"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).


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Will the Real Cassian Please Stand Up?

At his introduction to the All-America Council of the Orthodox Church of America in Seattle in November 2011, the newly appointed chancellor, the Archpriest John Jillions recounted an amusing story (borrowed from a sermon of Met. Anthony Bloom) about St. Nicholas and St. John Cassian coming down from heaven to assist a Russian peasant stuck in the mud. Cassian, more fastidious about not himself getting dirty, was not as helpful as Nicholas and so, the story concludes, the Lord tells them both that Nicholas gets two feast-days in the liturgical calendar while Cassian will be commemorated on February 29th.

Who is this Cassian and what do we know of him? Two books this year may help us understand him further. First, from Ashgate this month is Christopher J. Kelly, Cassian's Conferences (Ashgate New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology, and Biblical Studies, 2012, 196pp.).


About this book the publisher tells us:
This book explores Cassian's use of scripture in the Conferences, especially its biblical models to convey his understanding of the desert ideal to the monastic communities of Gaul. Cassian intended the scriptures and, implicitly, the Conferences to be the voices of authority and orthodoxy in the Gallic environment. He interprets familiar biblical characters in unfamiliar ways that exemplify his ideal. By imitating their actions the monk enters a seamless lineage of authority stretching back to Abraham. This book demonstrates how the scriptures functioned as a dynamic force in the lives of Christian monks in the fourth and fifth centuries, emphasizes the importance of Cassian in the development of the western monastic tradition, and offers an alternative to the sometimes problematic descriptions of patristic exegesis as "allegory" or "typology". Cassian has been described as little more than a provider of information about Egyptian monasticism, but a careful reading of his work reveals a sophisticated agenda to define and institutionalize orthodox monasticism in the Latin West. 
Then from Brill and set for release in June of this year, is:
P. Tzamalikos, The Real Cassian Revisited: Monastic Life, Greek Paideia, and Origenism in the Sixth Century


About this book the publisher tells us:

This is a critical analysis of texts included in Codex 573 (ninth century, Monastery of Metamorphosis, Meteora, Greece), which are published along with the present volume, in the same series. The Codex, entitled ‘The Book of Monk Cassian the Roman’, reveals a sixth-century heretofore unknown intellectual, namely, Cassian the Sabaite, native of Scythopolis, being its real author. By means of Medieval forgery, he has been eclipsed by a figment currently known as ‘John Cassian of Marseilles’, native of Scythia. Exploration reveals critical aspects of the interplay between Hellenism and Christianity, the Origenism and pseudo-Origenism of the sixth century, and Christian influence upon Neoplatonism in Late Antiquity. Cassian the Sabaite is probably the last great representative of a prolonged fruitful autumn of Late Antique Christian scholarship, who saw Hellenism as a treasured patrimony to draw on, rather than as a demon to be exorcised -which resulted in his ‘second death’(Rev. 2,11).

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dialogue with Islam

David Bertaina, whom I interviewed here, is the author of a recent book, Christian and Muslim Dialogues: The Religious Uses of a Literary Form in the Early Islamic Middle East (Gorgias, 2011) whose details you may read here.

Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies sent the book out for expert review by Gabriel Said Reynolds, who is the Tisch Family Associate Professor of Islamic Studies and Theology at the University of Notre Dame. Reynolds, the editor of  The Quran in Its Historical Context (Routledge, 2007) and the author most recently of The Emergence of Islam: Classical Traditions in Contemporary Perspective (Fortress, 2012), has written other works in the field of Islamic studies. 

Reynolds says that Bertaina's treatment of Christian-Muslim dialogues offers us a "clear, organized, and insightful presentation" and is "the first systematic scholarly discussion in English of this literature." He concludes by noting that "Bertaina’s work is a valuable contribution in light of the ever-growing interest in Muslim-Christian dialogue today."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Atonement

One not infrequently comes across self-appointed spokesmen for Orthodoxy who, having fed all the world's poor and solved all its other problems, have time to invent risible caricatures of Anselm of Canterbury. Almost invariably those referring to him (or, rather, sneering at him) and his theory of atonement have never read him--indeed, would not know enough Latin to read one sentence of the Proslogion or Cur Deus Homo in the original. Nevertheless they cheerfully assert without any evidence that Anselm's theory, and it alone, is the operative one in Western soteriology, and thus a source of irreconcilable difference with the East. This is all tedious nonsense of course, made more absurd by its studied ignorance of the vast influence of many other figures--to say nothing of the fact that the Catechism of the Catholic Church pays no attention whatsoever to Anselm.

Along comes a recent book to offer a fresh look at theories of atonement variously understood:


About this book, the publisher tells us:
Recent decades have witnessed an explosion of new perspectives on “atonement theory,” the traditional name for reflections on the meaning of Christ’s work. These new theologies view Christ as a political figure and mobilize social theory to understand the contemporary context and Christ’s meaning for that context. Politics of Redemption demonstrates that pre-modern theologians also understood Christ’s role in a fundamentally social way. The argument proceeds by analysing the most important and original contributors to the tradition of atonement theory (Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa, Anselm, and Abelard).
The investigation reveals that they all work within a shared social-relational logic based on the solidarity of all human beings and the irreducible relatedness of humanity and the rest of creation. Having brought this social-relational logic to the surface, the work concludes by sketching out a fresh atonement theory as a way of showing that our understanding of Christ’s work and of its relevance for our life together is enriched by foregrounding the question of how creation, and particularly the human social sphere, is structured.
Kotsko includes in his book chapters on such crucially important Eastern Fathers as St. Irenaeus of Lyons, about whom not a few other important books have been written in the last two decades, and St. Gregory of Nyssa, on whom we have similarly seengreatly renewed interest in the last number of years by such scholars as Brian Daleyand others.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Arab-Byzantine Diplomacy

As I have noted before, we still do not know enough about the first encounters between Eastern Christians and Muslims as the latter emerged from the Arab world to encounter the former in the Byzantine empire. Perhaps a new book may deepen our understanding: Maria Vaiou, Diplomacy in the Early Islamic World: A Tenth-Century Treatise on Arab-Byzantine Relations (Tauris Academic, 2011, 288pp.).

About this book the publisher tells us:
Arab messengers played a vital role in the medieval Islamic world and its diplomatic relations with foreign powers. An innovative treatise from the tenth century (Rusul al-Mulik, Messengers of Kings) is perhaps the most important account of the diplomacy of the period, and it is here translated into English for the first time. Rusul al-Mulik draws on examples from the Qur’an and other sources which extend from the period of al- jihiliyya to the time of the Abbasid caliph al-Mu‘tasim (218-227/833-842). 
In the only medieval Arabic work which exists on the conduct of messengers and their qualifications, the author Ibn al-Farri rejects jihadist policies in favor of quiet diplomacy and a pragmatic outlook of constructive realpolitik. Rusul al-Mulik is an extraordinarily important and original contribution to our understanding of the early Islamic world and the field of International Relations and Diplomatic History.

Towards a Local Orthodox Church

The Huffington Institute's 2012 Ecumenical Symposium is fast approaching. Are you registered yet? 



Under the theme of "Pan-Orthodoxy in North America: Towards a Local Church," several authors whom I have reviewed or noted on here previously will be presenting papers at this exciting and welcome gathering, including:
A complete listing of speakers is available here

About the conference theme, the organizers tell us:
Offering much more than ethnic foods and festivals, Orthodoxy is often called America's best-kept secret. Orthodox America's story is not simply about fragrant incense, ancient chants, and holy icons. Rather, Orthodoxy in America is complex mosaic of historical circumstances, struggles for self-identity, and intriguing people.
The 2012 Huffington Ecumenical Symposium presents Pan-Orthodoxy in North America: Towards a Local Church on March 16-17, 2012. Come to enjoy food and fellowship, and to hear Orthodox and Catholic experts explain the history of Orthodoxy in North America, discuss the problem of uniting several jurisdictions into one church, and introduce a clear view of North American Pan-Orthodoxy through liturgical music, social justice, and the parish.
Ahmanson Auditorium -- University Hall 10001 LMU DriveLos Angeles, CA 90045  
Attendance is free, but registration is strictly required. Go here to do so. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Gender and Writing

To read anything written in "religious studies" in the last four decades is to know that "gender" is a huge issue, and all manner of thing is investigated or reinvestigated through a "gendered" hermeneutic. Much of that is illuminating; much is not. Along comes a new book that continues this trend: Kim Haines-Eltzen, The Gendered Palimpsest: Women, Writing, and Representation in Early Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2011), 214pp. About this book, the publisher tells us that it is:

  • The first book-length study to take seriously historical questions of women's roles in the production, reproduction, and dissemination of early Christian literature
  • An examination of the text-critical evidence for the deliberate modification of textual representations of female characters
Books and bodies, women and books lie thematically at the center of The Gendered Palimpsest, which explores the roles that women played in the production, reproduction, and dissemination of early Christian books, and how the representation of female characters is contested through the medium of writing and copying. The book is organized in two sections, the first of which treats historical questions: To what extent were women authors, scribes, book-lenders, and patrons of early Christian literature? How should we understand the representation of women readers in ascetic literature? The second section of the book turns to text-critical questions: How and why were stories of women modified in the process of copying? And how did debates about asceticism - and, more specifically, the human body - find their way into the textual transmission of canonical and apocryphal literature?

Throughout, Haines-Eitzen uses the notion of a palimpsest in its broadest sense to highlight the problems of representation, layering, erasure, and reinscription. In doing so, she provides a new dimension to the gendered history of early Christianity.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Lenten Consumption

Unlike last year, alas, the Julian and Gregorian paschalions do not coincide this year but are a week apart. Today is Pure Monday for Byzantine Christians on the Gregorian calendar; next Monday is the same for those on the Julian. 

It is a singular cause for despair that, after forty-odd years of talking about the importance of finding a common date for Pascha--an issue so important it was addressed by the first ecumenical council of Nicaea in 325 no less--Christians still have not done so, an unhappy state that rather strongly suggests that more than a few of us are not, in fact, willing to do so. Talk is cheap: where is the action? In the absence of action, sometimes one cannot entirely escape the otherwise intolerable thought that perhaps unity really is an eschatological prospect. In that case, all of us had better be prepared for a very stiff trial indeed before the awesome tribunal of Christ. 

Anyway, for the start of Great Lent on either calendar, we have a new book from Oxford University Press reminding us that Christians not only fast and abstain from food, but are called to askesis and discernment in all of life: Laura M. Hartman, The Christian Consumer: Living Faithfully in a Fragile World (OUP, 2011), 272pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Be it fair trade coffee or foreign oil, our choices as consumers affect the well-being of humans around the globe, not to mention the natural world and of course ourselves. Consumption is a serious ethical issue, and Christian writers throughout history have weighed in, discussing topics such as affluence and poverty, greed and gluttony, and proper stewardship of resources. These voices are often at odds, however. In this book, Laura M. Hartman formulates a coherent Christian ethic of consumption, imposing order on the debate by dividing it into four imperatives: Christians are to consume in ways that avoid sin, embrace creation, love one's neighbor, and envision the future. An adequate ethics of consumption, she argues, must include all four considerations as tools for discernment, even when they seem to contradict one another. The book includes discussions of Christian practices such as fasting, gratitude, solidarity, gift-giving, Sabbath-keeping, and the Eucharist. Using exemplars from the Christian tradition and practical examples from everyday life, The Christian Consumer offers a thoughtful guide to ethical consumption. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Vatican II and Eastern Catholics in Canada

As I have noted before, 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, that landmark event that, inter alia, did so much to reshape for the better relations between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. A recent book looks at the council's legacy in Canada, and three chapters in that book focus on Eastern Christian reactions: Michael Attridge, Catherine Clifford, Gilles Routhier, eds.,Vatican II: Experiences Canadiennes/Canadian Experiences (University of Ottawa Press, 2011), 580pp.).

About this book the publisher tells us:
Le deuxième concile du Vatican (1961-1965) fut l’un des événements religieux les plus importants du vingtième siècle. Au Canada, il coïncida avec une période de changements culturels et sociétaux sans précédent, entraînant chez les évêques catholiques canadiens un réexamen de la place et de la mission de l’Église dans le monde. Pendant quatre ans, les évêques catholiques canadiens se réunirent avec leurs collègues de partout dans le monde pour réfléchir aux questions urgentes qui se posaient à l’Église et en débattre. Ce livre bilingue étudie l’interprétation et la réception de Vatican II au Canada, analysant diverses questions, dont le rôle des médias, les réactions des autres chrétiens, les contributions des participants canadiens, l’impact du Concile sur la pratique religieuse et sa contribution à la progression du dialogue interreligieux.
The Second Vatican Council (1961-1965) was one of the most significant religious events of the twentieth-century. In Canada, it was part of a moment of unprecedented cultural and societal change, causing Canadian Catholics to reexamine the church’s place and mission in the world. For four years, Canadian Catholic bishops met with their peers from around the globe to reflect on and debate the pressing issues facing the church. This bilingual volume explores the interpretation and reception of Vatican II in Canada, looking at many issues including the role of the media, the reactions of other Christians, the contributions of Canadian participants, the council’s impact on religious practice and its contribution to the growth of inter-religious dialogue.
The chapters of particular interest include:
  • The Council Diary of Metropolitan Maxim Hermaniuk and Turning Points in the History of the Catholic Church: An Interpretation (Peter Galadza, Saint Paul University, Ottawa) 
  • Canada's Ukrainian Catholics and Vatican II: A Guide for the Future or Struggling with the Past? (Myroslaw Tataryn, St. Jerome’s University, Waterloo) 
  • ‘A Great Historic Day’: The Conciliar Diaries of Metropolitan Maxim Hermaniuk (Jaroslav Z. Skira, Regis College, Toronto)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Daniel Buxhoeveden and Gayle Woloschak on Orthodoxy and Science

A recent publication from Ashgate looks set to begin filling a considerable gap in the science-religion debate: Science and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Under the editorship of Daniel Buxhoeveden and Gayle Woloschak, this volume brings together numerous scholars reflecting on some of the most pressing questions today:
Contents: Preface; Part I Science and Orthodox Christianity: Compatibility and Balance: Living with science: Orthodox elders and saints of the 20th century, Daniel Buxhoeveden; Science and the Cappadocians: Orthodoxy and science in the 4th century, Valerie Karras; Divine action and the laws of nature: an Orthodox perspective on miracles, Christopher Knight; Ecology, evolution and Bulgakov, Gayle Woloschak. Part II Science and Orthodox Christianity: Limitations and Problems: Science and reductionism, Thomas Mether; Limitations of scientific knowledge and Orthodox religious experience, Daniel Buxhoeveden; Discerning the spirit in creation: Orthodox Christianity and environmental science, Bruce Foltz; Orthodox bioethics in the encounter between science and religion, John Breck. Part III Science and Orthodox Christianity: Selected Topics: The broad science-religion dialogue: Maximus, Augustine, and others, Gayle Woloschak; Technology: life and death, Gayle Woloschak; Apophaticism and political economy, C. Clark Carlton; Towards an Orthodox philosophy of science, Thomas Mether; Bibliography; Index.
I asked both the editors for an interview to discuss this book and the issues it addresses. Here are their thoughts:

AD: Tell us about both your backgrounds:

Daniel: I received my BS from the State University of New York, Stony Brook with a major in philosophy and minor in physical anthropology; my MS and Ph.D. in biological anthropology from the University of Chicago; and a JD from Loyola University, New Orleans. My scientific specialty is the minicolumnar organization of the neocortex and I have researched differences between humans and nonhuman cortex as well as differences between controls and individuals with autism, Asperger's syndrome, Down syndrome, and schizophrenia in extant populations.

My focus in the last few years has been religion and science. I received a grant from the John Templeton Foundation and the Virginia Farah Foundation to pursue this topic in the Orthodox Church. I am director of the science and religion initiative at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. I began this endeavor some 6-7 years ago with about 8 faculty and now have over 30 faculty on a mailing list.

Gayle: I received my Ph.D. from the Medical College of Ohio in Toledo and did post-doctoral training at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. I worked at  Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago as a senior scientist, and then moved to Northwestern as a professor about ten years ago. I teach radiation oncology to residents, and nanotechnology and molecular biology to graduate students. I have a lab group of about fifteen people and enjoy my research in nanotechnology and radiation biology.

I also teach several science-religion courses at the Zygon Centre for Religion and Science at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, and am associate director of the Centre. I am a member of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and active in a number of groups within the Church in the US. 

AD: How did you come to work together on this particular volume?

Daniel: One of the aims of the grants, especially from the Virginia Farah Foundation, was to complete a book on science and the Orthodox Church. I asked Gayle if she would work with me on this project since we have worked together since I first began my science and religion initiative. Gayle is probably the single most qualified Orthodox person in North America on the topic of science and religion and I was fortunate to have her help.

Gayle: Dan had a Templeton Grant to work on this, and I was a collaborator on his grant and we had agreed to do this book as part of the grant funding. Dan and I have known each other for at least five or six years now, and so collaboration was natural.

AD: For whom did you put together this volume--did you have a particular audience in mind?

Daniel: The primary audience would be scholars and academics. This was not aimed specifically for a lay audience. Having said this, the goal of the book is to engage the Orthodox community beginning with Orthodox scholars. The Orthodox Church lags behind the efforts of other Christians in the dialogue with science and this book is an attempt to turn this around.

Gayle: I think we were hoping for a scholarly audience of people who are interested in the interface of science and religion within the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church does not have as much dialogue on this issue as needed in the face of the many technological issues that are coming up. The book was part of a plan to engage Orthodox and other Christians in the discussion more intensely. These sorts of discussions will require an interdisciplinary approach and our goal was to try to bring different people with different backgrounds together for discussion.

AD: This book seems in many respects to be ground-breaking. Work on science
and religion has not often been done from an Eastern Christian perspective.
What areas especially remain under-explored?

Daniel: What I am hoping for is to stimulate interest in and discussion among the Orthodox community. The lay people may rightly be confused if they do not have a sense of where the Orthodox church stands on some important issues. I used the word ‘Church’ in the title rather than theology precisely because I think this is a Church issue and not one that needs to be addressed only by theologians and scholars, though they need to lead the way. Gayle would have a better grasp of what is lacking in the Orthodox Church in this regard than I would. However, I would say that the topic of biological evolution cannot be avoided. Another vital and under- explored area is neuroscience and the question of consciousness and brain. The latter topic is especially critical for theology. A more general but equally important theme that needs to be openly addressed is what is our approach to modern science (and technology)? Is it one of hostility, dialogue with mutual respect? Can science ever inform theology and vice versa? Is modern science fundamentally at odds with an Orthodox understanding of life as some claim? So I see both fundamental questions like this as well as specific issues that need to be addressed in an atmosphere of mutual respect that involves scientists, Church scholars, other academic disciplines, and clergy among others.

Gayle: It would be easy for me to come up with a huge laundry list here, but I think you can find Orthodox scholars who have written on many of the issues engaged by modern science. The broader issue is the need for discussion on these topics. Few problems can be resolved by a single scholar writing a single book or article. The hope is always that a work of scholarship elicits more discussion to help the Orthodox faithful gain a consensus on a given issue. I gave a workshop recently to a parish on stem-cell research, and I did a survey before and after the presentation. I was stunned at how much of a convergence of ideas there was after the presentation, mostly as a result of discussion that took place during and after the presentation. Within our parishes there is a huge need to engage many of the topics discussed in Science and the Eastern Orthodox Church and others as well. We need to create space where these discussions can be done openly and honestly.

AD: Are there unique perspectives on science that Orthodoxy has to offer that may have been overlooked or are otherwise missing from Western Christian
discussions and treatments?

Daniel: I think so. Certainly work by people like Alexei Nesteruk is a different approach that utilizes a definition of theology as knowledge of God rather than its more academic understanding. I think the emphasis on the experiential aspect of Orthodox experience of God may be different than many other Christian perspectives and actually remove a sense of conflict with science. This kind of approach (knowledge of God as experiential and hence ‘positive’ as opposed to speculative and rationalistic) is argued by a number of modern Greek theologians as well. Another persective is that historically there has not been the antagonism and problems with modern science that arose in the West.

Gayle: Because of my position at the Zygon Center, I am often asked to attend and speak at Lutheran Church conferences in bioethics, science and religion, and on other topics. There are some common grounds that can be found among Christians and perhaps all believers on particular issues--e.g., respect for the earth, love and caring for the other, respect for life, and others. Nevertheless, the Orthodox Church brings a unique perspective to these discussions.  Among Christians, the Orthodox view is often highly respected as being well-grounded in the Fathers and Tradition of the Church. I often tease my Lutheran colleagues that we may get to the same place on particular issues after all but we will probably get there differently, calling to mind different teachings and perspectives than they would.

AD: In the US there is a debate now going on 80 years or more about whether
theories of evolution can or should be taught in school. What perspectives
does Orthodoxy bring to those debates?

Daniel: In high schools we teach the current models used in the sciences. My approach is that if biological evolution is a model in science then that is what we use. We do not make exceptions for those we do not like. The problem is multifaceted but includes a misunderstanding of what biological evolution is, what the evidence is, the nature of a model in science, what kind of knowledge scientific knowledge is, as well as the literal approaches to Genesis that seem unnecessary and un-Orthodox. Coming to Orthodoxy I found in general a much more open approach to evolution, to science, and an appreciation that Genesis is not a book that is concerned or focused on geology, biology, or physics.

Gayle: This question would take me a long time to answer. I wrote an article for St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly recently on the issue and some of the chapters in the book also touch on the matter.  I do not believe that the Orthodox Church ever accepted a literal interpretation of Scripture and an acceptance of the Genesis 1 account of creation as literal would negate the many other creation accounts found in the Old Testament, including those in Genesis 2, Psalms, Job, and others. As a scientist I believe that the evidence for evolution is not refutable and therefore I can find no grounds as to why it would not be taught in schools. Evolution is the unifying model for all of biology, and without it nothing in biology makes sense (to paraphrase the evolutionary scholar and Orthodox Christian Theodosius Dobzhansky). Most of medicine uses evolution--we test drugs on chimpanzees and not on frogs because chimps are evolutionarily more related to us; thus rational drug design uses evolutionary tools and more.

AD: One area where Orthodoxy seems to have made a particular and manifest
mark recently is in the religion-ecology debate, led in no small part by the so-called Green Patriarch, His All-Holiness Bartholomew of Constantinople. What is unique about the Orthodox contributions to this debate? Who else is doing
work in the area from an Orthodox perspectives.

Daniel: I just reviewed a new book by a host of Orthodox scholars on this topic. I was very impressed with the scope of discussion and look forward to the publication of this work. The best answer I can give to that is to take a look at Science and the Eastern Orthodox Church. This is a topic that easily fits into an Orthodox ethos and at the same time Orthodoxy can rescue the ‘ecological movement’ from excesses like pantheism misanthropy.

Gayle: There is a large number of scholars working in this area, and you can find some of them in our book. I know that Fr. Deacon John Chryssavgis and Bruce (Seraphim) Folz have been trying to complete a book edited from a conference on Orthodoxy and ecology held several years ago.  The Orthodox Society of the Transfiguration has worked for many years to bring an ecological consciousness to the Orthodox Church. Many parishes have green activities including several that have gone to solar panels and other means of ecological awareness.  

AD: It has almost become a truism that technology today far outstrips our moral reflection. That is, we can do things, but the question of whether we should do them remains unexplored or under-explored. Which issues in particular do you think Orthodoxy should be more deeply addressing in the twenty-first century?

Daniel: One of them may be transhumanism, the use of technological replacements for the human body. At the extreme some call for going beyond the human with the merging of biological aspects to machines. This mindset sees the body as weak and the machine as enduring and is also associated with attempts to prolong life indefinitely. The latter is also something we should examine: the notion of trying to prolong human life beyond the traditional norms. Another is the use of communication devices and their effects on loss of the personal. One writer described our age as one in which communication has increased immensely while 90% of what is being communicated is banal in nature. There is also the question of technology and privacy and the overall problem of how to fit our devices into a sacramental world view and personal life. Can it be done? Is there anything inherently wrong with our technological ‘progress’ or is it merely how it is used?

Gayle: I work in a medical school so perhaps I am most aware of technological issues in that context. I touched upon some of those in one of my chapters in Science and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Overall I believe that issues of stem-cell research and in-vitro fertilization, questions of genetic selection of offspring, genetic testing of individuals: these are issues really at the front line of life today that need to be examined. As technology increases, the number of decisions in a person's life also increases. When there was no in-vitro fertilization, the childless couple could decide to adopt or not. Now it is not just a question of whether to adopt or not, but then do we have a baby by in-vitro fertilization, do we have surrogate parents, do we do genetic testing of our child, do we do genetic selection of our child, and what do we do with unused fertilized eggs? These are just a few of the complex issues that most priests are not trained to address. I highly support the development of parish teams that include the priest and other professionals (doctors, nurses, scientists, etc.) to provide advice and counsel on these matters.

AD: Some people automatically assume the truth of the caricature that "science" is always antithetical to "religion," the former being ostensibly objective and evidence-based, and the latter subjective and superstitious. How can Orthodoxy help to overcome this divide?

Daniel: There are maybe four general ways to view the science and religion interface. One of them is the conflict model. Historians now discard this model as having no sound historical basis. Rather it was derived from two influential but highly biased and inaccurate books written in the 19th century and is also known as the Draper-White conflict thesis. Atheist and agnostic scholars seem to agree that there is no inherent conflict here. That being said, too many lay people and academics hold this view. A recent study of scientists (physical, biological, and social) at elite universities found that 47% of them believed in God. On the one hand, this is far lower than the national average but on the other it does not show an across-the-board hostility. Education is the key, which is why I am involved in the science and religion dialogue. We need to talk about this so the perceived divide does not become wider. Inherent in this is a proper understanding of what scientific knowledge is. We have to move away from what atheist philosopher of science Mary Midgley (and others), refer to as ‘imperial science.’ The key is that there is more than one form of knowing, one approach to reality, to what IS. The physical aspects of a Monet painting (the chemistry, oils, canvas, etc) are true as such but do not ‘explain’ the entirety of what the painting as a thing IS. Monet was not doing chemistry or physics: he was creating art. It depends on the question being asked: is this good art? How do we help prevent deterioration from the elements? The answer derives from different forms of knowledge. On the other hand, the physical attributes are hardly at war with the object as art--that would be silly. They help give rise to the art. We need perspective and balance.

GayleFrancisco Ayala, the winner of the Templeton Prize for Science and Religion two years ago and a Catholic priest and scientist, wrote that science is one way of knowing, but it is not the only way--we derive knowledge from many other sources including spiritual reflection, artistic expression, and others. To limit ourselves only to what is scientific limits us to the material dimension only. For Orthodox Christians, as humans we are spiritual and physical creatures both, undivided. I do not think this division between science and religion, which is the perception of much of the culture around us, is natural for humans, and certainly not natural for Orthodox. It is somehow a product of a limited way of looking at the world.

AD: Sum up for us the main themes and achievements of the book.

Daniel: The main theme is perhaps the fact that we have Orthodox scholars in North America who are willing to engage this topic. I envisioned this as only a start and hope to see follow up editions with other authors added. Most books of this kind in English are not only scarce but written by one author. I wanted to get multiple views so no one person dominates the discussion or attempts to speak for the Church at large. This is the beginning of what I hope will be a nationwide discussion. If the book helps move this along in anyway, it will have achieved its primary purpose.

GayleScience and the Eastern Orthodox Church was the work of a group of Orthodox scholars who showed their tremendous commitment to the science-religion debate by their willingness to put their thoughts and ideas to words in a cohesive way. This was exciting for me personally. The quality of the scholars and the work that was done is truly amazing and it is a credit to their talents that the book was completed. I hope that this is the first of many such projects to engage discussion on science and religion together.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Blessing of Waters

On the feast itself, I noted a forthcoming book about the great blessing of waters on Theophany. Now we have an official notice from the publisher:


Nicholas E. Denysenko, The Blessing of Waters and Epiphany: the Eastern Liturgical Tradition (Ashgate, August 2012), 196pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
This book examines the historical development of the blessing of waters and its theology in the East, with an emphasis on the Byzantine tradition. Exploring how Eastern Christians have sought these waters as a source of healing, purification, and communion with God, Denysenko unpacks their euchology and ritual context. The history and theology of the blessing of waters on Epiphany is informative for contemporary theologians, historians, pastors and students. Offering important insights into how Christians renew Baptism in receiving the blessed waters, this book also proposes new perspectives for theologizing Christian stewardship of ecology in the modern era based on a patristic liturgical synthesis. Denysenko presents an alternative framework for understanding the activity of the Trinity, enabling readers to encounter a vision of how participants encounter God in and after ritual. 
We are also given the contents:
Contents: Preface; Foreword; Introduction; Early history of the blessing of waters; History of the blessing of waters: stage 1 (8th–10th centuries); History of the blessing of waters: stage 2 (11th–13th centuries); History of the blessing of waters: stage 3 (14th–16th centuries; The origins of the 'Great are You' prayer; Memory and praise of the Lord's theophany; Epiclesis and the gift of the Holy Spirit; Pastoral considerations; Conclusion; Appendices; Bibliography; Index.
Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies has published Denysenko's work in the past--both original articles and a book review, and it has always been of superlative quality according to our international jury of reviewers. I am greatly looking forward to seeing this book and to having it expertly reviewed in 2013. 

Food and Faith in Christian Culture

The great Protestant theologian Stanley Hauerwas once said--quoting, I believe, the Jewish scholar and theologian David Novak of the University of Toronto--that "any religion that does not tell you what to do with your genitals and your pots and pans is simply uninteresting." As Eastern Christians start to think about and prepare for the Great Fast of Lent, a new book, released just before Christmas, takes a wide look at different practices by different Christians in relating to food: Ken Albala and Trudy Eden, eds., Food and Faith in Christian Culture (Columbia U Press, 2011, 280pp.)

The publisher says of this book:
Without a uniform dietary code, Christians around the world used food in strikingly different ways, developing widely divergent practices that spread, nurtured, and strengthened their religious beliefs and communities. Featuring never-before published essays, this anthology follows the intersection of food and faith from the fourteenth to the twenty-first century, charting the complex relationship among religious eating habits and politics, culture, and social structure.
Theoretically rich and full of engaging portraits, essays consider the rise of food buying and consumerism in the fourteenth century, the Reformation ideology of fasting and its resulting sanctions against sumptuous eating, the gender and racial politics of sacramental food production in colonial America, and the struggle to define "enlightened" Lenten dietary restrictions in early modern France. Essays on the nineteenth century explore the religious implications of wheat growing and breadmaking among New Zealand's Maori population and the revival of the Agape meal, or love feast, among American brethren in Christ Church. Twentieth-century topics include the metaphysical significance of vegetarianism, the function of diet in Greek Orthodoxy, American Christian weight loss programs, and the practice of silent eating rituals among English Benedictine monks. Two introductory essays detail the key themes tying these essays together and survey food's role in developing and disseminating the teachings of Christianity, not to mention providing a tangible experience of faith.
Chapter 9 will be of especial interest to Easter Christians: "Fasting and Food Habits in the Eastern Orthodox Church."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Retrieving Nicaea

Earlier I drew attention to a new book by Khaled Anatolios, whom I interviewed here. A patrologist and specialist in Athanasius of Alexandria, Anatolios, himself a child of Egyptian parents, has recently written Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine (Baker Academic, 2011).

I have been re-reading it in seminar this semester with my students, and finding even more buried gems in it. The issues, and especially the personages, are treated with a care and attention to detail that is not always common in histories of the conciliar era, especially histories treating doctrinal controversy. There are no cheap or easy polemics here demonizing Arius and his friends, whose thought is and was much more complex than was often portrayed. Anatolios, through patient exposition, is able serenely to show what was good in Arius--recognized as such even by his erstwhile opponents, including Alexander of Alexandria, and Athanasius--as well as what was problematic in him and in others. The book is a marvel of careful scholarship, lucid prose, and clear organization, and I warmly commend it to all who are interested in issues of Christology, Triadology, and the faith of the early Church before, during, and after Nicaea.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Mystery of Death

November is traditionally accounted the time of the dead in the West, but in the Byzantine tradition the Saturday just before the Great Fast, and several during the Fast, are accounted "Soul Saturdays" for remembering in prayer and liturgy those whom we have "loved long since but lost a while" (Newman).

Prayer for the dead is a salutary practice, as I noted before, and one which is all the more important today in a world deeply confused about death. Some of the most moving prayers in the Byzantine funeral tradition are ascribed of course to St. John of Damascus, including this idiomela in tone 8:

I weep and lament when I consider death, and when I think of those who are laid in the grave. Where is now that moving beauty created in the likeness of God? Where is the glorious form? Oh, wonder: what happened that we are now delivered up to corruption? And how did death come into our life? God alone by his will and command has power to grant peace and rest to our souls.

Two books, in addition to Juliet du Boulay's lovely book on which I have commented previously, help us think through death theologically.
The first of these is one of the books that I inherited from the vast library of the late Fr. Bob Anderson. I had never before come across Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis, The Mystery of Death (Athens: the Orthodox Brotherhood of Theologians, 1993).

In the front of this book, Fr. Bob noted that "This is a very well written book. It should be read by all seminarians. It spells out quite clearly and thoroughly some basic and fundamental teachings of Christianity and makes reference to scriptural and patristic sources." 

More recently, Taylor Carr drew to my attention a book published last year treating an Orthodox view of death and burial customs in modern North America: Mark and Elizabeth Barna, A Christian Ending (Divine Ascent Press, 2011), 169pp.

This book is described in part as "a handbook for burial in the ancient Christian tradition. While aimed at Orthodox Christians, this book would be a very helpful guide to anyone who is interested in preparing for a funeral within the context of community, without the use of corporate funeral homes, and using green and sustainable methods."

Further details, including the table of contents, and background of the authors, can be found at their website here.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies

The spring issue (vol. 53, nos. 1-2) of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies is beginning to take shape quite nicely. I will have more details as articles move through the review process and are accepted. Here for now are just some of the books we are having reviewed:

Daniel Galadza reviews Stefano Parenti, A Oriente e Occidente di Costantinopoli. Temi e problemi liturgici di ieri e di oggi (2010), a collection of articles by Parenti, a professor of liturgy at the Pontificio Ateneo Sant'Anselmo in Rome and co-editor of the oldest Byzantine euchologion, Barberini gr. 336. Galadza notes that this collection helps to "answer fundamental problems troubling liturgical scholars for the last century."

Galadza also reviews a new book on the Liturgy of St. James first noted here.

Robert Klymasz, the Zurawecky Research Fellow at the Centre for Ukrainian Canadian Studies at the University of Manitoba, reviews Myrna Kostash, Prodigal Daughter: A Journey to Byzantium, calling it a book whose journey leaves the reader "humbled, enlightened, and refreshed." 

Michael Plekon reviews Antoine Arjakovsky, En attendant le Concile de l'Eglise Orthodoxe. (For my own thoughts on this book, see the lengthy review here.) Plekon notes that this book "witnesses that he [Arjakovsky] is...a wonderful theologian of the Christian life in the 21st century."

Bradley Daugherty reviews Allen Brent, Cyprian and Roman Carthage, saying of it that it will "become a standard work and necessary reading for those seeking to understand the bishop of Carthage and his milieu."


Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen reviews John Renard, Islam and Christianity: Theological Themes in Comparative Perspective, calling it an "articulate and eloquent rendering of the major features of the theological language of Islam and Christianity."

North America's greatest Dante scholar, Anthony Esolen, reviews E.D. Karampetsos, Dante and Byzantium.

Michael Lower of the University of Minnesota reviews Thomas Asbridge, The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land. Asbridge's scholarship has attracted a great deal of attention recently, especially in Britain. Lower says that anyone interested in the Crusades "can learn a great deal from this book," which he further calls "a wonderful achievement."


Peter Galadza reviews Thomas Pott, Byzantine Liturgical Reform: A Study of Liturgical Change in the Byzantine Tradition. In a long, critical review, Galadza notes that the book is not without several problems, but that it raises crucial issues in a groundbreaking way and it "will become a classic work on Eastern Christian liturgical reform."


Myroslaw Tataryn reviews Chris Hann and Hermann Goltz, eds., Eastern Christians in Anthropological Perspective, saying of this collection that it is "very readable, well organized, and highly recommended for its refreshing and thorough perspectives on contemporary Eastern Christianity."

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Libyan Christianity

With all the recent attention on Libya, and the conflict leading to the ouster of its dictator, a new book about Christianity in that country could not be more timely: Thomas C. Oden, Early Libyan Christianity: Uncovering a North African Tradition (IV Press, 2011), 336pp.
About this book, the publisher tells us: 
The chronicle of early Libyan Christianity is not a story for a Christian audience only but also for Muslims, especially those who have an African heritage. Just as Spain has a rich history of Islam, Libya has a rich history of Christianity. In both cases the history has centuries of experience to offer to a broken and conflicted world. Libyans will benefit by more clearly realizing this fact: the soil on which they walk daily has embedded in it five hundred years of Christian roots and residues. This does not imply any claim to any form of territorial or political legitimacy. It only asks for the accurate recollection of a story long forgotten. Nor is it a story whose audience primarily resides in schools and churches and mosques. It is for all who seek the truth that is revealed through the honest study of history.
All three of the monotheistic faiths—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—hark back to Abraham. All three impinge on Libyan history. All three agree on one crucial premise: The majesty of God is revealed in history. The providence of God is being worked out in actual personal histories. This history can be examined by skeptics and secularists, as well as those already convinced.Whether recognized or not, the truth of God’s presence is being revealed before our eyes daily through humans, according to Jews and Christians, with some analogies in Islam. This is a beginning point in the comparative exegesis of sacred texts of all three traditions. The Christian narrative will be informative to open-minded Muslims willing to listen to the ancient African background and ancestry of their own classic Muslim intellectual history. The Muslim phase of the African story emerges in the last half of the Common Era’s first millennium. The Muslim narrative will be illuminating to open-minded Christians without denying their faith. Christians will learn about how much of the spirit of Western intellectual achievement began in Africa, and in no small part in Libya. In doing so, they will learn of the ways in which Christians of Spain and Europe have been beneficiaries of Muslim philosophical, moral and scientific wisdom.Whether Christian or Muslim or secular or tradition-oriented, African youth have not had the opportunity to hear their own full story told. The texts and ideas and movements that Africa spawned before Europe discovered them must be more fully translated, disseminated and studied before this will happen.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What is a Book?

The University of Notre Dame Press--which, let's be honest, publishes, as we all know, only the most outstanding of books--will, in March, be bringing out a volume sure to interest all bibliophiles, Eastern Christian and otherwise: Joseph A. Dane, What Is a Book?: The Study of Early Printed Books (UND Press, 2012, 288pp. 

Dane is the author of numerous previous and related works, including: 
In What is a Book? the publisher tells us that Dane offers 
an introduction to the study of books produced during the period of the hand press, dating from around 1450 through 1800. Using his own bibliographic interests as a guide, Dane selects illustrative examples primarily from fifteenth-century books, books of particular interest to students of English literature, and books central to the development of Anglo-American bibliography. Part I of What Is a Book? covers the basic procedures of printing and the parts of the physical book—size, paper, type, illustration; Part II treats the history of book-copies—from cataloging conventions and provenance to electronic media and their implications for the study of books. 
Dane begins with the central distinction between a “book-copy”—the particular, individual, physical book—and a “book”—the abstract category that organizes these copies into editions, whereby each copy is interchangeable with any other. Among other issues, Dane addresses such basic questions as: How do students, bibliographers, and collectors discuss these things? And when is it legitimate to generalize on the basis of particular examples? Dane considers each issue in terms of a practical example or question a reader might confront: How do you identify books on the basis of typography? What is the status of paper evidence? How are the various elements on the page defined? What are the implications of the images available in an online database? And, significantly, how does a scholar’s personal experience with books challenge or conform to the standard language of book history and bibliography? Dane’s accessible and lively tour of the field is a useful guide for all students of book history, from the beginner to the specialist.
Then, the following month, the University of Toronto Press will be bringing out a book that looks at the process of writing, editing, and publishing: Darcy Cullen, ed., Editors, Scholars, and the Social Text

About this book the publisher tells us:
An academic book is much more than paper and ink, pixels and electrons. A dynamic social network of authors, editors, typesetters, proofreaders, indexers, printers, and marketers must work together to turn a manuscript into a book. Editors, Scholars, and the Social Text explores the theories and practices of editing, the processes of production and reproduction, and the relationships between authors and texts, as well as manuscripts and books. By bringing together academic experts and experienced practitioners, including editorial specialists, scholarly publishing professionals, and designers, Editors, Scholars, and the Social Text offers indispensable insight into the past and future of academic communication.
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