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


Friday, July 3, 2020

Islam and Christianity: Politics and Scriptures

The new Paulist Press catalogue landed here the other day and there I spied a new book that will be of interest to those who want to explore both the similarities and the differences in Islam and Christianity: Christopher Frechette, How the Qur'an Interprets the Bible (Paulist, 2020), 208pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Non-Muslims are often surprised to learn that the Qur'an relates episodes and events from the lives of multiple characters who are also found in the biblical text. While the ways the two traditions present these stories often have much in common, they are never identical. Sometimes the Qur'an includes elements or themes that are not present in the biblical account. Such details point to ways in which the Qur an interprets prior traditions, and such interpretations are similar to how Jewish and Christian Scriptures also interpret prior traditions. Focusing on the lives and roles of a number of well-known characters, this introductory book explores and compares the interpretive dimensions of Islamic, Jewish, and Christians Scriptures.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

On Black Icons of the Jewish Jesus and His Mother

This moving and powerful image, of the Mother of God cradling her dead Son, is making the rounds today for obvious reasons, and it has set off some foolish white people who claim to be Catholic while understanding little about theology and even less about iconography. So herewith a brief note about some relevant books on iconography, which I teach regularly, with special reference to a tradition I deeply love, the Ethiopian.

General Studies:

Of the three primary traditions of iconography one finds in the Christian East, the Ethiopian is perhaps the least known. The Byzantine tradition is of course far and away the most widely and popularly practiced, not least because of its associations with the empire of that name. When people typically think of Eastern or Orthodox iconography, it is the Byzantine style that they almost invariably imagine and turn to. There are hundreds of books about this tradition, including many that have been published just in the last two decades, and most of these by Western Christians suddenly "inventing" (in both senses of the word) the tradition and eager to explore its riches. Searching on here using the relevant labels (at bottom of this post) will bring up dozens and dozens of posts about recent publications, scholarly and popular. If you asked me to name just 3 for those with no background, I would recommend the following:

First, for your average Roman Catholic today, start with Sr Jeana Visel's book (which I reviewed here). Second, for those desiring more historical and theological depth, then Lossky's book has long been a standard text. Third, for still more depth and detail, Ouspensky's two-volume set has long had an obligatory place on every bibliography.

Finally, for those who clearly do not understand the doctrinal approval (albeit ambivalent) given to the use of images, and who do not realize that such approval said absolutely nothing at all about what we today would call "racial" or "ethnic" differences, then this new book--one of several in an invaluable series from Liverpool University Press--will bear careful reading about the acts of Nicaea II in 787. Precisely as the defined and received doctrinal teaching of the Catholic and Orthodox Church, and precisely because it was, after all, given at an ecumenical (="whole inhabited world") gathering, we should not expect to find the diverse divines there assembled forbidding or requiring that Christ, the Theotokos, and the angels and saints be portrayed as Africans or Greeks or Copts, Romans or Armenians "for all are one in Christ Jesus."

The Coptic Tradition:

But there are other traditions within the Christian East, including the Coptic, which differs sharply from the Byzantine for all sorts of complex historical (and other) reasons we will not get into here. But this tradition lacks the vast number of books in English that the Byzantine tradition has. For those who read French, this is not a bad, if now dated, overview. For those who want a scholarly overview of iconography in all the so-called Oriental Churches, including the Coptic and Ethiopian, then Christine Chaillot's book reads like a dissertation.

For those who want to begin to understand the historical complexities around what could even be said to constitute "a tradition," as though such a thing exists in isolation from other traditions, then Magdi Guirguis's recent book will take you into some fascinating cultural alleyways.

To see Coptic iconography situated in a wider cultural context, there are numerous books, including this one, this one, and this one. I would also recommend the respected work of the scholar Nelly Van Doorn-Harder in several places, including this book which has a chapter on Coptic art.

Ethiopian Christianity and Iconography:

And now to the Ethiopian tradition. For some general studies that will give you historical context, there are several recent volumes. See, e.g., this one. For those who read German, this book (which I have only skimmed) appears to offer a wide-ranging overview. Like the Guirguis book above, this scholarly study looks at the complex cultural connections between Ethiopian iconography in a period of turbulence and transition.

Narrowing in slightly on Ethiopian churches and monasteries, which of course feature icons, we are starting to see several books devoted to these appear in English in the last decade, including this one. Just this year we had an historical overview of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. I have not read it yet, but the author, John Binns, is a respected scholar at Cambridge whose other works I have read and recommended.

This book treats just one form of images/symbols, viz., Ethiopian crosses. This book, from the invaluable Gorgias Press (which all those interested in Eastern Christianity should keep regular eye on), does something similar in a more scholarly way.

This book looks at royal connections between Ethiopian art and court.

This book looks at illustrated Ethiopian manuscripts at Oxford. Similarly, this book looks at Ethiopian illustrated gospel books.

Finally, turning to iconography proper, let me end by recommending two "coffee table" type books I sometimes look at again and again just for the sheer exuberance and joy of the colours and details: African Zion: The Sacred Art of Ethiopia by M. Heldman and S. Munro-Hay. Published by Yale University Press in 1993, there are still copies floating around for those who are interested.

And then this hefty collection, now twenty years old, but still worth tracking down: Ethiopian Icons : Catalogue of the Collection of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies Addis Ababa University by Stanislaw Chojnacki.

There is, let me note in conclusion, still ample work to be done here studying this tradition if there are aspiring graduate students out there. There are, as I noted at the outset, often dozens of new books in English alone in one year alone devoted to the Byzantine tradition alone. The Coptic and Ethiopian (to say nothing at all of other lesser known Eastern Christian traditions--e.g., the Georgian, Armenian, Syro-Malabar, etc.) traditions are still comparatively poorly understood by anglophone historians and theologians; but the Ethiopian is a profound, venerable, beautiful tradition deserving of all the once and future love we call scholarship that we can devote to it.

Hearing Voices or Hearing God?

Historically of course when psychology, psychiatry, or psychoanalysis has turned to something called "religion" (a definition of which is not at all an agreed-upon thing), it is very often done so in reductionist and simplistic ways at best; at worst it has pathologized "religion" as the province of neurotic people.

More recently, however, some clinicians and others have attempted to move beyond such an approach, trying to understand "religious" practices and beliefs on their own terms, and even realizing that some of them are practiced by perfectly healthy people. I have shown some examples of this on this blog and elsewhere.

Now we have a new book that will add to and enrich this discussion. I'm looking forward to reading Hearing Voices and Other Matters of the Mind: What Mental Abnormalities Can Teach Us About Religions by Robert N. McCauley and George Graham (Oxford University Press, 2020), 280pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
A man with schizophrenia believes that God is instructing him through the public address system in a bus station. A nun falls into a decades-long depression because she believes that God refuses to answer her prayers. A neighborhood parishioner is bedeviled with anxiety because he believes that a certain religious ritual must be repeated, repeated, and repeated lest God punish him. To what extent are such manifestations of religious thinking analogous to mental disorder? Does mental dysfunction bring an individual closer to religious experience or thought? Hearing Voices and Other Unusual Experiences explores these questions using the tools of the cognitive science of religion and the philosophy of psychopathology.
Robert McCauley and George Graham emphasize underlying cognitive continuities between familiar features of religiosity, of mental disorders, and of everyday thinking and action. They contend that much religious thought and behavior can be explained as the cultural activation of our natural cognitive systems, which address matters that are essential to human survival: hazard precautions, agency detection, language processing, and theory of mind. Those systems produce responses to cultural stimuli that may mimic features of cognition and conduct associated with mental disorders, but which are sometimes coded as "religious" depending on the context.
The authors examine hallucinations of the voice of God and of other supernatural agents, spiritual depression often described as a "dark night of the soul," religious scrupulosity and compulsiveness, and challenges to theistic cognition that Autistic Spectrum Disorder poses. Their approach promises to shed light on both mental abnormalities and religiosity.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Russian Orthodox Nationalism During the Gorbachev Years

As I noted on here recently, we have seen, and are still seeing, a slew of books on post-Soviet religiosity in Eastern Europe. Released earlier this year is a unique volume that backs up into the last days of the Soviet period to take a look: Sophie Kotzer, Russian Orthodoxy, Nationalism and the Soviet State during the Gorbachev Years, 1985-1991 (Routledge, 2020), 188pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This book examines how the Russian Orthodox Church developed during the period of Gorbachev’s rule in the Soviet Union, a period characterised by perestroika (reform) and glasnost (openness). It charts how official Soviet policy towards religion in general and the Russian Orthodox Church changed, with the Church enjoying significantly improved status. It also discusses, however, how the improved relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the state, and the Patriarchate’s support for Soviet foreign policy goals, its close alignment with Russian nationalism and its role as a guardian of the Soviet Union’s borders were not seen in a positive light by dissidents and by many ordinary believers, who were disappointed by the church’s failure in respect of its social mission, including education and charitable activities.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Byzantine Sex, Gender, and Race

The world "intersectionality" evokes anxious sneers from some people who rarely give evidence of any serious thought, much less any thought informed by history or psychology. But the term, however much it may appear a species of contemporary jargon, simply refers to what good scholars have always done: examine connections between multiple phenomena.

Forthcoming in October is a book that does this for some of the most explosive issues of our time and indeed of all time: Roland Betancourt, Byzantine Intersectionality: Sexuality, Gender, and Race in the Middle Ages  (Princeton University Press, October 2020), 288pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
While the term “intersectionality” was coined in 1989, the existence of marginalized identities extends back over millennia. Byzantine Intersectionality reveals the fascinating, little-examined conversations in medieval thought and visual culture around matters of sexual and reproductive consent, bullying and slut-shaming, homosocial and homoerotic relationships, trans and nonbinary gender identities, and the depiction of racialized minorities. Roland Betancourt explores these issues in the context of the Byzantine Empire, using sources from late antiquity and early Christianity up to the early modern period. Highlighting nuanced and strikingly modern approaches by medieval writers, philosophers, theologians, and doctors, Betancourt offers a new history of gender, sexuality, and race.
Betancourt weaves together art, literature, and an impressive array of texts to investigate depictions of sexual consent in images of the Virgin Mary, tactics of sexual shaming in the story of Empress Theodora, narratives of transgender monks, portrayals of same-gender desire in images of the Doubting Thomas, and stereotypes of gender and ethnicity in representations of the Ethiopian Eunuch. He also gathers evidence from medical manuals detailing everything from surgical practices for late terminations of pregnancy to save a mother’s life to a host of procedures used to affirm a person’s gender. Showing how understandings of gender, sexuality, and race have long been enmeshed, Byzantine Intersectionality offers a groundbreaking look at the culture of the medieval world.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Oxford Handbook of Russian Religious Thought

I have been delighted to be asked to contribute to several Oxford handbooks and collections over the last few years. But even before doing so I recognized how valuable these books were, which very often feature leading scholars in various fields giving a helpfully comprehensive treatment of a given area. That will be no different in a forthcoming handbook late this year: The Oxford Handbook of Russian Religious Thought, eds. George Pattison, Randall A. Poole, and Caryl Emerson (Oxford UP, November 2020), 736pp.

About this collection the press tells us this:
The Oxford Handbook of Russian Religious Thought is an authoritative new reference and interpretive volume detailing the origins, development, and influence of one of the richest aspects of Russian cultural and intellectual life - its religious ideas. After setting the historical background and context, the Handbook follows the leading figures and movements in modern Russian religious thought through a period of immense historical upheavals, including seventy years of officially atheist communist rule and the growth of an exiled diaspora with, e.g., its journal The Way. Therefore the shape of Russian religious thought cannot be separated from long-running debates with nihilism and atheism. Important thinkers such as Losev and Bakhtin had to guard their words in an environment of religious persecution, whilst some views were shaped by prison experiences. Before the Soviet period, Russian national identity was closely linked with religion - linkages which again are being forged in the new Russia. Relevant in this connection are complex relationships with Judaism.

In addition to religious thinkers such as Philaret, Chaadaev, Khomiakov, Kireevsky, Soloviev, Florensky, Bulgakov, Berdyaev, Shestov, Frank, Karsavin, and Alexander Men, the Handbook also looks at the role of religion in aesthetics, music, poetry, art, film, and the novelists Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Ideas, institutions, and movements discussed include the Church academies, Slavophilism and Westernism, theosis, the name-glorifying (imiaslavie) controversy, the God-seekers and God-builders, Russian religious idealism and liberalism, and the Neopatristic school. Occultism is considered, as is the role of tradition and the influence of Russian religious thought in the West.

Here, also, is the table of contents on which you will recognize many names featured, reviewed, or interviewed on here over the years:

FOREWORD, Metropolitan Hilarion Of Volokalamsk
INTRODUCTION

PART I HISTORICAL CONTEXTS
1: Christianity in Rus' and Muscovy, David Goldfrank
2: The Orthodox Church and Religious Life in Imperial Russia, Nadieszda Kizenko
3: The Orthodox Church and Religion in Revolutionary Russia, 1894-1924, Vera Shevzov
4: Russian Religious Life in the Soviet Era, Zoe Knox

PART II THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
5: The Theological-Aesthetic Vision of Metropolitan Filaret, Oleg V. Bychkov
6: Russian Orthodox Thought in the Church's Clerical Academies, Patrick Lally Michelson
7: Petr Chaadaev and the Slavophile-Westernizer Debate, G. M. Hamburg
8: Slavophilism and the Origins of Russian Religious Philosophy, Randall A. Poole
9: Nihilism, Victoria Frede
10: Dostoevsky, George Pattison
11: Tolstoy, Caryl Emerson
12: Vladimir Soloviev as a Religious Philosopher, Catherine Evtuhov

PART III THE RELIGIOUS-PHILOSOPHICAL RENAISSANCE, 1900-1922
13: God-seeking, God-building, and the New Religious Consciousness, Erich Lippman
14: Theosis in Early Twentieth-Century Russian Religious Thought, Ruth Coates
15: The Liberalism of Russian Religious Idealism, Randall A. Poole
16: Sergei Bulgakov's Intellectual Journey, 1900-1922, Regula M. Zwahlen
17: Pavel Florensky: At the Boundary of Immanence and Transcendence, Christoph Schneider
18: The Personalism of Nikolai Berdiaev, Ana Siljak
19: The Name-Glorifiers (Imiaslavie) Controversy, Scott M. Kenworthy
20: Judaism and Russian Religious Thought, Dominic Rubin

PART IV ART IN RUSSIAN RELIGIOUS THOUGHT
21: Russian Religious Aesthetics in the First Half of the Twentieth Century, Victor V. Bychkov
22: 'Musical Metaphysics' in Late Imperial Russia, Rebecca Mitchell
23: Furor Liturgicus: The Religious Concerns of Russian Poetry, Martha M. F. Kelly
24: The Icon and Visual Arts at the Time of the Russian Religious Renaissance, Clemena Antonova

PART V RUSSIAN RELIGIOUS THOUGHT ABROAD
25: The Way, The Journal of the Russian Emigration (1925-1940), Antoine Arjakovsky
26: Berdyaev and Christian Existentialism, George Pattison
27: Lev Shestov: The Meaning of Life and the Critique of Scientific Knowledge, Ramona Fotiade
28: Sergius Bulgakov in Exile: The Flowering of a Systematic Theologian, Fr. Robert F. Slesinski
29: Semyon Frank, Philip Boobbyer
30: Lev Karsavin, Martin Beisswenger
31: Varieties of Neopatristics: Georges Florovsky, Vladimir Lossky, and Alexander Schmemann, Paul L. Gavrilyuk
32: 'The Work': The Teachings of G. I. Gurdieff and P. D. Ouspensky in Russia and Beyond, Steven J. Sutcliffe And John P. Wilmett

PART VI RELIGIOUS THOUGHT IN SOVIET RUSSIA
33: Alexei Losev: 'The Last Russian Philosopher' of the Silver Age, Sr. Theresa Obolevitch
34: Religious Thought and Experience in the Prison Camps, Andrea Gulotta
35: Seeking God and Spiritual Salvation in Russian Cinema, Alina Birzache
36: Mikhail Bakhtin, Caryl Emerson
37: Alexander Men and Russian Religious Thought in the Post-Soviet Situation, Katerina Kocandrle Bauer And Tim Noble

PART VII ASSESSMENTS
38: Tradition in the Russian Theological World, Rowan Williams
39: The Influence of Russian Religious Thought on Western Theology in the Twentieth Century, Paul Valliere
40: The Tradition of Christian Thought in the History of Russian Culture, Igor I. Evlampiev

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Liturgical Past in Byzantium and Early Rus

Forthcoming in August is a paperback edition of a book first published in September 2019: Sean Griffin, The Liturgical Past in Byzantium and Early Rus (Cambridge University Press, 2020), 285pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
The chroniclers of medieval Rus were monks, who celebrated the divine services of the Byzantine church throughout every day. This study is the first to analyze how these rituals shaped their writing of the Rus Primary Chronicle, the first written history of the East Slavs. During the eleventh century, chroniclers in Kiev learned about the conversion of the Roman Empire by celebrating a series of distinctively Byzantine liturgical feasts. When the services concluded, and the clerics sought to compose a native history for their own people, they instinctively drew on the sacred stories that they sang at church. The result was a myth of Christian origins for Rus - a myth promulgated even today by the Russian government - which reproduced the Christian origins myth of the Byzantine Empire. The book uncovers this ritual subtext and reconstructs the intricate web of liturgical narratives that underlie this foundational text of pre-modern Slavic civilization.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Revolution, Memory, and Religion in Contemporary Ukraine

Well do I recall standing in a freezing sleet/snow mix on Parliament Hill in the capital city of Her Britannic Majesty's senior dominion in 2004 with many other Ukrainian Canadians showing support for the Orange Revolution. Before and since then I have always tried to keep an eye on the various developments in the country in which I spent the summer of 2001 teaching, a country I would love to return to if given the chance.

Since 2004, of course, much has happened. The analysis of those developments continues to catch up with events on the ground, as here with a recent scholarly collection, Three Revolutions: Mobilization and Change in Contemporary Ukraine I: Theoretical Aspects and Analyses on Religion, Memory, and Identity, eds. Pawel Kowal and Georges Mink (Ibidem Press, 2019), 800pp.

About this collection the publisher tells us this:
Volume One of Three Revolutions presents the overall research and discussions on topics related to the revolutionary events that have unfolded in Ukraine since 1990. The three revolutions referred to in this project include: the Revolution on Granite (1990); the Orange Revolution (2004–2005); and the Euromaidan Revolution (2013–2014). The project’s overall goal was to determine the extent to which we have the right to use the term “revolution” in relation to these events. Moreover, the research also uncovered the methodological problems associated with this task. Lastly, the project investigated to what extent the three revolutions are connected to each other and to what extent they are detached.Hence, the research in this volume not only discusses the theoretical aspects but also provides new analyses on such issues as religion, memory, and identity in Ukraine.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Post-Communist Romanian Orthodoxy

The number of books treating post-communist religion and much else in Eastern Europe seems to have picked up pace again. Later this summer we shall have another: The Orthodox Church and National Identity in Post-Communist Romania by Adrian Velicu (Palgrave Macmillan, August 2020), 178pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This book explores the Romanian Orthodox Church’s arguments on national identity to legitimize its own place in a post-communist Romania. The work traces the clergy’s deployment of the concepts of Christian Orthodoxy and Latin legacy as part of an uncharted constellation of arguments in contemporary intellectual history. A survey of public intellectuals’ opinions on national identity complements the Church’s views. The investigation attempts to offer an insight into the Church’s efforts to re-assert itself, given free rein in a post-dictatorial world of accelerated modernization. After clarifying and surveying the Church’s claims on institutional and national identity, the book then also explores the secular ideas on the subject. The subsequent analysis treats this material as “speech acts” (statements doing, not only saying, something) which are occasionally out of sync. Against a background of secularization, the Church’s rhetoric articulates a distinct line of thought in the post-89 intellectual landscape.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Inochentism in Russian and Romanian Orthodoxy

I've only heard a couple of papers at conferences over the years about Inochentism, so I'm no expert, but it has always fascinated me. Now I can indulge in learning much more about this movement thanks to a new book by James A. Kapalo, Inochentism and Russian Orthodoxy: Religious Dissent in the Russian and Romanian Borderlands. of Resistance (Routledge, 2019), 296pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This book explores the history and evolution of a controversial new religious movement that emerged in the Russian borderlands of Moldova and Ukraine in the context of the Russian revolutionary period. It centres around the charismatic preaching of Inochentie, a monk of the Orthodox Church, known to his followers as the ’Prophet of Fire’, who inspired an apocalyptic movement that was soon labelled heretical by the Orthodox Church and persecuted as politically subversive by Soviet state authorities. This book charts the emergence and development of Inochentism through the twentieth century based on oral testimonies, folk narratives and previously unstudied secret police and church archival material. Focusing on the role that religious persecution and social marginalization has played in the transformation of this understudied and much vilified group, the author explores a series of counter-narratives that challenge the mainstream historiography of the movement and highlight the significance of the concept of ’liminality’ in relation to the study of new religious movements and Orthodoxy. This book constitutes the first systematic study in the English language of an Eastern European ’home-grown’ religious movement taking a ’grass-roots’ ethnographic approach to the problem of minority religious identities in post-Socialist Eastern Europe.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Ronald Heine on Origen's Life and Thought

One of the several interesting "rehabilitations" we have seen in the last several decades of previously controverted figures is of course Origen. We've already seen, thanks to Augustine Casiday, that Origen's supposed "disciple" Evagrius has been exonerated of various charges against him. Now it seems increasingly hard to sustain some of the charges against Origen as well.

For an overview of his life, which has been much studied in the last 15 years or so, we have a new book by Ronald Heine: Origen: An Introduction to His Life and Thought (Cascade, 2019), 182pp. I previously interviewed Heine here about an earlier work on Origen.

Heine is a well-known Origen scholar, and author, editor, and/or translator of such previous works as The Commentary of Origen on the Gospel of St Matthew as well as Origen's Commentary on the Gospel According to John, Books 13-32.

About this new book of his, the publisher tells us this:
The late second and early third century was a turbulent time in the Roman Empire and in the relationship between the empire and the church. Origen was the son of a Christian martyr and was himself imprisoned and tortured in his late life in a persecution that targeted leaders of the church. Deeply pious and a gifted scholar, Origen stands as one of the most influential Christian teachers in church history, and also one of the most controversial. This introduction to Origen begins by looking at some of the circumstances that were formative influences on his life. It then turns to some key elements in his thought. The approach here differs from that taken by most earlier studies by working from the central position that Scripture had for Origen. Heine argues that Origen’s thought, in his later life especially, reflects his continual interaction with the Bible.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

La Belle Provence est une Hotbed of Religious Craziness?

My dear friend, the Archpriest Robert Anderson, lived in Aylmer, Quebec on chemin de la Montagne, enabling him to refer to himself as a real mountain-top hermit, which he was in his own charming and inimitable ways. After the turn of the century until his shocking death in December 2010, I visited that house many times for drinks, dinner, discussion, and then in the summers went up regularly to cut the grass and look after the place as he spent every year from late June through August teaching in Ukraine and then often visiting family in Greece and other parts of Europe. One summer, after debating which day of the week to go up to cut the grass, and indifferently thinking it didn't really matter, I rather suddenly decided to go up mid-afternoon only to be greeted with this bizarre hissing noise as I unlocked the house and went in. It sounded like water but I thought that impossible...until I went to the basement where his vast library (I'd estimate at least 3500 volumes) was kept, and where the pump on his well had burst, and was showering the entire basement in water! There was a good inch or more on the floor by the time I got there and had to hire a plumber to come fix the pump. But praise God we lost almost no books or the liturgical paraphernalia he kept in his wee basement chapel.

In any event Fr Bob, had spent long stretches of his student years in and around Paris, where he became fluent in French (as he was in several other languages, most self-taught, including Ukrainian). He would go on to teach French and theology in Catholic schools for over 30 years. So he was always fascinated by francophone culture in Canada and, in a Flannery O'Connor vein, used to speak to me regularly of how much he thought Quebec was haunted by its recently rejected Catholic past coming out of the Révolution tranquille. His experience was that you just had to waft a bit of incense and trot out some Gregorian chant and you could immediately, if only briefly and not permanently, evoke waves of nostalgia from Quebecois Catholics.

In place of an often repressive Catholicism (or so the myths run in Quebec, where its Catholic phase, especially under Maurice Duplessis, is sometimes called la grande noirceur), what developed in that province after 1965 was often a fascinating but bizarre mixture of hyper-reactionary Catholicism, "new agey" cults, very liberal and often strange (and drug addled) "spiritual" practices, and much else besides. It was fascinating to discuss with him, who had a hilariously well-honed taste for kitsch, which Quebec still abounds in.

All this is just a long preface to say how much he would have been fascinated by a brand-new book: The Mystical Geography of Quebec:Catholic Schisms and New Religious Movements, eds., S.J. Palmer, Susan J., M. Geoffroy, and P.L.Gareau (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), 287pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This study of new religious movements in Quebec focuses on nine groups—including the notoriously violent Solar Temple; the iconoclastic Temple of Priapus; and the various “Catholic” schisms, such as those led by a mystical pope; the Holy Spirit incarnate; or the reappearance of the Virgin Mary. Eleven contributing authors offer rich ethnographies and sociological insights on new spiritual groups that highlight the quintessential features of Quebec's new religions (“sectes” in the francophone media). The editors argue that Quebec provides a favorable “ecology” for alternative spirituality, and explore the influences behind this situation: the rapid decline of the Catholic Church after Vatican Il; the “Quiet Revolution,” a utopian faith in Science; the 1975 Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms; and an open immigration that welcomes diverse faiths. The themes of Quebec nationalism found in prophetic writings that fuel apocalyptic ferment are explored by the editors who find in these sectarian communities echoes of Quebec’s larger Sovereignty movement.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Liturgical Mysticism

I have used David Fagerberg's Theologia Prima in my classes for fifteen years now. And after reading that one book, students always very enthusiastically seek out his other writings, including, more recently, Liturgical Asceticism. But he has several others worth your time, including the one discussed here in my interview with him.

At the very end of last year, his latest book was published: Liturgical Mysticism (Emmaus Academic, 2019), 200pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Some think that liturgy is formal, public, and for ordinary people, while mysticism is uncontrollable, private, and for extraordinary saints. Is there a connection between the two? In this volume, David Fagerberg proposes that mysticism is the normal crowning of the Christian life, and the Christian life is liturgical.
We intuitively sense that liturgy and theology and mysticism have an affinity. Liturgical theology should reveal liturgy’s mystical heart. Liturgical theology asks “What happens in liturgy?” and liturgical mysticism asks “What happens to us in liturgy?”, and perfects our interior liturgy. In Liturgical Mysticism, Fagerberg directs the reader to look fixedly at Christ, who is the Mystery present in liturgy, and who bestows his resurrection power upon his adopted children.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

In the Shadow of Constantine

Interest in Byzantine history always seems to remain relatively high, and will be further fed in July with the publication of a book in the publisher's New Approaches to Byzantine History and Culture series: The Sons of Constantine, AD 337-361:In the Shadows of Constantine and Julian, eds., Nicholas Baker-Brian, and Shaun J. Tougher (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), 466pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This edited collection focuses on the Roman empire during the period from AD 337 to 361. During this period the empire was ruled by three brothers: Constantine II (337-340), Constans I (337-350) and Constantius II (337-361). These emperors tend to be cast into shadow by their famous father Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor (306-337), and their famous cousin Julian, the last pagan Roman emperor (361-363). The traditional concentration on the historically renowned figures of Constantine and Julian is understandable but comes at a significant price: the neglect of the period between the death of Constantine and the reign of Julian and of the rulers who governed the empire in this period. The reigns of the sons of Constantine, especially that of the longest-lived Constantius II, mark a moment of great historical significance. As the heirs of Constantine they became the guardians of his legacy, and they oversaw the nature of the world in which Julian was to grow up. The thirteen contributors to this volume assess their influence on imperial, administrative, cultural, and religious facets of the empire in the fourth century.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Nationalism and Conservatism in Orthodox Churches

The problem of nationalism within the Christian East is so well known as to almost be something of a commonplace. But that doesn't mean the problem has gone away, or does not shape-shift as the years go by, or is unworthy of continued study and critique. A recently published collection looks at all these issues anew: S.B. 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, May 22, 2020

Daniel Galadza, Robert Taft, and the History of Communion Spoons

I should hope you count no savages among your so-called friends who might utter such horrifying phrases as "Byzantine liturgical history is of no use in the 21st-century." If they do say such things, send them here for some remedial therapy at the hands of a young practitioner who has already proven himself a worthy successor to the late Robert Taft. I refer, of course, and not without some bias, to Daniel Galadza, author of Liturgy and Byzantinization in Jerusalem. I interviewed him here about that book.

Daniel quotes in there one of the most valuable of many quotable lines from Taft: history is instructive, but not normative. Each generation of the Church remains free to determine events and affairs for itself. It is not "traditional" simply to copy what some past practice was without consideration of what has changed, of what is different now. We were all given minds by God to use in our own time and by our own lights, guided, to be sure, by the past, but never its prisoner.

If you wish a powerful but short explanation of why this is so, then you would do well to track down a copy of Hans Urs von Balthasar, either in his 1939 essay "The Fathers, the Scholastics, and Ourselves" or, perhaps more readily to hand, the very eloquent introduction to Presence and Thought: An Essay on the Religious Philosophy of Gregory of Nyssa.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Athanasius of Alexandria

Lois Farag, whose scholarship on Coptic Christianity I have previously noted on here, has turned her hand to the most prominent of the prelates ever to occupy Egypt, and one of the theological giants of that crowded and eventful fourth century: Lois Farag, Athanasius of Alexandria (Cascade, 2020), 188pp.

About this new book we are told this by the publisher:
Athanasius of Alexandria, a famous theologian and historical figure, is quoted by many but known by few. His famous dictum, "For he became human that we might be made god (theopoiēthōmen)" is explained within the context of his theology and spirituality. The Introduction familiarizes the reader with Athanasius's writings and the historical context of his theology. The reader will engage with the Athanasian language and thought that shaped the Christian understanding of the Trinity. The reader also takes a journey through Athanasius's understanding of the human person, created in the image of God and living the life of renewal. The Introduction aims to guide the reader to a Christian theologian who had the courage to oppose emperors and bishops, and to endure exiles and other threats because of his unwavering theological convictions.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Catching up with the Armenians

If you read my first book on the papacy, or my book last year on the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, then you will know (with more detail than you could possibly want!) just how deep my admiration and love for the Armenian Church is. I focus primarily on their utterly unique ecclesial structures, but there is so much to admire in their forbearance in the face of a singular history of suffering and genocide, in their liturgical and theological traditions and, perhaps mundanely, in their hospitality and food which I have been very graced to receive on several occasions.

2020 is promising to be a banner year for further scholarly studies about the Armenian Church. We started off in January with Monastic Life in the Armenian Church: Glorious Past - Ecumenical Reconsideration edited by Jasmine Dum-Tragut and Dietmar W. Winkler (Lit Verlag, 2020), 224pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:

Monasticism is a vital feature of Christian spiritual life and has its origins in the Oriens Christianus. The present volume contains studies on Armenian Monasticism from various perspectives. The task is not only to produce historical studies. The aim is also to contribute to and reflect on monasticism today. Authors come from the Armenian Apostolic Catholicosate of Ejmiacin, the Holy See of Cilicia, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and the  Armenian-Catholic Church, as well as from the Benedictine and  Franciscan Orders of the Catholic Church. The experts reflected on the glorious past of Armenian monasticism and agreed to evaluate future challenges ecumenically to give more insight into both past and present Armenian monasticism.

In early June, Stanford University Press is bringing out Brokers of Faith, Brokers of Empire: Armenians and the Politics of Reform in the Ottoman Empire by Richard E. Antaramian (SUP, 2020), 224pp.

About this book the publisher offers us this précis:
The Ottoman Empire enforced imperial rule through its management of diversity. For centuries, non-Muslim religious institutions, such as the Armenian Church, were charged with guaranteeing their flocks' loyalty to the sultan. Rather than being passive subjects, Armenian elites, both the clergy and laity, strategically wove the institutions of the Armenian Church, and thus the Armenian community itself, into the fabric of imperial society. In so doing, Armenian elites became powerful brokers between factions in Ottoman politics—until the politics of nineteenth-century reform changed these relationships. In Brokers of Faith, Brokers of Empire, Richard E. Antaramian presents a revisionist account of Ottoman reform, relating the contention within the Armenian community to broader imperial politics. Reform afforded Armenians the opportunity to recast themselves as partners of the state, rather than as brokers among factions. And in the course of pursuing such programs, they transformed the community's role in imperial society. As the Ottoman reform program changed how religious difference could be employed in a Muslim empire, Armenian clergymen found themselves enmeshed in high-stakes political and social contests that would have deadly consequences.
Finally in mid-July we will have the publication of Russia's Entangled Embrace: The Tsarist Empire and the Armenians, 1801-1914 by Stephen Badalyan Riegg (Cornell University Press, 2020), 328pp.

About this book the publisher provides this blurb:
Russia's Entangled Embrace traces the relationship between the Romanov state and the Armenian diaspora that populated Russia's territorial fringes and navigated the tsarist empire's metropolitan centers.
By engaging the ongoing debates about imperial structures that were simultaneously symbiotic and hierarchically ordered, Stephen Badalyan Riegg helps us to understand how, for Armenians and some other subjects, imperial rule represented not hypothetical, clear-cut alternatives but simultaneous, messy realities. He examines why, and how, Russian architects of empire imagined Armenians as being politically desirable. These circumstances included the familiarity of their faith, perceived degree of social, political, or cultural integration, and their actual or potential contributions to the state's varied priorities.
Based on extensive research in the archives of St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Yerevan, Russia's Entangled Embrace reveals that the Russian government relied on Armenians to build its empire in the Caucasus and beyond. Analyzing the complexities of this imperial relationship―beyond the reductive question of whether Russia was a friend or foe to Armenians―allows us to study the methods of tsarist imperialism in the context of diasporic distribution, interimperial conflict and alliance, nationalism, and religious and economic identity.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Byzantine Liturgical Emotions

It seems to me that it may have been Susan Ashbrook Harvey's 2006 book Scenting Salvation: Ancient Christianity and the Olfactory Imagination that started this century's ongoing interest in the role of the senses, the corporeal, and the emotional within Eastern Christian studies. Along comes a new book expanding this ever-growing picture for us of embodied life in the Christian, especially Byzantine, East: Andrew Mellas, Liturgy and the Emotions in Byzantium: Compunction and Hymnody (Cambridge University Press, Aug. 2020), 222pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This book explores the liturgical experience of emotions in Byzantium through the hymns of Romanos the Melodist, Andrew of Crete and Kassia. It reimagines the performance of their hymns during Great Lent and Holy Week in Constantinople. In doing so, it understands compunction as a liturgical emotion, intertwined with paradisal nostalgia, a desire for repentance and a wellspring of tears. For the faithful, liturgical emotions were embodied experiences that were enacted through sacred song and mystagogy. The three hymnographers chosen for this study span a period of nearly four centuries and had an important connection to Constantinople, which forms the topographical and liturgical nexus of the study. Their work also covers three distinct genres of hymnography: kontakion, kanon and sticheron idiomelon. Through these lenses of period, place and genre this study examines the affective performativity hymns and the Byzantine experience of compunction.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Old Believers and the Search for Unity

Having very recently drawn attention to a new book about the Old Believers, I am pleased to see they and their plight are getting more attention this year, in a book set for release this autumn: James White, Unity in Faith?: Edinoverie, Russian Orthodoxy, and Old Belief, 1800–1918 (Indiana University Press, Nov. 2020), 282pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Established in 1800, edinoverie (translated as "unity in faith") was intended to draw back those who had broken with the Russian Orthodox Church over ritual reforms in the 17th century. Called Old Believers, they had been persecuted as heretics. In time, the Russian state began tolerating Old Believers in order to lure them out of hiding and make use of their financial resources as a means of controlling and developing Russia's vast and heterogeneous empire. However, the Russian Empire was also an Orthodox state, and conversion from Orthodoxy constituted a criminal act. So, which was better for ensuring the stability of the Russian Empire: managing heterogeneity through religious toleration, or enforcing homogeneity through missionary campaigns? Edinoverie remained contested and controversial throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, as it was distrusted by both the Orthodox Church and the Old Believers themselves. The state reinforced this ambivalence, using edinoverie as a means by which to monitor Old Believer communities and employing it as a carrot to the stick of prison, exile, and the deprivation of rights. In Unity in Faith?, James White's study of edinoverie offers an unparalleled perspective of the complex triangular relationship between the state, the Orthodox Church, and religious minorities in imperial Russia.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Doukhobors in Canada

Growing up in Canada in the 1980s, I well recall several history classes in which we discussed the arrival of various immigrant groups, the treatment (shameful, even today) of First Nations, and the presence of certain distinct religious minorities, including the Doukhobors, who are featured in a newly translated work: The Chronicles of Spirit Wrestlers' Immigration to Canada: God is not in Might, but in Truth, ed. and trans. Veronika Makarova with Larry A. Ewashen (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 304pp + illustrations.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This book describes the history in late 19th-century Russia and immigration to Canada of an ethnic and religious group known as Doukhobors, or Spirit Wrestlers. The book is a translation into English of the Russian original authored by Grigoriǐ Verigin, published in 1935. The book’s narrative starts with the consolidation of Doukhobor beliefs inspired by the most famous Doukhobor leader, Pëtr Verigin. It describes the arrival of Doukhobors in Canada, their agricultural and industrial accomplishments in Saskatchewan and British Columbia, and the clashes and misunderstandings between Doukhobors and the Canadian government. The narrative closes in 1924, with the scenes of Pëtr Verigin’s death in a yet unresolved railway car bombing, and of his funeral. The author emphasizes the most crucial component of Doukhobor beliefs: their pacifism and unequivocal rejection of wars and military conflicts. The book highlights other aspects of Doukhobor beliefs as well, including global community, brotherhood and equality of all the people on earth, kind treatment of animals, vegetarianism, as well as abstinence from alcohol and tobacco. It also calls for social justice, tolerance, and diversity.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

New Blog

Readers may or may not be relieved to know that I have started a second blog, reflecting a new phase in my life: Books in Psychotherapy, Psychoanalysis, and Counselling. I will therefore be posting books in those categories almost exclusively on the new blog, and thus far less frequently than I have in the past few years on this blog, whose focus on Eastern Christianity will remain. I will from time to time cross-list posts that I think readers of both blogs may wish to read if you are not in the habit of checking both.

Friday, May 8, 2020

A History of Muslim-Christian Relations

The original of this book is now twenty years old, and I read it many years ago now, finding it profitable in places. I shall be keen to see what is updated in this second edition of Hugh Goddard, A History of Christian-Muslim Relations (Edinburgh University Press, 2020), 256pp.

The publisher gives us this short description of the book:
Christians and Muslims comprise the world's two largest religious communities. This book looks at the history of their relationship - part peaceful co-existence and part violent confrontation - from their first encounters in the medieval period up to the present. It emphasises the theological, cultural and political context in which perceptions and attitudes have developed and gives a depth of historical insight to the complex current Christian-Muslim interactions across the globe.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Ps-Denys and Christian Visual Culture

Recently released is a book that treats one of the most mysterious and debated figures of Christian antiquity in the context of ante-iconoclastic history: Pseudo-Dionysius and Christian Visual Culture, c.500–900eds. Dell’Acqua, Francesca, Mainoldi, Ernesto Sergio (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), xxix+329pp; 8 b/w illustrations, 25 illustrations in colour.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This book uses Pseudo-Dionysius and his mystic theology to explore attitudes and beliefs about images in the early medieval West and Byzantium. Composed in the early sixth century, the Corpus Dionysiacum, the collection of texts transmitted under the name of Dionysius the Areopagite, developed a number of themes which have a predominantly visual and spatial dimension.  Pseudo-Dionysius’ contribution to the development of Christian visual culture, visual thinking and figural art-making are examined in this book to systematically investigate his long-lasting legacy and influence. The contributors embrace religious studies, philosophy, theology, art, and architectural history, to consider the depth of the interaction between the Corpus Dionysiacum and various aspects of contemporary Byzantine and western cultures, including ecclesiastical and lay power, politics, religion, and art.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Bulgakov on the Apocalypse of John

The Aschendorff Verlag of Münster sent me their new catalogue a few weeks ago and in it I note their  very recent publication of The Apocalypse of John: An Essay in Dogmatic Interpretation by the great Russian theologian Sergius Bulgakov (2019), xiii+392pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
The Russian Orthodox theologian Fr. Sergii Bulgakov's final work, The Apocalypse of John, is more than an epilogue to his major systematic trilogy, On God-humanity. Published posthumously in 1948, this commentary on the final book of the New Testament can be considered the conclusion of his work as a whole. Written "in the face of the very apocalypse of life" during the Second World War, Bulgakov's commentary is not focused on trepidation before final judgement, but reflects deeply on the possibility of hope in the midst of the tragedy of human history, and joy at the prospects of God's final triumph, the transfiguration of creation: it is 'the divine story of the victory of the Lamb'.
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