imported from elsewhere. In Constantinople, one can see strong the influence of Jerusalem during Holy Week, with its structure based on biblical narratives imported from Jerusalem. Constantinople also adopted Jerusalem’s Bright Week Gospel readings, but with a twist: instead of reading them on every day of Bright Week at Divine Liturgy, as was done in Jerusalem, Constantinople took them and turned them into the eleven resurrectional Gospels read at Orthros, or Matins, every Sunday morning.

With regard to “stational” liturgies, processions led by the bishop that went through the city with hymns and stopped at various points, these were imitated in Constantinople, Rome, and elsewhere.

But these aren’t discoveries that are new to my book or research. Many of these insights into “Jerusalemization” and “stational” liturgies come from the works of Janeras, Taft, Baldovin, and several Russian scholars writing before the October Revolution. My goal in the book was to present a summary of this scholarship, often times scattered in diverse studies in various languages, and to bring it into dialogue with information found in additional manuscripts, many of them among the “new finds” of Sinai from 1975 in order to examine the interaction of the liturgical traditions of Jerusalem and Constantinople, and the question of Byzantinization in Jerusalem.

AD: Much of your work proceeds comparatively, and by drawing on the methods of Baumstark and Taft. But you also note the limitations of this method. Tell us about some of those limitations and then tell us more generally about your methods of research for this book, including especially looking at liturgy “from the bottom up.” Why is that important and what are its benefits?

In this study, I did indeed rely on comparative methods, primarily due to the comparative nature of examining the liturgies of Jerusalem and Constantinople and seeing the influence of one on the other and vice versa. From a purely technical point of view, the comparative method, with its emphasis on a textual and philological approach that respects the importance of the historical context, fit best to begin this investigation. Because the topic of Byzantinization is precisely a question of top-down, “official” liturgy, liturgical books are the main source for study.

Comparative liturgy is often criticized because it can at times overemphasize liturgical structures over the meaning of texts and does not say much about the experience of the people during the liturgical services. The problem of the authority, use, and reliability of texts is also one that must be grappled with, especially if adopting the “splitter” approach (in the dichotomy of Paul Bradshaw).

The “from the bottom up” approach is something that I am attempting to read about more and integrate into my work, but in other areas, for example in work dealing with the Vienna Euchologia Project.

AD: I recall meeting you for lunch in Washington DC some years back, when you were a fellow at Dumbarton Oaks, and you casually told me, as we stood waiting for the traffic light to change, that you were studying Georgian. Why are Georgian sources important to your study?

I don’t think it could have been casually, Adam, since ancient Georgian is far from “casual”: they say you can learn the Georgian noun in a day and spent the rest of your life learning the Georgian verb. Studying Georgian in Rome was quite the experience!

The importance of Georgian sources in Jerusalem is primarily due to the presence of Georgian pilgrims and monks who stayed in Jerusalem, made translations and copies of its liturgical manuscripts, and then either used them in Jerusalem and its environs in their own Georgian-praying communities or brought them back to Georgia. Because many of the Greek originals were lost, Georgian manuscripts are sometimes the only surviving witnesses to this ancient and lost liturgical tradition.

AD: You note that in some ways even today the periphery-centre tension still holds, but with different focus today: must the Jerusalem patriarchate remain, as it were, an outpost of the Greek Orthodox Church, resisting any attempts at change in, say, a more “Arabized” direction? But you also note that in the early 20th century there was less defensiveness and more openness to studying the authentic tradition and perhaps removing non-native elements. How far did such a movement get, and is there anything comparable today?

The current state of the affairs in the Church of Jerusalem is not an easy one and balancing internal and external ecclesiastical relations are in addition to some of the difficulties of daily life in Israel and Palestine today. Christians find it difficult to stay and without a local population, the Church depends on pilgrims and non-Palestinian Christians to keep life going.

Some of the activity of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, such as the retention of the Julian calendar, seems to depend on the status quo agreement from previous centuries that codified liturgical life at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Today, one can observe frequent use of Arabic, and sometimes other languages, at the Divine Liturgy, for example the Gospel reading. However, this multilingualism in the liturgy is nothing new, since Egeria describes it in the fourth century and Basil the Hagiopolite mentions it in the twelfth.

Any tendency to differentiate the Jerusalem Patriarchate too much from other Orthodox would isolate it from the rest of the Church—which is precisely one of the reasons why Byzantinization occurred, to strengthen ties and establish a common identity with Christians beyond Jerusalem.

Nevertheless, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century did witness a great interest in the local liturgical tradition of Jerusalem from scholars who were also ecclesiastical authorities. This meant the Liturgy of St. James was revived, although not always with the right motives. Because the manuscripts of the Liturgy of St. James are often missing rubrics and the tradition ceased to be celebrated, Archbishop Dionysios Latas of Zakynthos supplied his own rubrics based on his studies of biblical archaeology. His Greek edition was then adapted to Church Slavonic by Ivan Gardner (at that time Hieromonk Philip). The resulting liturgy that is often celebrated today is effectively a nineteenth-century scholarly invention. Prof. Heinzgerd Brakmann has written several articles about this.

It is curious that in some circles where any change or reform in the Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom or St. Basil the Great would be frowned upon, the nineteenth-century revived version of the Liturgy of St. James is welcomed and celebrated frequently. Prof. Vitaly Permiakov, who has studied these questions for some years, has recently published a Church Slavonic-English edition where he attempts to address some of these problems.

AD: Sum up your hopes for the book, and who in particular would benefit from reading it?

My main hope is that it will inspire other scholars to look more closely at the question of Byzantinization, whether in Jerusalem or one of the other Eastern Patriarchates, and provide more definitive answers than I have. The history of the Byzantinization of Antioch and Alexandria remains to be written. I believe Antioch holds the answers to many of the remaining questions about Byzantinization, precisely because it was reconquered by the Byzantines in the tenth century and because it is geographically between Constantinople and Jerusalem.

I also hope that Syriac scholars will find the book to be a useful reference in their examination of the abundance of Syriac Melkite manuscripts, most of them in the library of the Monastery of St. Catherine on Sinai and lamentably ignored in Byzantine liturgical studies. The importance of Georgian for Byzantine and theological studies is now being appreciated in Western academia (I should mention here the work of Stephen Shoemaker and his English translation of the Georgian Iadgari hymnal from Jerusalem, which I was not able to mention in my book because they appeared at around the same time), but I hope that better resources for studying ancient Georgian will be made available in the West.

Having expressed all these wishes, I do not want to give the impression that the book is intended only for specialists. (Certainly, certain sections will be too technical for some readers. For others, the book might be effective against insomnia.) I hope that anyone familiar with the Byzantine liturgical tradition, particularly its faithful practitioners, might find something of interest in the book—whether in the general introduction to Jerusalem’s liturgy before its Byzantinization or the discussion of the Liturgy of St. James, the calendar, or the lectionary.

AD: Having finished the book, what projects are you at work on now?

Perhaps too many to keep track of myself... At the moment, I am a fellow at the Centre for Advanced Studies of the University of Regensburg, where there are quite a few conferences and workshops on liturgical topics, organized by Prof. Harald Buchinger, an expert on the early liturgy of Jerusalem. My own work at the Centre involves a translation and commentary of the twelfth-century Greek manuscript from Jerusalem I mentioned earlier: Hagios Stavros gr. 43, known as the “Typikon of the Anastasis,” a hymnal for Holy Week and Easter whose services, readings, and hymns would be recognizable to any Byzantine Rite Christian, whether Orthodox or Greco-Catholic, who has attended their local parish during that most solemn time of the year. My goal with this project is to investigate the question of liturgical theology through the prism of hymnography in order to understand how the hymns serve as scriptural exegesis and also liturgical hermeneutic.

Last year, Prof. Jos Verheyden and I organized a conference on liturgy and literature in the various multilingual communities of the Lavra of St. Sabas at Catholic University of Leuven, so I am now slowly working on publishing the proceedings, which I hope will appear in the not too distant future.

Apart from those main projects, I am also interested in early printed Church Slavonic liturgical books from Ukraine. Some are housed in various libraries in Kyiv, Lviv, and elsewhere (while some can still be purchased online for very reasonable prices!). In the coming years I hope to more beyond Jerusalem and the first Christian millennium and delve deeper into the Slavonic and Kyivan liturgical tradition. Perhaps after Byzantinization, I’ll move on to Latinization. We’ll see.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Losing Reality and Gaining Zealotry

Robert Jay Lifton is one of those outstanding figures who has managed across the many decades of his richly productive and insightful career to bring together clinical insights with political processes and problems--to say nothing of metaphysical, religious, and theological issues. I previously noted how powerful his memoirs are, and I plan on re-reading them again soon. I'm also making my way through his Nazi Doctors after first picking it up more than twenty years ago.

Next week I will start a book he edited with Jacob Lindy, Beyond Invisible Walls: The Psychological Legacy of Soviet Trauma. This is part of the research I am doing for a lecture on trauma and Russian Christianity after communism, which I'm giving next June in Velehrad.

Though well into his 90s now, Lifton is not resting on his laurels. Indeed, he just released another book, Losing Reality: On Cults, Cultism, and the Mindset of Political and Religious Zealotry (The New Press, 2019), 240pp.

This book, the publisher says, offers

A definitive account of the psychology of zealotry, from a National Book Award winner and a leading authority on the nature of cults, political absolutism, and mind control.
In this unique and timely volume Robert Jay Lifton, the National Book Award–winning psychiatrist, historian, and public intellectual proposes a radical idea: that the psychological relationship between extremist political movements and fanatical religious cults may be much closer than anyone thought. Exploring the most extreme manifestations of human zealotry, Lifton highlights an array of leaders—from Mao to Hitler to the Japanese apocalyptic cult leader Shōkō Asahara to Donald Trump—who have sought the control of human minds and the ownership of reality.
Lifton has spent decades exploring psychological extremism. His pioneering concept of the “Eight Deadly Sins” of ideological totalism—originally devised to identify “brainwashing” (or “thought reform”) in political movements—has been widely quoted in writings about cults, and embraced by members and former members of religious cults seeking to understand their experiences.
In Losing Reality Lifton makes clear that the apocalyptic impulse—that of destroying the world in order to remake it in purified form—is not limited to religious groups but is prominent in extremist political movements such as Nazism and Chinese Communism, and also in groups surrounding Donald Trump. Lifton applies his concept of “malignant normality” to Trump’s efforts to render his destructive falsehoods a routine part of American life. But Lifton sees the human species as capable of “regaining reality” by means of our “protean” psychological capacities and our ethical and political commitments as “witnessing professionals.”
Lifton weaves together some of his finest work with extensive new commentary to provide vital understanding of our struggle with mental predators. Losing Reality is a book not only of stunning scholarship, but also of huge relevance for these troubled times.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Religious, Ritual, and Spiritual Responses to Trauma

This is a new international collection of scholarly articles that is rich on promise and offers encouraging evidence of theology moving into new areas: Trauma and Lived Religion: Transcending the Ordinary, eds., R.R. Ganzevoort and s. Sremac (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 258pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This book focuses on the power of the ‘ordinary’, ‘everydayness’ and ‘embodiment’ as keys to exploring the intersection of trauma and the everyday reality of religion. It critically investigates traumatic experiences from a perspective of lived religion, and therefore, examines how trauma is articulated and lived in the foreground of people’s concrete, material actualities. 
Trauma and Lived Religion seeks to demonstrate the vital relevance between the concept of lived religion and the study of trauma, and the reciprocal relationship between the two. A central question in this volume therefore focuses on the key dimensions of body, language, memory, testimony, and ritual. It will be of interest to academics in the fields of sociology, psychology, and religious studies with a focus on lived religion and trauma studies, across various religions and cultural contexts. 
The execution of the book, however, rather falls down in several places. Collections have inherent weaknesses, but this one really could have done with editors tightening the focus of the articles somewhat, or in lieu of that providing some sort of epilogue or conclusion that drew out some common themes, which are present but under-developed and undertheorized in the chapters.

Chapters that stand out include Stephanie Arel's work on the role of pastoral (and especially papal) touch in overcoming shame, stigma, and their traumatic effects. She focuses on the number of people Pope Francis has touched and draws out some powerful lessons. Arel has herself contributed to an earlier collection, Post-Traumatic Public Theology.

The last section is especially useful, focusing on the ways in which Christian rituals can both help and harm those trying to overcome trauma.

The last chapter, by Hillary Jerome Scarsella, raises important but distressing questions from a Mennonite context: what message are victims of violence and abuse hearing when they come to church only to be told by Christians to imitate Christ, who stood silent before his accusers and abusers and protested nothing? Such a counsel can be retraumatizing for people who have suffered in silence and isolation for too long, powerless and voiceless. Such a counsel can leave powerful abusers in place, which is a gross injustice and potential danger to new victims.

Equally, what message are people hearing when told to forgive their abusers without any attempt at acknowledgement, let alone healing and reconciliation? Liturgies that too glibly promote these ideas and apparent virtues can do more damage than good. How can victims and victimizers equally partake from the same table and drink from the one chalice in the absence of any kind of reconciliation?

Finally I would note that the chapter on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Peru is very powerful, and Mariéle Wulf's chapter on trauma and healing is worthwhile. She draws on the insights of Margaret Crastnopol's recent book Micro-Trauma: A Psychoanalytic Understanding of Cumulative Psychic Injury (Routledge, 2015). 

Friday, December 20, 2019

Best Books Read in 2019

Over at Catholic World Report is the annual, and very popular, series of posts from contributors on the books they most enjoyed in 2019. The terms do not require that the book be published in 2019, but merely that you have read and enjoyed a given book in that year. As readers of this lowly blog will of course know, there are plenty of other books I have read this year, but we were limited to 600 words. My list is here.

Since we were limited to 600 words, I thought I'd expand on that list a bit here, linking you to some of the interviews I did with authors on my list, and to longer discussion on here of some of those books.

Cynthia Haven’s very interesting biography, Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard. I started a discussion of the book (here) back in January when I get back from Romania.

Serhiy Plokhy, as I said at CWR, is one of those historians one must always read if one has any interest in East-Slavic history. I've read a couple of his other books (some noted here), and this year got around to reading his Yalta: The Price of Peace, which is a superb.

Given the complexity of the issues, and the fact the war was still raging, the temptation in writing such a book must surely have been to make it six times as long, dragging in all sorts of related and obviously important issues. But it's a masterfully restrained work, looking at the week-long conference with just enough detail to give context and shrewd analysis and then letting the reader go, confident in the knowledge that a billion other books have been written on everything leading up to February 1945, and a billion more on the aftermath. It remains true that it takes much more discipline to write a relatively short book like this than a big sprawling one.

Adam Phillips is always worth reading, including, this year, his aphoristic On Flirtation: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Uncommitted Life. I posted some of the choicest of those aphorisms here.

If you go here, you will see some of the thoughts I wrote up after reading Guy Beiner’s Forgetful Remembrance: Social Forgetting and Vernacular Historiography of a Rebellion in Ulster. As noted, this is a dense but deeply fascinating book for all sorts of reasons, not least its singular insights into the complex processes of repressing and remembering our conflicts.

This year I read the second installment in David Kynaston's superlative series: Family Britain 1951-1957. On last year’s list, I recommended the predecessor volume, Austerity Britain 1945-1951which I wrote about in some detail here. So this year I read the 1950s volume, which is equally marvelous for the same reasons as I discussed last year.

In 2020, I will get around to reading the next installment, Modernity Britain: 1957-1962. What is especially noteworthy and masterful in both volumes so far is the author's deft handling of huge quantities of data from Mass Observation, Gallup, and other then-new social surveying agencies almost punch-drunk polling people on myriad issues in diverse forms.

My friend Bill Mills was interviewed here discussing his very honest, moving, and funny book about the realities of parish life: Losing My Religion: A Memoir of Faith and Finding. For those of you with married clergy in your life, you need to send them this book.

Will 2020 finally see the election of a party and candidate that will allow the United States to join the mid-20th century? Will Bernie Sanders be our Aneurin Bevan, the fiery Labour cabinet minister in Atlee's 1945 government and the politician who brought about Britain's National Health Service in 1948? This year I read (and here discussed) John Campbell’s Aneurin Bevan and the Mirage of British Socialism, whose off-putting title did not spoil what was a surprisingly enjoyable study of the great Welsh leader.

A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church: Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop by Rembert Weakland. This was, as I discussed here in some detail, an unexpectedly fascinating and important book, whatever the sins and scandals of the author, now well into his 90s.

The priest Christiaan Kappes is a dynamo of a scholar whose newest book, The Epiclesis Debate at the Council of Florence, is an exhilarating ride. He was interviewed here.

Apart from his decision about nuclear weapons, there are some impressive virtues in Harry Truman, perhaps foremost among them the fact it never occurred to him to swan about the world after 1953 collecting huge fees for vomiting up canned speeches and intolerable banalities to big banks and other mercenaries. I have read previous works about him, including David McCullough's biography. So this past June after a dear friend, a retired history teacher, died, and we inherited her library, I found therein Margaret Truman’s 1973 book Harry S. Truman, which is part memoir and part family biography.

I also inherited Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, which apparently played a part in the 2012 Spielberg film, Lincoln, starring Daniel Day Lewis. I watched the film with my kids on Netflix in October, and found it a captivating performance by Lewis.

This led me to pick up the Goodwin book and to find it quite enjoyable in its own way. Indeed, parts of it are just riveting, which I have never before been able to say about 19th-century American history. Perhaps--though this remains to be seen--this book will be the beginning of the end of my total lack of interest in 19th-century American politics and especially the Civil War. Other wars--the Crimean, certainly, along with the First and Second World Wars, on which I have often commented on here--continue to fascinate me even after two decades of reading about them regularly. But for some reason the Civil War has seemed too provincial, too uncomplicated, to attract much interest. Perhaps that will change.

I have previously drawn attention to Pia Sophia Chaudhari's new book, Dynamis of Healing: Patristic Theology and the Psyche. I am reviewing it for an academic journal so cannot say much about it here other than it is a very impressive book which I warmly commend to all with interest in patristic theology (especially Maximus the Confessor, to whom I have drawn a good bit of attention on here over the last decade) and depth psychology. Among this book's several virtues is one in particular: it reminds me that I have sometimes too facilely and snobbishly dismissed Jung in the past in favour of our father among the saints, Sigmund of Vienna. (I made some atoning gestures for past sins against Jung here, where I went on to praise him as more enlightened than Freud on at least one key issue.)

The book is also very rightly and closely in dialogue with two of the most interesting and important object-relations analysts to come out of Britain: W.R.D. Fairbairn, and Harry Guntrip, whom I briefly discussed here. Both of them wrote with great insights into the schizoid personality type, Fairbairn in his groundbreaking 1940 essay republished in Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality; and Guntrip in Schizoid Phenomena, Object Relations, and the Self.

Juan-David Nasio, Psychoanalysis and Repetition: Why Do We Keep Making the Same Mistakes? This is a very short book that packs a tremendous number of insights into its relatively few pages. I discussed it at some length here.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...