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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Before and After Mohammad

We are living in a time when critical attention to the origins of Islam is finally being paid in an important and fairly widespread manner. A recent book helps us look beyond even the foundational personality of Mohammad and into a much wider context: Garth Fowden, Before and After Muhammad: The First Millennium Refocused (Princeton UP, 2013), 248pp.

About this book we are told:

Islam emerged amid flourishing Christian and Jewish cultures, yet students of Antiquity and the Middle Ages mostly ignore it. Despite intensive study of late Antiquity over the last fifty years, even generous definitions of this period have reached only the eighth century, whereas Islam did not mature sufficiently to compare with Christianity or rabbinic Judaism until the tenth century. Before and After Muhammad suggests a new way of thinking about the historical relationship between the scriptural monotheisms, integrating Islam into European and West Asian history.
Garth Fowden identifies the whole of the First Millennium--from Augustus and Christ to the formation of a recognizably Islamic worldview by the time of the philosopher Avicenna--as the proper chronological unit of analysis for understanding the emergence and maturation of the three monotheistic faiths across Eurasia. Fowden proposes not just a chronological expansion of late Antiquity but also an eastward shift in the geographical frame to embrace Iran. In Before and After Muhammad, Fowden looks at Judaism, Christianity, and Islam alongside other important developments in Greek philosophy and Roman law, to reveal how the First Millennium was bound together by diverse exegetical traditions that nurtured communities and often stimulated each other.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Islamic Views of the Crusades

As has been lamented on here too many times, the Crusades remain some of the most grossly mis-represented events in history, subject to all manner of tendentious abuse. A book set for release in early July may shed more light on them, and from a very different angle: Paul M. Cobb, The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades (Oxford UP, 2014), 368pp.

In 1099, when the first crusaders arrived triumphant and bloody before the walls of Jerusalem, they carved out a Christian European presence in the Islamic world that remained for centuries, bolstered by subsequent waves of new crusades and pilgrimages. But how did medieval Muslims understand these events? What does an Islamic history of the Crusades look like? The answers may surprise you.

In The Race for Paradise, we see medieval Muslims managing this new and long-lived Crusader threat not simply as victims or as victors, but as everything in-between, on all shores of the Muslim Mediterranean, from Spain to Syria. This is not just a straightforward tale of warriors and kings clashing in the Holy Land - of military confrontations and enigmatic heros such as the great sultan Saladin. What emerges is a more complicated story of border-crossers and turncoats; of embassies and merchants; of scholars and spies, all of them seeking to manage this new threat from the barbarian fringes of their ordered world.

When seen from the perspective of medieval Muslims, the Crusades emerge as something altogether different from the high-flying rhetoric of the European chronicles: as a diplomatic chess-game to be mastered, a commercial opportunity to be seized, a cultural encounter shaping Muslim experiences of Europeans until the close of the Middle Ages - and, as so often happened, a political challenge to be exploited by ambitious rulers making canny use of the language of jihad.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Be Sealed!

This semester, in separate classes with both undergraduates and graduates, I have been able to use an old trick: few things ignite vigorous and lengthy discussion in a classroom with a healthy number of Catholics (several of whom work for parishes in several capacities, chiefly those having to do with catechesis) than to raise the topic of Confirmation. So I innocently ask about that sacrament in particular, and the sacraments of initiation in general, especially the order of their administration, and bam!: a good half-hour and more of very vigorous discussion ensues. I must confess that prior to such regular exchanges with people in the "front lines" (catechists, parochial school teachers, directors of religious education, RCIA co-ordinators), I was a hardcore and unapologetic defender of the ancient and undivided tradition whereby Baptism-Chrismation-Eucharist are all given in that order, immediately, on the same day, to everyone from infancy onward. I still think that's the most theologically defensible practice, but given the dynamics in the Latin Church today, and the many pastoral challenges of a serious nature which would attend an abrupt return to the original practice, I am no longer quite so confidently willing to insist everyone must follow that practice.

My good friend Nicholas Denysenko, Orthodox deacon, professor of theology at Loyola Marymount, and director of the Huffington Ecumenical Institute, has a book coming out in May that very sensibly and intelligently looks at all these issues:  Chrismation: A Primer for Catholics (Liturgical Press, 2014), 248pp.

The book is available both as a paperback and as an e-Book so you've no excuse for not ordering it. I interviewed Nick about his last book on Theophany water blessings here. And I hope to interview him again about this book in the coming weeks. About this book, the publisher tells us:
What is chrismation? Nicholas Denysenko breaks open chrismation as sacrament of belonging by exploring its history and liturgical theology. This study offers a sacramental theology of chrismation by examining its relationship with baptism and the Eucharist and its function as the ritual for receiving converts into the Orthodox Church. Drawing from a rich array of liturgical and theological sources, Denysenko explains how chrismation initiates the participant into the life of the triune God, beginning a process of theosis, becoming like God. The book includes a chapter comparing and contrasting chrismation and confirmation, along with pastoral suggestions for renewing the potential of this sacrament to transform the lives of participants.
Reflecting the dual audiences of this book, two of the reviewers, one Orthodox and the other Catholic (who is steeped in Orthodox liturgical theology) note:
In this book on chrismation, Denysenko exemplifies the best in ecumenical liturgical scholarship. Drawing on both Eastern and Western sources, ancient and modern, he uncovers for the reader the richness and diversity of both traditions. Catholics and Orthodox alike will benefit from reading this work (Paul Meyendorff, The Alexander Schmemann Professor of Liturgical Theology, St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary).
Denysenko offers Catholics a primer on Byzantine chrismation, in order to set up a conversation between East and West. First, he gleans a liturgical theology from the rite's lex orandi, including its use for the reception of converts. Then he presents the perspective of numerous Orthodox theologians. And all this he can then bring to the table for an honest dialogue, since he is also well-versed in contemporary Catholic discussion about confirmation. The result is what he calls "a gift exchange," pointing out riches the East and West can share with each other. Being happily grounded in his own Orthodox tradition, yet ecumenically hospitable, he gives us a work that will cross-fertilize the Catholic understanding of confirmation and Orthodox understanding of chrismation. The superb result is a study that bridges the academic and the pastoral so as to regenerate our appreciation of this venerable liturgical celebration (David W. Fagerberg, University of Notre Dame)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Byzantium and the Turks in the 13th Century

A spot of late-season flu has kept me from doing much of anything this week, least of all posting on here. But I'm keenly interested in a book that won't actually be in print for another six months or so: Dimitri Korobeinikov, Byzantium and the Turks in the Thirteenth Century (Oxford, 2014), 432pp.

About this book, which is published in the prestigious series Oxford Studies in Byzantium, we are told
At the beginning of the thirteenth century Byzantium was still one of the most influential states in the eastern Mediterranean, possessing two-thirds of the Balkans and almost half of Asia Minor. After the capture of Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, the most prominent and successful of the Greek rump states was the Empire of Nicaea, which managed to re-capture the city in 1261 and restore Byzantium. The Nicaean Empire, like Byzantium of the Komnenoi and Angeloi of the twelfth century, went on to gain dominant influence over the Seljukid Sultanate of Rum in the 1250s. However, the decline of the Seljuk power, the continuing migration of Turks from the east, and what effectively amounted to a lack of Mongol interest in western Anatolia, allowed the creation of powerful Turkish nomadic confederations in the frontier regions facing Byzantium. By 1304, the nomadic Turks had broken Byzantium's eastern defences; the Empire lost its Asian territories forever, and Constantinople became the most eastern outpost of Byzantium. At the beginning of the fourteenth century the Empire was a tiny, second-ranking Balkan state, whose lands were often disputed between the Bulgarians, the Serbs, and the Franks.

Using Greek, Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman sources, Byzantium and the Turks in the Thirteenth Century presents a new interpretation of the Nicaean Empire and highlights the evidence for its wealth and power. It explains the importance of the relations between the Byzantines and the Seljuks and the Mongols, revealing how the Byzantines adapted to the new and complex situation that emerged in the second half of the thirteenth century. Finally, it turns to the Empire's Anatolian frontiers and the emergence of the Turkish confederations, the biggest challenge that the Byzantines faced in the thirteenth century.

Monday, April 7, 2014

I Spy Strangers

Given the events of this year, the question has been regularly asked: is Putin trying to recreate the Soviet Union in today's Russia or does he have an earlier model? Does he aspire to be Stalin redux or a new tsar? And what happened to those minorities who lived under the last tsar, Nicholas II? A book set for release in May sheds welcome light on these questions: Paul W. Werth, The Tsar's Foreign Faiths: Toleration and the Fate of Religious Freedom in Imperial Russia (Oxford, 2014),320pp.

The publisher highlights the virtues of this book thus, saying it:
  • Covers almost 150 years of Russian history, spanning the entire tsarist empire
  • Offers the only broadly comprehensive religious history of the Russian Empire, addressing such diverse traditions as Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism
  • Draws on materials from some fourteen archival repositories in five different countries
  • Places the evolution of religious freedom in Russia in a broader framework encompassing other European states
  • Integrates the secondary scholarship on particular cases, religious traditions, and locales to produce a unified synthetic account
About this book we are further told:
The Russian Empire presented itself to its subjects and the world as an Orthodox state, a patron and defender of Eastern Christianity. Yet the tsarist regime also lauded itself for granting religious freedoms to its many heterodox subjects, making 'religious toleration' a core attribute of the state's identity. The Tsar's Foreign Faiths shows that the resulting tensions between the autocracy's commitments to Orthodoxy and its claims to toleration became a defining feature of the empire's religious order.

In this panoramic account, Paul W. Werth explores the scope and character of religious freedom for Russia's diverse non-Orthodox religions, from Lutheranism and Catholicism to Islam and Buddhism. Considering both rhetoric and practice, he examines discourses of religious toleration and the role of confessional institutions in the empire's governance. He reveals the paradoxical status of Russia's heterodox faiths as both established and 'foreign', and explains the dynamics that shaped the fate of newer conceptions of religious liberty after the mid-nineteenth century. If intellectual change and the shifting character of religious life in Russia gradually pushed the regime towards the acceptance of freedom of conscience, then statesmen's nationalist sentiments and their fears of 'politicized' religion impeded this development. Russia's religious order thus remained beset by contradiction on the eve of the Great War. Based on archival research in five countries and a vast scholarly literature, The Tsar's Foreign Faiths represents a major contribution to the history of empire and religion in Russia, and to the study of toleration and religious diversity in Europe.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Origen and Scripture

As I have noted repeatedly on here, interest in, and even lingering controversy over, Origen remains high. Set for release this summer is a more affordable paperback version of a book Oxford first published in 2012: Peter W. Martens, Origen and Scripture: The Contours of the Exegetical Life (Oxford, 2014), 294pp.

About this book we are told:
Scriptural interpretation was an important form of scholarship for Christians in late antiquity. For no one does this claim ring more true than Origen of Alexandria (185-254), one of the most prolific scholars of Scripture in early Christianity. This book examines his approach to the Bible through a biographical lens: the focus is on his account of the scriptural interpreter, the animating centre of the exegetical enterprise. In pursuing this largely neglected line of inquiry, Peter W. Martens discloses the contours of Origen's sweeping vision of scriptural exegesis as a way of life. For Origen, ideal interpreters were far more than philologists steeped in the skills conveyed by Greco-Roman education. Their profile also included a commitment to Christianity from which they gathered a spectrum of loyalties, guidelines, dispositions, relationships and doctrines that tangibly shaped how they practiced and thought about their biblical scholarship. The study explores the many ways in which Origen thought ideal scriptural interpreters (himself included) embarked upon a way of life, indeed a way of salvation, culminating in the everlasting contemplation of God. This new and integrative thesis takes seriously how the discipline of scriptural interpretation was envisioned by one of its pioneering and most influential practitioners.
The publisher also provides the table of contents:
Part I: The Philologist
1: Mandate: The Interpreter's Education
2: Specialization: The Elements of Philology
Part II: The Philologist and Christianity
3: Scholarship: Divine Provenance
4: Conversion: Sanctified Study
5: Boundaries (Part I): Interpretation Among the Heterodox
6: Boundaries (Part II): Interpretation in the New Israel
7: Conduct: Moral Inquiry
8: Message: Saving Knowledge
9: Horizons: The Beginning and End of the Drama of Salvation

Thursday, April 3, 2014

How Good it is When the Brethren Dwell Together in Unity

Though it will set the usual Athonites and would-be Athonite bloggers to foaming at the mouth, the patriarchs of old and new Rome are set to commemmorate the meeting 50 years ago of their predecessors in Jerusalem. A short little book that was set for release in March, but appears delayed until the middle of this month, discusses that meeting in 1964 and its implications in the half-century since: John Chryssavgis, ed., Dialogue of Love: Breaking the Silence of Centuries (Fordham UP, 2014), 96pp.

About this book we are told:
In 1964, a little noticed, albeit pioneering encounter in the Holy Land between the heads of the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church spawned numerous contacts and diverse openings between the two "sister churches," which had not communicated with one another for centuries. This year, fifty years later, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will meet again in Jerusalem to commemorate that historical event and celebrate the close relations that have developed through mutual exchanges of formal visits and an official theological dialogue that began in 1980.

This book contains three unique chapters: 1) A sketch of the behind-the-scenes challenges and negotiations that accompanied the meeting in 1964, detailing the immediate consequences of the event and setting the tone for the volume. 2) An inspirational account, albeit interwoven with a scholarly evaluation of the work of the North American Standing Council on Orthodox/Catholic relations over the last decades. 3) A recently discovered reflection on the meeting that took place fifty years ago by one of the most important Orthodox theologians of the twentieth century, expressing cautious optimism about the future of Christian unity.
We are also given the table of contents:
Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon

John Chryssavgis

1. Pilgrimage toward Unity: Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI in Jerusalem Based on Correspondence and Archives
John Chryssavgis

2. Breathing with Both Lungs: Fifty Years of the Dialogue of Love
Brian E. Daley, S.J.

3. "A Sign of Contradiction": A Reflection on the Meeting of the Pope and the Patriarch
Georges Florovsky

Afterword: The Dawn of Expectation
Walter Cardinal Kasper

List of Contributors

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Eastern Christianity and Politics

It has this year become obvious that one of the major themes to be developed within Orthodox theology in the coming years will be the relationship between Church and state, a relationship which has entered a new phase for much of Orthodoxy in the post-Soviet period. We have therefore started to see a number of books, most previously noted on here, emerge in the past few years on Church-state relations as well as related questions about, e.g., human rights. Set for release in May is a hefty tome that promises to take a wide-ranging look at these questions and relations in a wonderfully diverse array of contexts: Lucian Leustean, ed., Eastern Christianity and Politics in the Twenty-First Century (Routledge, 2014), 864pp.

About this book the publisher provides us an overview as well as detailed table of contents thus:
This book provides an up-to-date, comprehensive overview of Eastern Christian churches in Europe, the Middle East, America, Africa, Asia and Australia. Written by leading international scholars in the field, it examines both Orthodox and Oriental churches from the end of the Cold War up to the present day. The book offers a unique insight into the myriad of church-state relations in Eastern Christianity and tackles contemporary concerns, opportunities and challenges, such as religious revival after the fall of communism; churches and democracy; relations between Orthodox, Catholic and Greek Catholic churches; religious education and monastic life; the size and structure of congregations; and the impact of migration, secularisation and globalisation on Eastern Christianity in the twenty-first century.

1. Eastern Christianity and Politics in the Twenty-First Century. An Overview, Lucian N. Leustean Part I: Chalcedonian Churches 2. The Ecumenical Patriarchate, Lucian N. Leustean 3. The Russian Orthodox Church, Zoe Knox and Anastasia Mitrofanova 4. The Serbian Orthodox Church, Klaus Buchenau 5. The Romanian Orthodox Church, Lucian Turcescu and Lavinia Stan 6. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Daniela Kalkandjieva 7. The Georgian Orthodox Church, Paul Crego 8. The Orthodox Church of Cyprus, Victor Roudometof and Irene Dietzel 9. The Orthodox Church of Greece, Vasilios N. Makrides 10. The Polish Orthodox Church, Edward D. Wynot 11. The Orthodox Church of Albania, Nicolas Pano 12. The Orthodox Church in the Czech Lands and Slovakia, Tomáš Havlíček 13. Orthodox Churches in America, Alexei D. Krindatch and John H. Erickson 14. The Finnish Orthodox Church, Teuvo Laitila 15. Orthodox Churches in Estonia, Sebastian Rimestad 16. Orthodox Churches in Ukraine, Zenon V. Wasyliw 17. The Belarusian Orthodox Church, Sergei A. Mudrov 18. The Lithuanian Orthodox Church, Regina Laukaitytė 19. The Latvian Orthodox Church, Inese Runce and Jelena Avanesova 20. Orthodox Churches in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria, Kimitaka Matsuzato 21. Orthodox Churches in Moldova, Andrei Avram 22. The Macedonian Orthodox Church, Todor Cepreganov, Maja Angelovska-Panova and Dragan Zajkovski 23. Orthodox Churches in Japan, China and Korea, Kevin Baker 24. Orthodox Churches in Australia, James Jupp
Part II: Non-Chalcedonian Churches 25. The Armenian Apostolic Church, Hratch Tchilingirian 26. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the Eritrean Tewahedo Orthodox Church, Stéphane Ancel, Giulia Bonacci and Joachim Persoon 27. The Coptic Orthodox Church, Fiona McCallum 28. The Syrian Orthodox Church, Erica C. D. Hunter 29. Syrian Christian Churches in India, M. P. Joseph, Uday Balakrishnan and István Perczel
Part III: The Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East 30. The Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East, Erica C. D. Hunter Part IV: Greek Catholic Churches in Eastern Europe 31. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Natalia Shlikhta 32. The Romanian Greek Catholic Church, Ciprian Ghișa and Lucian N. Leustean 33. The Bulgarian Eastern Catholic Church, Daniela Kalkandjieva 34. The Hungarian Greek Catholic Church, Stéphanie Mahieu
Part V: Challenges in the Twenty-First Century 35. Orthodox Churches and Migration, Kristina Stoeckl 36. Catholic-Orthodox Relations in Post-War Europe, Thomas Bremer 37. Secularism without Liberalism: Orthodox Churches, Human Rights and American Foreign Policy in Southeastern Europe, Kristen Ghodsee 38. Orthodox Churches and Globalisation, Victor Roudometof

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Oxford Handbook of the Trinity in Paperback

In late 2011, when it first emerged in hardback, I interviewed editors Matthew Levering and Gilles Emery about their splendid new collection The Oxford Handbook of the Trinity. That edition is packed with riches, including numerous articles by Orthodox scholars and treating Eastern realities, which perhaps goes some way to explaining its hefty price. But for those of you wishing an edition both lighter in your bookbag and on your wallet, you need only wait a few more months. Oxford UP tells me that a paperback is forthcoming this summer (likely July), and will be less than half the hardback, probably around $42.

About this book we are told:
This handbook examines the history of Trinitarian theology and reveals the Nicene unity still at work among Christians today despite ecumenical differences and the variety of theological perspectives. The forty-three chapters are organized into the following seven parts: the Trinity in Scripture, Patristic witnesses to the Trinitarian faith, Medieval appropriations of the Trinitarian faith, the Reformation through to the 20th Century, Trinitarian Dogmatics, the Trinity and Christian life, and Dialogues (addressing ecumenical, interreligious, and cultural interactions).

The phrase 'Trinitarian faith' can hardly be understood outside of reference to the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople and to their reception: the doctrine of the Trinity is indissociably connected to the reading of Scripture through the ecclesial and theological traditions. The modern period is characterized especially by the arrival of history, under two principal aspects: 'historical theology' and 'philosophies of history'. In contemporary theology, the principal 'theological loci' are Trinity and creation, Trinity and grace, Trinity and monotheism, Trinity and human life (ethics, society, politics and culture), and more broadly Trinity and history. In all these areas, this handbook offers essays that do justice to the diversity of view points, while also providing, insofar as possible, a coherent ensemble.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Russian History

With all the recent focus on and discussion of Russia, including of course its annexation of Crimea and continued threats to Ukraine, a recent volume helpfully provides a much wider picture of Russian history, including chapters on the relationship to the Byzantine empire, and the development of (and schisms within) what we today call the Russian Orthodox Church, this latter article being written by Nadieszda Kizenko: Abbott Gleason, ed., A Companion to Russian History (Wiley Blackwell, 2014), 568pp.

About this book we are told:
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, substantial changes have transformed the way historians have interpreted Russia’s past. This companion provides an overview of Russian history, from the earliest appearance of the Slavs in history to the present day. It features 28 provocative essays written by both prominent and emerging international scholars covering major problems in Russia's history.
The book is structured chronologically, yet reflects the weight of interest in Russia’s recent history by giving its greatest coverage to the twentieth century. It offers a balanced review of both traditional and cutting-edge topics, demonstrating the range and dynamism of the field.

This companion comprises 28 essays by international scholars offering an analytical overview of the development of Russian history from the earliest Slavs through to the present day.
  • Includes essays by both prominent and emerging scholars from Russia, Great Britain, the US, and Canada
  • Analyzes the entire sweep of Russian history from debates over how to identify the earliest Slavs, through the Yeltsin Era, and future prospects for post-Soviet Russia
  • Offers an extensive review of the medieval period, religion, culture, and the experiences of ordinary people
  • Offers a balanced review of both traditional and cutting-edge topics, demonstrating the range and dynamism of the field

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Religion and the Arts

I'm looking forward this fall to being able to teach my course on iconography again after several years. As I noted earlier this year, there has been an explosion in books about iconoclasm (another of which I discussed elsewhere) and I'm keen to assign at least one or two of them to read with my students. For those desirous of a more global picture of the relationship between religion and art, a new handbook would seem ideal: Frank Burch Brown, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the Arts (Oxford UP, 2014), 564pp.

About this collection we are told:
Nearly every form of religion or spirituality has a vital connection with art. Religions across the world, from Hinduism and Buddhism to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, have been involved over the centuries with a rich array of artistic traditions, both sacred and secular. In its uniquely multi-dimensional consideration of the topic, The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the Arts provides expert guidance to artistry and aesthetic theory in religion.

The Handbook offers nearly forty original essays by an international team of leading scholars on the main topics, issues, methods, and resources for the study of religious and theological aesthetics. The volume ranges from antiquity to the present day to examine religious and artistic imagination, fears of idolatry, aesthetics in worship, and the role of art in social transformation and in popular religion-covering a full array of forms of media, from music and poetry to architecture and film.

An authoritative text for scholars and students, The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the Arts will remain an invaluable resource for years to come.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Russian Orthodox Notions of Human Rights

Given the events in Russia and Ukraine recently, especially the annexation by the former of territory belonging to the latter, and given recent chatter, especially during the Sochi Olympics, about so-called gay rights in Russia, the question of human rights more broadly within Russia has been raised a lot lately.Of even more particular interest is the relationship of ideas about rights to Orthodox theology, which is a new field currently being developed, including in an article in the upcoming spring issue of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, as I noted here.

The following book, then, published just this month, is very timely indeed: Kristina Stoeckl, The Russian Orthodox Church and Human Rights (Routledge, 2014), 170p. 

About this book we are told:
This book examines the key 2008 publication of the Russian Orthodox Church on human dignity, freedom, and rights. It considers how the document was formed, charting the development over time of the Russian Orthodox Church’s views on these issues. It analyses the detail of the document, and assesses the practical and political impact inside the Church, at the national level and in the international arena. Overall, it shows how the attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church has shifted from outright hostility towards individual human rights to the advocacy of "traditional values," though often projecting a more moderate face internationally, whilst taking a hard line within Russia itself.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Byzantine Theotokos

On this lovely feast of the Annunciation, I draw your attention to a forthcoming paperback version (=much more affordable!) of an important collection published a few years back and favorably reviewed by us in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies: Bissera Pentcheva, Icons and Power: The Mother of God in Byzantium (Penn State, 2014), 312pp. 

About this book we are told:
The Virgin Mary embodied power rather than maternal tenderness in the Byzantine world. Known as the Mother of God, she became a guarantor of military victory and hence of imperial authority. In this pioneering book, Bissera Pentcheva connects the fusion of Marian cult and imperial rule with the powers assigned to images of this All Holy woman.
Drawing upon a wide range of sources and images, from coins and seals to monumental mosaics, Pentcheva demonstrates that a fundamental shift in Byzantine cult—from relics to icons—took place during the late tenth century. Further, she shows that processions through the city of Constantinople provided the context in which Marian icons emerged as centerpieces of imperial claims to divine protection.
Pentcheva breaks new ground, contending that devotion to Marian icons should be considered a much later development than is generally assumed. This new perspective has important implications not only for the history of imperial ritual but also for understanding the creation of new Marian iconography during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
Centered upon fundamental questions of art, religion, and politics, Icons and Power makes a vital contribution to the entire field of medieval studies. It will be of interest as well to all those concerned with the cult of Mary in the Christian traditions of the East and West.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Fantasy of Reunion?

Three years ago, when angels wept with joy and mortal flesh kept silent at the appearance of my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity, a few people suggested--including those who helpfully didn't bother to read it--that my book was simply promoting a "fantasy" and that Orthodox-Catholic unity would never happen, or at least not in my lifetime nor several generations after me. This language of fantasy is not new, as a book to be published next month makes clear: Mark D. Chapman, The Fantasy of Reunion: Anglicans, Catholics, and Ecumenism, 1833-1882 (OUP, 2014), 316pp.

About this book we are told:
This book discusses the different understandings of 'catholicity' that emerged in the interactions between the Church of England and other churches - particularly the Roman Catholic Church and later the Old Catholic Churches - from the early 1830s to the early 1880s. It presents a pre-history of ecumenism, which isolates some of the most distinctive features of the ecclesiological positions of the different churches as these developed through the turmoil of the nineteenth century. It explores the historical imagination of a range of churchmen and theologians, who sought to reconstruct their churches through an encounter with the past whose relevance for the construction of identity in the present went unquestioned. The past was no foreign country but instead provided solutions to the perceived dangers facing the church of the present. Key protagonists are John Henry Newman and Edward Bouverie Pusey, the leaders of the Oxford Movement, as well as a number of other less well-known figures who made their distinctive mark on the relations between the churches. The key event in reshaping the terms of the debates between the churches was the Vatican Council of 1870, which put an end to serious dialogue for a very long period, but which opened up new avenues for the Church of England and other non-Roman European churches including the Orthodox. In the end, however, ecumenism was halted in the 1880s by an increasingly complex European situation and an energetic expansion of the British Empire, which saw the rise of Pan-Anglicanism at the expense of ecumenism.

Friday, March 21, 2014

LOGOS: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies: Spring 2014 Issue

Further to my note last week, I'm delighted to be able to give details of the spring issue of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies. It contains fascinating articles in areas we have not published before, especially Coptic-Muslim relations and Orthodox understandings of human rights. But permit me to point out in particular two of the long review essays noted below, which I think are in themselves worth the price of a subscription if, through some unimaginable oversight, you have not yet managed to subscribe.

We seem to be at a point, at least in anglophone scholarship, of a burgeoning number of studies on Sergius Bulgakov now that most of his opera has been translated into English. Logos has published several in the last three years, and we have several more currently out for review, which may be accepted for publication in the autumn of this year and spring of next year. In this upcoming issue we begin, among the juried articles, with Stefan Barbu's essay “Orthodox Ecclesiology in Sophianic Key.”

This is followed by a fascinating article by Jason Welle, OFM, “The Status of Monks in Egypt under Early Mamlūk Rule: The Case of Ibn Taymiyya.” The article contains not only original research and analysis, but also annotated translation of Ibn Taymiyya’s Fatwā on the Status of Monks.

Finally, a longer version of a presentation I originally heard in part in 2012 at St. Vladimir's Seminary and the annual meeting of the Orthodox Theological Society of America: Christopher Brenna, “The Transfiguration of Rights: A Proposal for Orthodoxy’s Appropriation of Rights Language.” This article breaks new ground, as the whole discussion of rights in Orthodoxy is a very recent and in some ways still inchoate phenomenon.

Among the shorter pieces we are running are three, beginning with a recent presentation of Michael Plekon at a conference in Strasbourg on "Saints Without Borders." Fr. Michael's paper is entitled “Mother Maria Skobtsova: Making a Saint in the Eastern Church Today.”

Bishop Hlib Lonchyna has a short piece on Ukrainian Catholic Identity in Britain Today, ending with some thoughts on the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church's recent 10-year plan for parish revitalization.

Richard Armstrong helpfully reviews the literature and brings us up to date on "Cyril of Jerusalem (c.313-387): an Ecclesiastical Career in Review."

Finally, last fall, Josiah Trenham gave a lecture in Ottawa at the Metropolitan Andriy Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, "St. John Chrysostom for the 21st Century."

Book Reviews:

Review Essays:
This section contains three of the most impressive (and longest) review essays we have ever run. Robert Slesinski spends a great deal of time analyzing Dominic Rubin's Holy Russia, Sacred Israel: Jewish-Christian Encounters in Russian Religious Thought. Slesinski very carefully examines the evidence in Rubin's text, and compares it in many cases to the Russian originals, some of which Slesinski re-translates, showing how and where Rubin's analysis is correct, and where, in a few places, it overlooks other evidence or offers perhaps too harsh an interpretation. The essay is a model of how to do careful scholarship on explosive topics (anti-Semitism, Russian nationalism): serenely, objectively, charitably.

ii) Another outstanding model of scholarly engagement comes in a very lengthy review essay authored by Christiaan Kappes, J. Isaac Coff, and T. Alexander Giltner treating the place of Palamas in the history of philosophy and East-West encounters, especially in the hands of David Bradshaw, not only in his 2007 book Aristotle East and West: Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom but more recently in his essay in the collection Divine Essence and Divine Energies: Ecumenical Reflections on the Presence of God in Eastern Orthodoxy. Kappes et al review the entire latter book, but concentrate on Bradshaw as well as John Milbank, showing the good points in their work but also showing how and where they overlook a good deal, are unjustly tendentious in places, and fail in others to make necessary distinctions or to trace out lineages that would upset their preformed ideas of intellectual history. The essay is not easy to summarize, but here are a few choice ideas to whet your appetite:   
  • contra the usual interpretation, Thomas, Bonaventure, and Scotus, far from being horrid old Western "rationalists" in contradistinction to the supposed "mystics" of the East, are in fact deeply grounded in Greek patristic thought;
  • the role of Augustine in shaping the Palamite tradition is very considerable, but completely ignored in Divine Essence and Divine Energies;
  • Mark of Ephesus, far from being the trumpet of anti-Latin theology, is heavily indebted to Augustine and the Scholastics;
  • Franciscans like Bonaventure and Scotus "accessed important early Eastern sources, particularly through the Carolingian thinker and translator Eriugena, and, moreover, greatly utilized them....One may legitimately wonder how such a cornucopia of sources and incredible parallels have been bypassed";
  • in the end, we are still awaiting a full, impartial intellectual geneology of Palamas and Palamite thought that will, inter alia, take account of the fact that "Palamas gave Augustine's opera in Greek an authoritative 'nihil obstat' for Byzantines" and thus "ushered into Byzantium a synthetic project of harmonizing Latin authors (especially Augustine and Aquinas) with Byzantine theology and Orthodoxy." Yet little of this remains understood, even by scholars, never mind Orthodox bloggers ranting about the pernicious effects of Aquinas and Augustine and Anselm and other figures they have never read, least of all in the original.

iii) Slesinski’s Review Essay on Bulgakov. Reviewing the "major trilogy" of Bulgakov's works which has recently appeared in English over the last decade, that is, the works The Lamb of God, The Bride of the Lamb and The Comforter, Slesinski in fact teases out of these three works their underlying theology of the "first hypostasis," God the Father. Far from ignoring the Father in works ostensibly devoted to Christ, Christ's Church, and the Holy Spirit, Bulgakov in fact has woven throughout all three volumes the theme of the "monarchy of the Father."

Regular Reviews:

Having recently read, and commented elsewhere on, this book, let me second our reviewer's judgment that this is a very substantial, deeply challenging, and very important book. If you have any interest in the topics of icons and iconoclasm, and more generally the relation between theology and art not only in the ancient period, but also today, you will want to get a copy of this book, the expense notwithstanding.

c) Radu Bordeianu reviews Boris Bobrinskoy’s The Mystery of the Church: A Course in Orthodox Dogmatic Theology

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Between Constantinople and Rome

Set for publication at the end of this month is a new book looking at one of the most outstanding of most ancient manuscripts: Kathleen Maxwell, Between Constantinople and Rome: An Illuminated Byzantine Gospel Book (Paris Gr. 54) and the Union of Churches (Ashgate, 2014), 348pp.

About this book we are told:
This is a study of the artistic and political context that led to the production of a truly exceptional Byzantine illustrated manuscript. Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, codex grec 54 is one of the most ambitious and complex manuscripts produced during the Byzantine era. This thirteenth-century Greek and Latin Gospel book features full-page evangelist portraits, an extensive narrative cycle, and unique polychromatic texts. However, it has never been the subject of a comprehensive study and the circumstances of its commission are unknown. In this book Kathleen Maxwell addresses the following questions: what circumstances led to the creation of Paris 54? Who commissioned it and for what purpose? How was a deluxe manuscript such as this produced? Why was it left unfinished? How does it relate to other Byzantine illustrated Gospel books?Paris 54's innovations are a testament to the extraordinary circumstances of its commission. Maxwell's multi-disciplinary approach includes codicological and paleographical evidence together with New Testament textual criticism, artistic and historical analysis. She concludes that Paris 54 was never intended to copy any other manuscript. Rather, it was designed to eclipse its contemporaries and to physically embody a new relationship between Constantinople and the Latin West, as envisioned by its patron. Analysis of Paris 54's texts and miniature cycle indicates that it was created at the behest of a Byzantine emperor as a gift to a pope, in conjunction with imperial efforts to unify the Latin and Orthodox churches. As such, Paris 54 is a unique witness to early Palaeologan attempts to achieve church union with Rome.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Holy Ecology

For many years now, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople has been nicknamed the "green patriarch" for his outspoken stances on ecological issues. Many recent books have been published in recent years on Orthodox theology and ecological concerns, including this recent one:  Bruce V. Foltz, The Noetics of Nature: Environmental Philosophy and the Holy Beauty of the Visible (Fordham, 2013), 320pp.

About this book we are told:
Contemplative or "noetic" knowledge has traditionally been seen as the highest mode of understanding, a view that persists both in many non-Western cultures and in Eastern Christianity, where "theoria physike," or the illumined understanding of creation that follows the purification of the heart, is seen to provide deeper insights into nature than the discursive rationality modernity has used to dominate and conquer it.

Working from texts in Eastern Orthodox philosophy and theology not widely known in the West, as well as a variety of sources including mystics such as the Sufi Ibn 'Arabi, poets such as Basho, Traherne, Blake, Hölderlin, and Hopkins, and nature writers such as Muir, Thoreau, and Dillard, The Noetics of Nature challenges both the primacy of the natural sciences in environmental thought and the conventional view, first advanced by Lynn White, Jr., that Christian theology is somehow responsible for the environmental crisis.

Instead, Foltz concludes that the ancient Christian view of creation as iconic its "holy beauty" manifesting the divine energies and constituting a primal mode of divine revelation offers the best prospect for the radical reversal that is needed in our relation to the natural environment.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Quran and the Gospels

Emerging scholarship has been suggesting more and more that there are deep links between early Islamic literature and extant Christian literature, especially that of the gospels. Two new books deepen our understanding of this: Emran El-Badawi, The Qur'an and the Aramaic Gospel Traditions (Routledge, 2013). You can read an interview with the author here.

About this book we are told:
This book is a study of related passages found in the Arabic Qur’an and the Aramaic Gospels, i.e. the Gospels preserved in the Syriac and Christian Palestinian Aramaic dialects. It builds upon the work of traditional Muslim scholars, including al-Biqa‘i (d. ca. 808/1460) and al-Suyu?i (d. 911/1505), who wrote books examining connections between the Qur’an on the one hand, and Biblical passages and Aramaic terminology on the other, as well as modern western scholars, including Sidney Griffith who argue that pre-Islamic Arabs accessed the Bible in Aramaic.

The Qur’an and the Aramaic Gospel Traditions examines the history of religious movements in the Middle East from 180-632 CE, explaining Islam as a response to the disunity of the Aramaic speaking churches. It then compares the Arabic text of the Qur’an and the Aramaic text of the Gospels under four main themes: the prophets; the clergy; the divine; and the apocalypse. Among the findings of this book are that the articulator as well as audience of the Qur’an were monotheistic in origin, probably bilingual, culturally sophisticated and accustomed to the theological debates that raged between the Aramaic speaking churches. Arguing that the Qur’an’s teachings and ethics echo Jewish-Christian conservatism, this book will be of interest to students and scholars of Religion, History, and Literature.
The publisher also provides the table of contents:
1 Sources and Method 2 Prophetic Tradition in the Late Antique Near East 3 Prophets and their Righteous Entourage 4 The Evils of the Clergy 5 The Divine Realm 6 Divine Judgement and the Apocalypse 7 Data Analysis and Conclusion
Also published in December by Routledge is a second book along a similar though more personally focused theme: Hosn Abboud, Mary in the Qur'an: A Literary Reading (Routledge, 2013). 

About this book we are told:

Providing an analysis of the complete story of Mary in its liturgical, narrative and rhetorical contexts, this literary reading is a prerequisite to any textual reading of the Qur’an whether juristic, theological, or otherwise. The Qur’an is an oral event, linguistic phenomenon and great literature. So the application of modern literary theories is essential to have full comprehension of the history of the development of literary forms from pre-Islamic period such as poetry, story telling, speech-giving to the present. In addition, there is a need, from a feminist perspective, to understand in depth why a Christian mother figure such as Mary was important in early Islam and in the different stages of the development of the Qur’an as a communication process between Muhammad and the early Muslim community. Introducing modern literary theories, gender perspective and feminist criticism into Qur’anic scholarship for the first time, this book will be an invaluable resource for scholars and researchers of Islamic Studies, Qur’anic and New Testament Studies, Comparative Literature and Feminist Theology.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Nationalism in Greece and Beyond

I have long been fascinated by the role of nationalism in shaping, and often (but not always) in perverting Christianity, especially in the East. It has, of course, become a rather commonplace lament in the East for more than a century that too much of Orthodoxy is too bound up with ethnophyletism. Though that problem in places is perhaps not as pronounced as it once was, it does still continue to bedevil the Christian East in more ways than one. A recent book looks at the politics of nationalism in an Hellenic context:  Rachel Tsang and Eric Taylor Woods, eds.,The Cultural Politics of Nationalism and Nation-Building: Ritual and Performance in the Forging of Nations (Routledge, 2013), 216pp.

About this book we are told:

Rituals and performances are a key theme in the study of nations and nationalism. With the aim of stimulating further research in this area, this book explores, debates and evaluates the role of rituals and performances in the emergence, persistence and transformation of nations, nationalisms and national identity.
The chapters comprising this book investigate a diverse array of contemporary and historical phenomena relating to the symbolic life of nations, from the Yasukuni Shrine in Japan to the Louvre in France, written by an interdisciplinary cast of world-renowned and up-and-coming scholars. Each of the contributors has been encouraged to think about how his or her particular approach and methods relates to the others. This has given rise to several recurring debates and themes running through the book over how researchers ought to approach rituals and performances and how they might best be studied.
The Cultural Politics of Nationalism and Nation-Building will appeal to students and scholars of ethnicity and nationalism, sociology, political science, anthropology, cultural studies, performance studies, art history and architecture.
The publisher also helpfully provides a table of contents:

1. Ritual and performance in the study of nations and nationalism Eric Taylor Woods and Rachel Tsang PART I: APPROACHES 2. The rites of nations: elites, masses and the re-enactment of the ‘national past’ Anthony D. Smith 3. National holiday commemorations: the view from below John E. Fox 4. Time-bubbles of nationalism: dynamics of solidarity ritual in lived time Randall Collins 5. Competition as ritual and the legitimation of the liberal nation-state Jonathan Hearn PART II: APPLICATIONS 6. Ritual in the early Louvre Museum Carol Duncan 7. Inventing or reviving the Greek ideal? Forging the regeneration of the French nation in the art of Paul Cézanne after the Franco-Prussian War Athena S. Leoussi 8. The nation’s shrine": conflict and commemoration at Yasukuni, modern Japan’s shrine to the war dead John Breen 9. Collective Action and National Identity: The Rally to Restore Sanity Rachel D. Hutchins 10. Britons in Maoriland: narratives of identity during the 1901 Royal visit to New Zealand Christopher McDonald

Friday, March 14, 2014

Coptic Civilization

It is only in the last three years that many people have started paying attention to what is going on in Egypt, and suddenly "discovering" a native Christian population there. But of course the Copts have long been known, studied, and admired for their tenacity and for their formidable artistic, liturgical, and ascetical traditions, inter alia. Forthcoming in May of this year from the American University in Cairo Press is a collection edited by Gawdat Gabra entitled Coptic Civilization: Two Thousand Years of Christianity in Egypt (2014, 360pp).

The publisher helpfully provides an overview and table of contents thus:

Egypt's Copts make up one of the oldest and largest Christian communities in the Middle East. Yet despite the availability of a large number of books on aspects of Coptic culture, including art and architecture, monasticism, theology, and music, there is to date no single volume that provides a comprehensive cultural history of the Copts and their achievements. Coptic Civilization aims to fill this gap, by introducing the general reader, the interested non-specialist, to Coptic culture in all its variety and multi-faceted richness. With contributions by twenty scholars, Coptic Civilization includes chapters on monasticism, the Coptic language, Coptic literature, Christian Arabic literature, the objects and documents of daily life, magic, art and architecture, and textiles, as well as the history of the Coptic Church, its liturgy, theology, and music.

Contributors: Dominique Bénazeth, Lois Farag, Cäcilia Fluck , Peter Grossmann, Gisele Helmecke, Magdalena Kuhn, Marvin Meyer, Samuel Moawad, Elisabeth R. O'Connell, Monica René , Tonio Sebastian Richter, Saad Michael Saad, Mark Sheridan, Mark N. Swanson, Hany N. Takla , Jacques van der Vliet, Nelly van Doorn-Harder, Gertrud J.M. van Loon, Youhanna Nessim Youssef, Ewa D. Zakrzewska

Includes chapters on  Coptic Historiography • Church History • Monasticism • Alexandrian Theology • Liturgy • Music • The Coptic Language • Gnosticism and Manichaeism • The Coptic Bible • Coptic Literature • Documentary Evidence of Daily Life • Magic • Copto-Arabic Literature • Archaeology • Architecture • Church Decoration • Objects of Daily Life • Post-pharaonic Textiles • The Coptic Church Today • Contemporary Coptic Art • Coptic Civilization in the Diaspora.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Spring 2014 Issue of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies

The upcoming spring 2014 issue of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, on which I am now at work, is packed with articles. In fact, our queue is full for the spring, the fall, and for most of the spring issue of 2015. Coincidentally, perhaps providentially, all three issues are assuming a "thematic" coherence: in one issue, we will have several articles on relations between Orthodox Christians and Muslims; in a second, we will have three, and perhaps four, articles on Bulgakov; and in a third issue, we have three, and perhaps four, articles on Orthodoxy and socioeconomic issues: Orthodoxy and ecology, Orthodoxy and human rights, Orthodoxy and economic development. We also have several short notes and essays on Russian literature and theology, on Byzantine liturgy, and other topics. And then the book reviews will be led off with a long, fascinating review essay by three scholars taking to task David Bradshaw's recent book Aristotle East and West: Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom as well as his chapter in this recent edited collection.

I'll post more details, and a preliminary table of contents, later this week. 
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