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

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Handbook of Septuagint Research

Just released last month, this new T&T Clark Handbook of Septuagint Research, eds. William A. Ross  and W. Edward Glenny (T&T Clark, 2021), 512pp. is just the sort of collection aimed at Eastern Christians above all, for we have kept the LXX in official and unofficial use well beyond anything found in the West for centuries. 

About this collection the publisher tells us this:

Students and scholars now widely recognize the importance of the Septuagint to the history of the Greek language, the textual development of the Bible, and to Jewish and Christian religious life in both the ancient and modern worlds. This handbook is designed for those who wish to engage the Septuagint in their research, yet have been unsure where to turn for guidance or concise, up-to-date discussion. The contributors break down the barriers involved in the technical debates and sub-specialties as far as possible, equipping readers with the tools and knowledge necessary to conduct their own research.

Each chapter is written by a leading Septuagint scholar and focuses upon a major area of research in the discipline, providing an overview of the topic, key debates and views, a survey or demonstration of the methods involved, and pointers towards ongoing research questions. By exploring origins, language, text, reception, theology, translation, and commentary, with a final summary of the literature, this handbook encourages active engagement with the most important issues in the field and provides an essential resource for specialists and non-specialists alike.

Monday, March 1, 2021

The Women of Soviet Catacombs

I almost avoided posting this notice of a forthcoming book for I am beyond tired of certain people traducing Soviet history in their transparently tendentious manner to scare us into thinking we shall soon see gulags erected in the United States any day now for these self-proclaimed Christians who adhere, with ostentatious sanctimony, to certain views on sex and gender which, they hope--not disguising their alarmingly overdeveloped sadomasochistic urges--will get them clapped in irons and subject to floggings and other tortures.

Nevertheless, we must not penalize the work of legitimate scholars narrating genuine history simply for fear of giving fodder to certain adolescent bloggers and their tiresome fetishes. Thus we can look forward, later this month, to the official release of Women of the Catacombs: Memoirs of the Underground Orthodox Church in Stalin's Russia, trans. Wallace L. Daniel  (Northern Illinois University Press, March 2021), 252pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

The memoirs presented in Women of the Catacombs offer a rare close-up account of the underground Orthodox community and its priests during some of the most difficult years in Russian history. The catacomb church in the Soviet Union came into existence in the 1920s and played a significant part in Russian national life for nearly fifty years. Adherents to the Orthodox faith often referred to the catacomb church as the "light shining in the dark." Women of the Catacombs provides a first-hand portrait of lived religion in its social, familial, and cultural setting during this tragic period.

Until now, scholars have had only brief, scattered fragments of information about Russia's illegal church organization that claimed to protect the purity of the Orthodox tradition. Vera Iakovlevna Vasilevskaia and Elena Semenovna Men, who joined the church as young women, offer evidence on how Russian Orthodoxy remained a viable, alternative presence in Soviet society, when all political, educational, and cultural institutions attempted to indoctrinate Soviet citizens with an atheistic perspective. Wallace L. Daniel's translation not only sheds light on Russia's religious and political history, but also shows how two educated women maintained their personal integrity in times when prevailing political and social headwinds moved in an opposite direction.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Dumbarton Oaks Papers

No truly serious library devoted to Byzantine and Eastern Christian studies will ever want to be without an up-to-date subscription to the ongoing Dumbarton Oaks Papers. The 73rd volume, edited by Joel Kalvesmaki and coming in at 250 pages, was published last year, and it deserves your attention for its many riches, including the necrology of the great Byzantine liturgical historian Robert Taft (by his great sometime student Daniel Galadza, whom I interviewed here about his own recent book) as well as the following: 

  • Walter E. Kaegi, “Irfan Shahîd (1926–2016)”
  • Daniel Galadza, “Robert F. Taft, S.J. (1932–2018)”
  • Sylvain Destephen, “From Mobile Center to Constantinople: The Birth of Byzantine Imperial Government”
  • Dina Boero, “Making a Manuscript, Making a Cult: Scribal Production of the Syriac Life of Symeon the Stylite in Late Antiquity”
  • Alexandre M. Roberts, “Framing a Middle Byzantine Alchemical Codex”
  • Lilia Campana, “Sailing into Union: The Byzantine Naval Convoy for the Council of Ferrara–Florence (1438–1439)”
  • Hugh G. Jeffery, “New Lead Seals from Aphrodisias”
  • Maria G. Parani, “Curtains in the Middle and Late Byzantine House”
  • Kostis Kourelis, “Wool and Rubble Walls: Domestic Archaeology in the Medieval Peloponnese”
  • Kathrin Colburn, “Loops, Tabs, and Reinforced Edges: Evidence for Textiles as Architectural Elements”
  • Eunice Dauterman Maguire, “Curtains at the Threshold: How They Hung and How They Performed”
  • Sabine Schrenk, “The Background of the Enthroned: Spatial Analysis of the Hanging with Hestia Polyolbos in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection”
  • Jennifer L. Ball, “Rich Interiors: The Remnant of a Hanging from Late Antique Egypt in the Collection of Dumbarton Oaks”
  • Maria Evangelatou, “Textile Mediation in Late Byzantine Visual Culture: Unveiling Layers of Meaning through the Fabrics of the Chora Monastery”
  • Thelma K. Thomas, “The Honorific Mantle as Furnishing for the Household Memory Theater in Late Antiquity: A Case Study from the Monastery of Apa Apollo at Bawit”
  • Avinoam Shalem, “‘The Nation Has Put On Garments of Blood’: An Early Islamic Red Silken Tapestry in Split”; and 
  • Elizabeth Dospěl Williams, “A Taste for Textiles: Designing Ummayad and Early ʿAbbāsid Interiors.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Do Clothes Maketh the Monk?

Growing up an Anglican altar boy, I was fascinated by vestments, and utterly, secretly thrilled when I first got to done cassock and surplice. Uniforms of all types continue to fascinate, even if today I generally tend to wonder, as a good Freudian should, about the urges some have--stronger in others, we always assume--to dress up, to be saluted or venerated or curtsied to based in large part on titles and clothes. 

Monastics are supposed to immunize themselves from these temptations by wearing death-to-the-world black, or other simple habits often of rough and monochromatic nature. But debates about such garments are as old as monasticism itself, as a forthcoming book by Ingvild  Sælid Gilhus suggests: Clothes and Monasticism in Ancient Christian Egypt: A New Perspective on Religious Garments (Routledge, March 2021), 212pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

This book is an exploration of the ideals and values of the ascetic and monastic life, as expressed through clothes. Clothes are often seen as an extension of us as humans, a determinant of who we are and how we experience and interact with the world. In this way, they can play a significant role in the embodied and material aspects of religious practice.

The focus of this book is on clothing and garments among ancient monastics and ascetics in Egypt, but with a broader outlook to the general meaning and function of clothes in religion. The garments of the Egyptian ascetics and monastics are important because they belong to a period of transition in the history of Christianity and very much represent this way of living. This study combines a cognitive perspective on clothes with an attempt to grasp the embodied experiences of being clothed, as well as viewing clothes as potential actors. Using sources such as travelogues, biographies, letters, contracts, images, and garments from monastic burials, the role of clothes is brought into conversation with material religion more generally.

This unique study builds links between ancient and contemporary uses of religious clothing. It will, therefore, be of interest to any scholar of religious studies, religious history, religion in antiquity, and material religion.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Liturgical Dogmatics

A new book by David Fagerberg will always rocket to the top of one's must-read lists for he is one of the outstanding commentators on the great Alexander Schmemann, and also himself one of the great liturgical theologians in the Catholic world today, where he has done much to bring Eastern understandings to Western awareness. 

I have used his book, especially Theologia Prima for more than 15 years in classes, and more recently his Liturgical Asceticism as well. So I shall read his newest one with an eye to enjoyment and edification for me and my students alike when it appears in a few weeks: Liturgical Dogmatics: How Catholic Beliefs Flow from Liturgical Prayer (Ignatius Press, April 2021), 260pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

God is incomprehensible, but he is not unapproachable. What cannot be fully comprehended by dogma can be approached when we liturgize God.

What knowledge cannot fasten together, love can unite. There is a movement occurring between God and his children, and this divine economy is the subject matter of dogmatics. It is also exactly the definition of liturgy that this work assumes. Liturgy is the perichoresis of the Holy Trinity kenotically extended to invite our synergistic ascent into deification.

The Trinity's circulation of love turns itself outward, and in humility the Son and Spirit work the Father&;s good pleasure for all creation, which is to invite our ascent into participation in the very life of God, which consists of glory, love, beatitude.

All chapter topics in this volume are subdivisions of this single story stretching from alpha to omega, and they all turn out to be liturgical verities. What dogma stammers to state, liturgy celebrates in mystical participation. Liturgical Dogmatics therefore examines dogma in light of liturgy. The whole sweeping, saving activity of God, as described by dogma, is the subject of this book.

I'll see if I can arrange an interview with David, as I have done on here in the past.  

Friday, February 19, 2021

Wandering Holy Men and their Conflicts

For those who, as I noted on Monday, have begun their time in the Lenten desert, the themes of conflict, battle, and asceticism will be foremost in mind. Those also happen to be the focus of a recent book: The Wandering Holy Man: The Life of Barsauma, Christian Asceticism, and Religious Conflict in Late Antique Palestine, eds. Johannes Hahn and Volker Menze (University of California Press, 2020), 324pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Barsauma was a fifth-century Syrian ascetic, archimandrite, and leader of monks, notorious for his extreme asceticism and violent anti-Jewish campaigns across the Holy Land. Although Barsauma was a powerful and revered figure in the Eastern church, modern scholarship has widely dismissed him as a thug of peripheral interest. Until now, only the most salacious bits of the Life of Barsauma—a fascinating collection of miracles that Barsauma undertook across the Near East—had been translated. This pioneering study includes the first full translation of the Life and a series of studies by scholars employing a range of methods to illuminate the text from different angles and contexts. This is the authoritative source on this influential figure in the history of the church and his life, travels, and relations with other religious groups.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

That Bizarre Book We Call the Bible

To grow up as I did in Canada with any interests in literature and theology meant that you were more or less compelled to read the great literary critic Northrop Frye at some point, as I did more than three decades ago now when I tried to benefit from his The Great Code: the Bible and Literature. I remember very little other than the sense of exhilaration at a man who could amass so vast a learning and press it into service of what one might call a metaphysics of sorts. His ability to see and demonstrate so many connections between Scripture and English literature (and a myriad other areas it seemed) was impressive indeed. 

In one of his books he rather offhandedly speaks of the Bible as being a great sprawling mess of a book, which is just the sort of frisson an adolescent prone to uncritical piety, as I then was, is bound to find delightfully shocking. 

Those words came back to mind in reading the latest catalogue from Oxford University Press, including a new book by Kristin Swenson, A Most Peculiar Book:The Inherent Strangeness of the Bible (February 2021, 288pp.).

 About this new book the publisher tells us this:

The Bible, we are constantly reminded, is the best-selling book of all time. It is read with intense devotion by hundreds of millions of people, stands as authoritative for Judaism and Christianity, and informs and affects the politics and lives of the religious and non-religious around the world. But how well do we really know it? The Bible is so familiar, so ubiquitous that we have begun to take our knowledge of it for granted. The Bible many of us think we know is a pale imitation of the real thing.

In A Most Peculiar Book, Kristin Swenson addresses the dirty little secret of biblical studies that the Bible is a weird book. It is full of surprises and contradictions, unexplained impossibilities, intriguing supernatural creatures, and heroes doing horrible deeds. It does not provide a simple worldview: what "the Bible says" on a given topic is multi-faceted, sometimes even contradictory. Yet, Swenson argues, we have a tendency to reduce the complexities of the Bible to aphorisms, bumper stickers, and slogans. Swenson helps readers look at the text with fresh eyes. A collection of ancient stories and poetry written by multiple authors, held together by the tenuous string of tradition, the Bible often undermines our modern assumptions. And is all the more marvelous and powerful for it.

Rather than dismiss the Bible as an outlandish or irrelevant relic of antiquity, Swenson leans into the messiness full-throttle. Making ample room for discomfort, wonder, and weirdness, A Most Peculiar Book guides readers through a Bible that will feel, to many, brand new.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Resources for Great Lent 2021

The Gregorian paschalion is out by a month this year from the Julian, the latter having Pascha on the first Sunday of May, the former on the first Sunday of April. So today begins for some Eastern Christians the Great Fast. 

I would direct you here to what I wrote in 2017 for my thoughts on the best books to understand Lent and both its liturgical history as well as its ascetical practices. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Islam and Christianity in Post-Soviet Russia

The complex realities of Muslim-Orthodox interactions in Russia continue to fascinate, and to repay careful study. A recent book builds on a considerable, and ever-growing, body of literature in this area: Languages of Islam and Christianity in Post-Soviet Russia by Gulnaz Sibgatullina (Brill, 2020), 232pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

In her book, Gulnaz Sibgatullina examines the intricate relationship of religion, identity and language-related beliefs against the background of socio-political changes in post-Soviet Russia. Focusing on the Russian and Tatar languages, she explores how they simultaneously serve the needs of both Muslims and Christians living in the country today. 

Mapping linguistic strategies of missionaries, converts and religious authorities, Sibgatullina demonstrates how sacred vocabulary in each of the languages is being contested by a variety of social actors, often with competing agendas. These linguistic collisions not only affect meanings of the religious lexicon in Tatar and Russian but also drive a gradual convergence of Russia's Islam and Christianity.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Jesuits and the Psychoanalysts

I've been neglectful in not pointing out to you a book and author interview I did at the other blog I maintain. It is a book that overlaps with the focus of this blog, focusing as much of it does on Jesuit theology and psychology in Latin America in the postwar period, which is then so wonderfully linked back to the first generation of psychoanalysts around Freud. 

That book is Daniel José Gaztambide's A People's History of Psychoanalysis: from Freud to Liberation Psychology, and it is really superb. 

Monday, February 8, 2021

Sex Abuse and Harvard

To my delight, I was invited last year to give a lecture at a Harvard symposium later this spring that is focused on bringing together a very impressive and international cast of scholars, clinicians, and activists to discuss the problems of child sex abuse, not least in the Catholic Church. My book, fast approaching its second birthday, Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power, forms the backbone of my lecture, but I will also be going beyond what I wrote there to sketch out a new proposal very much in its earliest and most inchoate stage that seeks to offer some regular, structured means of healing for victims and communities. 

This proposal is indebted to a chapter in a book I discussed in some detail at my other blog. That book, the second of two in an important and rewarding collection, is also very much worth your time.

As you can see here, I am one of the speakers. That website will give you further details as to how you may following along with the conference on Zoom. 

Friday, February 5, 2021

Church of the Holy Apostles

Edited by two major scholars in the field, published in perhaps the most prestigious series for Byzantine scholarship in the anglophone world, and covering one of the most hallowed churches of Byzantium, The Holy Apostles: A Lost Monument, a Forgotten Project, and the Presentness of the Past, eds. Margaret Mullett and Robert G. Ousterhout (Dumbarton Oaks Papers/Harvard University Press, 2020, 320pp.) is a book about a building that no longer exists physically. As the publisher tells us:

Founded by Constantine the Great, rebuilt by Justinian, and redecorated in the ninth, tenth, and twelfth centuries, the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople was the mausoleum of emperors, patriarchs, and saints. It was also a key station in the ceremonies of the city, the site of an important school, a major inspiration for apostolic literature, and briefly the home of the patriarch. Despite its significance, the church no longer exists, replaced by the mosque of Mehmet II after the fall of the city to the Ottomans. Today the church is remembered primarily from two important middle Byzantine ekphraseis, which celebrate its beauty and prominence, as well as from architectural copies and manuscript illustrations.

Scholars have long puzzled over the appearance of the church, as well as its importance to the Byzantines. Anxious to reconstruct the building and its place in the empire, an early collaborative project of Dumbarton Oaks brought together a philologist, an art historian, and an architectural historian in the 1940s and 1950s to reconstruct their own version of the Holy Apostles. Never fully realized, their efforts remained unpublished. The essays in this volume reconsider their project from a variety of vantage points, while illuminating differences of approach seventy years later, to arrive at a twenty-first-century synthesis.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

From Romania to the Kingdom

On Monday I received in the mail a handsome and worthy volume that does honour to the outstanding inaugural conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA) that I attended in January 2019 in Isai, Romania. That splendid conference was superbly organized by many people, but above all Paul Gavrilyuk who is also the editor of this volume: Pilgrims Toward the Kingdom: the Beginnings of the International Orthodox Theological Association (St. Paul, MN: IOTA Publications, 2020), ix+245pp+166 illustrations.  

Having contributed to, edited, and overseen the publication of numerous sets of conference proceedings over the years (including one forthcoming late this year from Peeters), I am not used to finding such a superlative example as this. Many times published in very expensive limited print runs by academic presses, and almost never illustrated, this volume, by contrast, is a large hardcover, on high-quality paper, lavishly illustrated all in colour, and with a highly detailed index as well. As a result the entire book, like the conference itself, reflects the hard work and uncompromising approach of the editor and redounds to his credit. That said, this is not in fact a book of proceedings. Many of the papers (as mine was) have already been published elsewhere.

Instead, this book begins by tracing the roots of IOTA to the Council of Crete in 2016, and to subsequent meetings thereafter, especially the Jerusalem gathering. The structure of IOTA, and its various working groups, are then detailed along with the rationale for each of the many diverse groups, from dogmatic theology to canon law to liturgy to Byzantine studies to ecumenical studies to Scripture, missiology, literature, ecology, politics, patristics, media, and on and on. 

For me it was a glorious conference not just because of the quality of papers and people there, but also because of the location. Iasi, Romania was a lovely and charming town and one day I should be glad to go back. Since I began my involvement in the ecumenical movement in Australia in 1991, where I met and for years afterwards remained friends with a young man from Romania who gave me an icon of the Theotokos I have always treasured (it sits beside my computer in my office at the university), I have wanted to get to Romania, and finally did. That we arrived the day after Christmas into a provincial city with freshly fallen snow, and abundantly decorated for the holidays, only added to my delight in the location. 

The other outstanding feature of this conference--at which I both gave a paper and was also an official ecumenical observer--was its unapologetic model of doing theology liturgically and prayerfully. We opened in the cathedral with a moleben that was wonderfully sung, walking home from which afterwards through the snow while seeing the dazzling displays of lights only adding to our liturgy after the liturgy. As I said in an interview I gave during the conference, the fact that we were doing theology liturgically, prayerfully, constitutes both a positive model for, but also a gracious rebuke of the more typical model of academic conferences where the sessions consist of nothing but lectures. 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Monks and Crusaders Together

As I have been showing on here for over a decade, interest in "the Crusades" always remains high, even if that interest rarely translates into people properly understanding these most-misunderstood of events. A recent book continues chipping away at some of these widespread and longstanding misunderstandings: Bernard Hamilton and Andrew Jotischky, Latin and Greek Monasticism in the Crusader States (Cambridge UP, 2020), 300pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this: 

Monasticism was the dominant form of religious life both in the medieval West and in the Byzantine world. Latin and Greek Monasticism in the Crusader States explores the parallel histories of monasticism in western and Byzantine traditions in the Near East in the period c.1050-1300. Bernard Hamilton and Andrew Jotischky follow the parallel histories of new Latin foundations alongside the survival and revival of Greek Orthodox monastic life under Crusader rule. Examining the involvement of monasteries in the newly founded Crusader States, the institutional organization of monasteries, the role of monastic life in shaping expressions of piety, and the literary and cultural products of monasteries, this meticulously researched survey will facilitate a new understanding of indigenous religious institutions and culture in the Crusader states.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Christian-Muslim Relations in Syria

My survey course on Eastern Christian encounters with Islam always focuses on Syria as one of several countries we examine. The course deliberately seeks to show the great diversity in those encounters, thereby disrupting the equally lazy stereotypes that Islam is always and only either hellbent on violence, or the bringer of the greatest peace and progress ever seen. 

A recent book gives us some of the most up-to-date analysis of the situation in Syria, which has of course changed dramatically starting a decade ago now with the failed "Arab spring." Prior to all the violence that "spring" brought, Syria was a place of many considerable Christian communities--Protestant, Orthodox, and Melkite Greek Catholic, inter alia, usually managing to lead decent and productive lives. But so much has changed so dramatically, and often destructively, that we need a new guide to realities on the ground. Along comes Andrew W. H. Ashdown, Christian–Muslim Relations in Syria: Historic and Contemporary Religious Dynamics in a Changing Context (Routledge, 2020), 270pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Offering an authoritative study of the plural religious landscape in modern Syria and of the diverse Christian and Muslim communities that have cohabited the country for centuries, this volume considers a wide range of cultural, religious and political issues that have impacted the interreligious dynamic, putting them in their local and wider context.

Combining fieldwork undertaken within government-held areas during the Syrian conflict with critical historical and Christian theological reflection, this research makes a significant contribution to understanding Syria’s diverse religious landscape and the multi-layered expressions of Christian-Muslim relations. It discusses the concept of sectarianism and how communal dynamics are crucial to understanding Syrian society. The complex wider issues that underlie the relationship are examined, including the roles of culture and religious leadership; and it questions whether the analytical concept of sectarianism is adequate to describe the complex communal frameworks in the Middle Eastern context. Finally, the study examines the contributions of contemporary Eastern Christian leaders to interreligious discourse, concluding that the theology and spirituality of Eastern Christianity, inhabiting the same cultural environment as Islam, is uniquely placed to play a major role in interreligious dialogue and in peace-making.

The book offers an original contribution to knowledge and understanding of the changing Christian-Muslim dynamic in Syria and the region. It should be a key resource to students, scholars and readers interested in religion, current affairs and the Middle East.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

To Be Fully Divinized in Christ

Already by the time of this blog's birth, more than a decade ago now, I was noting the increasing number of books on theosis/divinization/deification. That number has continued to grow in the past few years as more and more Western Christians in particular have rightly realized and carefully shown that theosis is not just some bit of Orthodox exotica absent from the West, but found there in many and diverse ways.

A new book, by an editor and author who is no stranger to this topic, has just been published: Jared Ortiz, With All the Fullness of God: Deification in Christian Tradition (Fortress Press, 2021), 278pp. As you'll see at the link, there are Orthodox contributors to this volume alongside many Protestants and Catholics. 

About this collection the publisher tells us this:

Christians confess that Christ came to save us from sin and death. But what did he save us for? One beautiful and compelling answer to this question is that God saved us for union with him so that we might become “partakers of the divine nature” (1 Pet 2:4), what the Christian tradition has called “deification.” This term refers to a particular vision of salvation which claims that God wants to share his own divine life with us, uniting us to himself and transforming us into his likeness. While often thought to be either a heretical notion or the provenance of Eastern Orthodoxy, this book shows that deification is an integral part of Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and many Protestant denominations. Drawing on the resources of their own Christian heritages, eleven scholars share the riches of their respective traditions on the doctrine of deification. In this book , scholars and pastor-scholars from diverse Christian expressions write for both a scholarly and lay audience about what God created us to be: adopted children of God who are called, even now, to “be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19).

Monday, January 25, 2021

The Oxford Handbook of Ecumenical Studies

The annual "unity octave," more recently and popularly known as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, ends today, which is as fine a time as any to draw your attention to a forthcoming international collection from the most prestigious academic publisher in the world: The Oxford Handbook of Ecumenical Studies, eds., Geoffrey Wainwright and Paul McPartlan (OUP, June 2021), 696pp.

I was asked nearly a decade ago now to contribute a chapter, which it was my pleasure and honour to do: I wrote on The Church, showing ecumenical advances in ecclesiology. My chapter was submitted in 2012. 

The final production, however, has been so long delayed that one of the editors, Geoffrey Wainwright, died last year before this book was in print. Parts of it have been available electronically for some time, but now we shall soon have the whole thing in print, which is how God intended for books to be read. I mention all this not in any critical way whatsoever, but merely to commiserate with Prof. McPartlan, for I, too, have often been in the position he has been in, waiting on contributors to send in much-delayed chapters only to have some of them utterly disappear, submitting nothing (long may they roast in Purgatory!); others to promise and promise you a chapter, dragging things out indefinitely; and so on. 

In fact, my forthcoming Married Priests in the Catholic Church also saw its first stirrings of life back in 2012, and was, I hoped, going to be in print at least 3 years ago. But we editors are at the mercy of contributors and other forces we can only rarely, and often never, dragoon to our deadlines. So things always take much longer than one plans and hopes, leading me to the longstanding if counterintuitive realization that writing a book as solo author is always much easier and faster than editing a collection even if your overall word-count is far different. 

In any event, here is what the publisher tells us about this forthcoming collection: 

The Oxford Handbook of Ecumenical Studies is an unparalleled compendium of ecumenical history, information and reflection. With essay contributions by nearly fifty experts in their various fields, and edited by two leading international scholars, the Handbook is a major resource for all who are involved or interested in ecumenical work for reconciliation between Christians and for the unity of the Church. Its six main sections consider, respectively, the different phases of the history of the ecumenical movement from the mid-nineteenth century to the present; the ways in which leading Christian churches and traditions, Orthodox, Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist, and Pentecostal, have engaged with and contributed to the movement; the achievements of ecumenical dialogue in key areas of Christian doctrine, such as Christology and ecclesiology, baptism, Eucharist and ministry, morals and mission, and the issues that remain outstanding; various ecumenical agencies and instruments, such as covenants and dialogues, the World Council of Churches, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Global Christian Forum; the progress and difficulties of ecumenism in different countries, areas and continents of the world, the UK and the USA, Africa, Asia, South America, Europe, and the Middle East, ; and finally two all-important questions are considered by scholars from various traditions: what would Christian unity look like and what is the best method for seeking it? This is a remarkably comprehensive account and assessment of one of the most outstanding features of Christian history, namely the modern ecumenical movement.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Muslim-Christian Dialogues

Forthcoming in March of this year is a book that will carefully examine some initiatives that I know Eastern Christians to have been especially involved with over the last decade or so: Contemporary Christian-Muslim Dialogue: Twenty-First Century Initiatives by Douglas Pratt (Routledge, March 2021), 232pp. About this book the publisher tells us this: 

This book introduces and examines the work of two significant 21st century Christian – Muslim dialogue initiatives – "Building Bridges" and the "Christian–Muslim Theological Forum" – and gives close attention to five theological themes that have been addressed in common by them.

An overview and analysis, including inception, development, outputs and significance, together with discussion of the select themes – community, scripture, prophecy, prayer and ethics – allows for an in-depth examination of significant contemporary Muslim and Christian scholarship on issues important to both faith communities. The result is a challenging encounter to, arguably, a widespread default presumption of irredeemable mutual hostility and inevitable mutual rejection with instances of violent extremism as a consequence.

Demonstrating the reality that deep interreligious engagement is possible between the two faiths today, this book should appeal to a wide readership, including upper undergraduate and graduate teaching as well as professionals and practitioners in the field of Christian-Muslim relations.

Monday, January 18, 2021

A History of Confession in Russia

In the late 1990s I worked as research assistant to a professor, David Perrin, who was writing an historical and philosophical analysis of the sacrament of confession. It was a fascinating summer spent researching one sacrament whose practice has changed so dramatically across time and place. 

Some of those differences will be on display mid-year in a forthcoming book. This is very advanced notice for a book I definitely want to get my hands on when it comes out, as much for the topic as the author, whom I've met once or twice at conferences over the years and who has always impressed me with the caliber of her exacting scholarship: Nadieszda Kizenko, Good for the Souls: A History of Confession in the Russian Empire (Oxford University Press, June 2021), 336pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

From the moment that Tsars as well as hierarchs realized that having their subjects go to confession could make them better citizens as well as better Christians, the sacrament of penance in the Russian empire became a political tool, a devotional exercise, a means of education, and a literary genre. It defined who was Orthodox, and who was 'other.' First encouraging Russian subjects to participate in confession to improve them and to integrate them into a reforming Church and State, authorities then turned to confession to integrate converts of other nationalities. But the sacrament was not only something that state and religious authorities sought to impose on an unwilling populace. Confession could provide an opportunity for carefully crafted complaint. What state and church authorities initially imagined as a way of controlling an unruly population could be used by the same population as a way of telling their own story, or simply getting time off to attend to their inner lives.

Good for the Souls brings Russia into the rich scholarly and popular literature on confession, penance, discipline, and gender in the modern world, and in doing so opens a key window onto church, state, and society. It draws on state laws, Synodal decrees, archives, manuscript repositories, clerical guides, sermons, saints' lives, works of literature, and visual depictions of the sacrament in those books and on church iconostases. Russia, Ukraine, and Orthodox Christianity emerge both as part of the European, transatlantic religious continuum-and, in crucial ways, distinct from it.

If I can, I'll arrange an interview on here with Dr Kizenko.

Friday, January 15, 2021

St Thomas and India

Some day, please God, I might be able to make it to India. The Eastern Christian traditions in India have long remained fascinating to me along with the other religious traditions in the country (Sikhism especially), and, of course, the wonderful food. 

In the meantime, I will slake some of my interest with a new book: St. Thomas and India: Recent Research, eds. K. S. Mathew, Joseph Chacko Chennattuserry, and Antony Bungalowparambil (Fortress Press, 2020), 200pp.

About this collection the publisher tells us this:

In St. Thomas and India, renowned scholars trace the historical, religious, and cultural connections link India's Syrian Christian community with St. Thomas the Apostle. They use modern historiographical methods seek to corroborate the ancient tradition that tells of St. Thomas's missionary journey to India in the middle of the first century, in which he established seven churches in some of the major commercial centers of Malabar. From this first churches, Christianity spread throughout the region. St. Thomas in India also examines the legacy of the ancient Christianity on the Syrian community in India today, as well as exploring the various cultural and religious connections between the Syrian church in Indian and other ancient churches in the east.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Evil in Christian Dogma

The problem of evil is of course one that bedevils us all, and raises often intractable questions for us all. A new collection may help us grapple with it further. It is ecumenical in its sweep, with an Orthodox chapter by Paul Gavrilyuk whom I have interviewed and discussed on this blog over the yeras. David Luy, Matthew Levering, and George Kalantzis, eds., Evil and Creation: Historical and Constructive Essays in Christian Dogmatics (Lexham Press, 2020), 280pp. 
About this collection the publisher tells us this:
Evil is an intruder upon a world created by God and declared good. Scripture emphasizes this: laments are regularly juxtaposed with declarations of God as creator. But evil is not merely a problem for the doctrine of creation. Rather, the doctrine of creation provides a hopeful response to evil.

In Evil and Creation, David J. Luy, Matthew Levering, and George Kalantzis collect essays investigating how the doctrine of creation relates to moral and physical evil. Essayists pursue philosophical and theological analyses of evil rather than neatly solving the problem of evil itself. Including contributions from Constantine Campbell, Paul Blowers, and Paul Gavrilyuk, this volume draws upon biblical and patristic voices to produce constructive theology, considering topics ranging from vanity in Ecclesiastes and its patristic interpreters to animal suffering.

Readers will gain a broader appreciation of evil and how to faithfully respond to it as well as a renewed hope in God as creator and judge.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Body and Soul in Patristic and Byzantine Thought

For better or worse, much theology--Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox--has for the better part of four decades now at least been rather interested in all things somatic. Along comes another volume, published just a month ago, to advance our understanding of The Unity of Body and Soul in Patristic and Byzantine Thought, eds., Anna Usacheva, Jörg Ulrich, and Siam Bhayro (Verlag Ferdinand Schoeningh, 2020), 350pp.

About this collection the publisher tells us this: 

This volume explores the long-standing tensions between such notions as soul and body, spirit and flesh, in the context of human immortality and bodily resurrection. The discussion revolves around late antique views on the resurrected human body and the relevant philosophical, medical and theological notions that formed the background for this topic. Soon after the issue of the divine-human body had been problematised by Christianity, it began to drift away from vast metaphysical deliberations into a sphere of more specialized bodily concepts, developed in ancient medicine and other natural sciences. To capture the main trends of this interdisciplinary dialogue, the contributions in this volume range from the 2nd to the 8th centuries CE, and discuss an array of figures and topics, including Justin, Origen, Bardaisan, and Gregory of Nyssa. 

Friday, January 8, 2021

Post-Soviet Russian Philosophy

One hears rather a lot about the so-called Russian Silver Age of philosophy and theology, and there is certainly no shortage of publications on the life of some outstanding Russian philosophers of the 19th and 20th centuries, including the new book about Bulgakov I noted on here last week, but what about now? How has Russian philosophy been shaping up in its post-Soviet period? A new book will give us some answers: 

Russian Philosophy in the Twenty-First Century: An Anthology, eds., Mikhail Sergeev, Alexander N. Chumakov, and Mary Theis (Brill, 2020), 444pp. 

About this collection the publisher tells us this: 

Russian Philosophy in the Twenty-First Century: An Anthology provides the English-speaking world with access to post-Soviet philosophic thought in Russia for the first time. The Anthology presents the fundamental range of contemporary philosophical problems in the works of prominent Russian thinkers. In contrast to the “single-mindedness” of Soviet-era philosophers and the bias toward Orthodox Christianity of émigré philosophers, it offers to its readers the authors’ plurality of different positions in widely diverse texts. Here one finds strictly academic philosophical works and those in an applied, pragmatic format—secular and religious—that are dedicated to complex social and political matters, to pressing cultural topics or insights into international terrorism, as well as to contemporary science and global challenges.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Sacerdotal Ministry in the Early Syriac Tradition

I have a special love for the so-called Oriental Orthodox--the Copts, Armenians, and Syriac Christians especially--and so always keep an eye out for works that highlight these venerable traditions, almost all of which have suffered more for their witness than any other Christiana in the world have or will. So I commend to you a recent hefty publication by Tanios Bou Mansour, Le ministère sacerdotal dans la tradition syriaque primitive: Aphraate, Ephrem, Jacques de Saroug et Narsaï (Brill, December 2019), 622pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this in les deux langues officielles

Dans Le ministère sacerdotal dans la tradition syriaque primitive, Tanios Bou Mansour présente une analyse du sacerdoce chrétien chez quatre auteurs syriaques, Aphraate, Éphrem, Jacques et Narsaï, en l’éclairant par le sacerdoce du Christ et en le plaçant dans la continuité du sacerdoce de l’Ancien Testament. L’originalité et l’actualité de nos auteurs résident dans leur conception de l’élection, de la succession apostolique, de traits “sacerdotaux” attribués aux femmes dans la Bible, et surtout du prêtre qui, mandaté par l’Eglise, exécute l’action du Christ et de l’Esprit. 

In Le ministère sacerdotal dans la tradition syriaque primitive, Tanios Bou Mansour analyzes the Christian priesthood in four Syriac writers: Aphraate, Ephrem, Jacob of Sarug and Narsaï. Their conception of priesthood is illuminated by the Priesthood of Christ and contextualized within the continuity of the priesthood of the Old Testament. These authors’ originality and actuality lies in their conception of election, of apostolic succession, of “sacerdotal” traits attributed to women in the Bible, and especially of the priest who, commissioned by the Church, executes the action of the Christ and the Spirit.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Bulgakov on Philosophy's Tragedy

I am, I suppose, somewhat biased both because this book is about the greatest Russian thinker of the last century and is also brought out by the publisher of my own book. But do not let that latter fact detract you from recognizing, in truth, that Angelico has some of the most interesting lists today, especially in their Russian publications. So it is no surprise, but a welcome delight, to see that they recently brought out a translation of Sergius Bulgakov, The Tragedy of Philosophy, trans. Stephen Churchyard (Angelico Press, 2020), 304pp. 

With a foreword from John Milbank, Bulgakov's book, the publisher tells us:

written in 1920–1921 during one of the darkest passages of Sergij Bulgakov’s life, is a pivotal work in his career, indispensable to an understanding of the philosophical assumptions informing the mature theological trilogies of his final, Parisian period. It argues that philosophy, of whatever kind, always monologically privileges some single pole of what there is—a “substance” that is in truth constitutively triune. At the book’s center lies the idea of a Trinitarian ontology capable of resisting philosophy’s militant reductionism. Such resistance, for Bulgakov, requires a new conception of the very relationship between philosophy and theology. The Tragedy of Philosophy explores just what such a “critical antinomism” or “religious empiricism” might look like.

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