"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, July 28, 2021

Journey to Freedom

We've now had almost three full decades of what quickly came to be dubbed post-Soviet religiosity. And during that period all sorts of interesting figures and their books have begun to emerge, including this one: Journey to Freedom by Sergei Ovsiannikov, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Bloomsbury, 2021), 288pp.

About this new book (recently reviewed here) the publisher tells us this: 

Whilst serving in the Soviet army in 1973, Sergei Ovsiannikov was arrested and imprisoned for acts of disobedience under military command. It was while in prison, like Solzhenitsyn and Dostoevsky, that he began to ponder deeper issues and on release trained to be a Russian orthodox priest. This extraordinary but short book is about his search for true freedom. The issues he wrestles with are profound and, like any confrontation with truth, it caused him great anguish and pain. As Ovsiannikov wrote:

'It was in my prison cell that I lost fear. I realised that if they sent me to a labour camp with a long sentence, it did not matter because I was free. Of course subsequently I came to realise that freedom is not given, you have to take responsibility for it.'

It was during this time that he discovered Christianity and decided that this was the real meaning of his life.

Later, after a period spent with the Russian Orthodox community in London, Ovsiannikov lived for the last twenty years of his life in Amsterdam in charge of the Russian Orthodox community.

Drawing heavily on Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Pushkin and translated from the original Russian by celebrated translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky with an introduction by Rowan Williams, this brief spiritual book is a small masterpiece of its kind.

Monday, July 26, 2021

The Baron Williams of Oystermouth Again Looks Ad Orientem

Virtually from the beginning of his academic life decades ago, Rowan Williams, sometime Archbishop of Canterbury, has been recognized as an exceptionally important Western scholar of Eastern Christian traditions. His 1975 doctoral dissertation was devoted to Vladimir Lossky's theology, and since then Williams has also written such iconographically devotional books as Ponder These Things: Praying with Icons of the Virgin and in-depth scholarly studies that include Dostoevsky: Language, Faith, and Fiction, and these are just his more recent books. He's written scores of others devoted to figures and themes in Western theology, too. He's even been known to offer a gracious "blurb" for such books as this one. 

In September of this year, another work coming out that will surely bear close attention: Looking East in Winter: Contemporary Thought and the Eastern Christian Tradition (Bloomsbury, Sept. 2021), 272pp.

About this new work the publisher tell us this:

In many ways, we seem to be living in wintry times at present in the Western world. In this new book, Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and a noted scholar of Eastern Christianity, introduces us to some aspects and personalities of the Orthodox Christian world, from the desert contemplatives of the fourth century to philosophers, novelists and activists of the modern era, that suggest where we might look for fresh light and warmth. He shows how this rich and diverse world opens up new ways of thinking about spirit and body, prayer and action, worship and social transformation, which go beyond the polarisations we take for granted.

Taking in the world of the great spiritual anthology, the Philokalia, and the explorations of Russian thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, discussing the witness of figures like Maria Skobtsova, murdered in a German concentration camp for her defence of Jewish refugees, and the challenging theologies of modern Greek thinkers like John Zizioulas and Christos Yannaras, Rowan Williams opens the door to a 'climate and landscape of our humanity that can indeed be warmed and transfigured'.

This is an original and illuminating vision of a Christian world still none too familiar to Western believers and even to students of theology, showing how the deep-rooted themes of Eastern Christian thought can prompt new perspectives on our contemporary crises of imagination and hope.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Natural Theology in the Orthodox Tradition

The indefatigable Paul Gavrilyuk has drawn attention to a new publication in the IOTA series of books he has been superintending as head of that impressive organization: Natural Theology in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition, eds. Richard Swinburne and David Bradshaw (IOTA Publications, July 2021), 216pp.

About this new book the publisher tells us this: 

Natural theology attempts to show that there is a God, and what he is like, on the basis of evidence which both theists and atheists can recognize as obviously true, such as the existence of the universal laws of nature. Many recent Eastern Orthodox thinkers have questioned the cogency and religious value of natural theology. This volume contains essays by David Bradshaw, Richard Cross, Alexey Fokin, Paul Gavrilyuk, Travis Dumsday, Dionysios Skliris, and Richard Swinburne, on the history of natural theology in the Orthodox Church and its contemporary relevance.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Cops and Robbers in Ephesus

As I have been noting on here for a decade now as each volume rolls out, anglophone Christians owe a debt of gratitude to Liverpool University Press for their invaluable series devoted to translations of conciliar texts. The latest, just released in paperback, is The Council of Ephesus of 431: Documents and Proceedings by Richard Price with Introduction and Notes by Thomas Graumann.

About this the publisher tells us this:

The First Council of Ephesus (431) was the climax of the so-called Nestorian Controversy. Convoked by the emperor Theodosius II to restore peace to the Church, it immediately divided into two rival councils, both meeting at Ephesus. Attempts by the emperor's representatives to get the bishops on both sides to meet together had no success, and after four months the council was dissolved without having ever properly met. But a number of decrees by the larger of the two rival councils, in particular the condemnation of Nestorius of Constantinople, were subsequently accepted as the valid decrees of the 'ecumenical council of Ephesus'. The documentation, consisting of conciliar proceedings, letters and other documents, provides information not only about events in Ephesus itself, but also about lobbying and public demonstrations in Constantinople. There is no episode in late Roman history where we are so well informed about how politics were conducted in the imperial capital. This makes the Acts a document of first importance for the history of the Later Roman Empire as well for that of the Church.

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Angel Beholding the Face of God

Angelico Press continues to have some of the most interestingly varied lists today, and their regular publishing of works in Eastern Christianity does them huge credit. Just this month they have now published a translation of a work by a Russian-American iconographer and founder of the Prosopon school, whose videos I have sometimes used in my own iconography classes: Vladislav Andrejev, The Angel of the Countenance of God: Theology and Iconology of Theophanies, trans. Alex Apatov (Angelico, 2021), 326pp.

About this new book the publisher tells us this: 

Iconography is the study of the history, practice, and symbolism of painted Christian images. Iconology probes deeper still, into the “icon” of Divine Presence in the inner man, who is himself made “in the image [eikón] of God” (Gen 1:26), as the place where Wisdom seeks to make her home. Written by an iconographer with forty years’ experience researching the nature and mission of the icon, The Angel of the Countenance of God explores the biblical epiphanies of God—their translation into images, their mythological parallels, and their Trinitarian and Christological implications. Drawing on his own icon-writing, V. L. Andrejev here focuses on the biblical theme of the “Angel of Jehovah,” distinguishing the “created Angels” of the Heavenly Hierarchies from this “uncreated Angel” of Theophany, that divine Being Moses beheld in the flames of the Burning Bush, and Christian tradition depicts as the royal maiden Sophia, personification of the Wisdom of God. This distinction carries profound consequences for iconography, dogmatic theology, and discipleship.

The icon written on a board is the “spoken” word made visual, but its final significance lies within each person. For it is man himself, as the living icon of the Image of God, who by means of the immaterial, essential Light of God makes visible in icons the “actions” of God. Icon-writing is “symbolic realism,” and though not able to depict God, is able to depict the image of His actions. The fulfillment of the icon, the image of God, is love—the love uniting Bride and Bridegroom in the Song of Songs; that same love hymned by St Symeon the New Theologian and St Maximus the Confessor.

The Angel of the Countenance of God will be of value to all who have an interest in iconography, Trinitarian Christology, Sophiology, and Eastern Christianity.

Friday, July 16, 2021

The Life of Mohammad and Early Islam

It is by no means uncommon for Eastern and other Christians in their more zealously apologetic works to portray themselves up against a hard-nosed enemy in Islam that brooked no tolerance of perceived ambiguity and ambivalence in certain Christian teachings, especially around the incarnation and Trinity. Even more common today, especially in America over the last two decades, one finds all sorts of reactionary commentators willing to portray Islam as an intolerant and incorrigibly violent "fundamentalist" tradition that brooks no uncertainty or ambiguity at all. To be sure, some Muslims figures, not least those associated with ISIS, themselves put forward this same version of Islam. Whether by ISIS or its opponents, such a portrait of Islam is seriously at odds with the developed tradition and invariably tendentious.

Two recent books will help us appreciate that both the life of Mohammad and the development of Islam, were, of course, far messier and more complex than extreme apologists for it, or extreme "Orientalist" opponents of it, like to admit. 

The first of these is simply a new translation of a major biography that has been around for some time in French: Muhammad, by Maxime Rodinson, trans. Anne Carter (NYRB Classics, 2021), 432pp. 

Tariq Ali has a very appreciative and helpfully contextualizing review of this biography in a recent issue of the London Review of Books. About this book we are told this by the publisher:

A classic secular history of the prophet Muhammad that vividly recreates the fascinating time in which Islam was born.

Maxime Rodinson, both a maverick Marxist and a distinguished professor at the Sorbonne, first published his biography of Muhammad in 1960. The book, a classic in its field, has been widely read ever since. Rodinson, though deeply versed in scholarly studies of the Prophet, does not seek to add to it here but to introduce Muhammad, first of all, as “a man of flesh and blood” who led a life of extraordinary drama and shaped history as few others have. Equally, he seeks to lay out an understanding of Muhammad’s legacy and Islam as what he called an ideological movement, similar to the universalist religions of Christianity and Buddhism as well as the secular movement of Marxism, but possessing a singular commitment to “the deeply ingrained idea that Islam offers not only a path to salvation but (for many, above all) the ideal of a just society to be realized on earth.” 

Rodinson’s book begins by introducing the specific land and the larger world into which Muhammad was born and the development of his prophetic calling. It then follows the steps of his career and the way his leadership gave birth to a religion and a state. A final chapter considers the world as Islam has transformed it.

The second book looks to be equally important: A Culture of Ambiguity: An Alternative History of Islam by Thomas Bauer. Translated by Hinrich Biesterfeldt and Tricia Tunstall (Columbia University Press 336pp. About this book the publisher tells us this: 

In the Western imagination, Islamic cultures are dominated by dogmatic religious norms that permit no nuance. Those fighting such stereotypes have countered with a portrait of Islam’s medieval “Golden Age,” marked by rationality, tolerance, and even proto-secularism. How can we understand Islamic history, culture, and thought beyond this dichotomy?

In this magisterial cultural and intellectual history, Thomas Bauer reconsiders classical and modern Islam by tracing differing attitudes toward ambiguity. Over a span of many centuries, he explores the tension between one strand that aspires to annihilate all uncertainties and establish absolute, uncontestable truths and another, competing tendency that looks for ways to live with ambiguity and accept complexity. Bauer ranges across cultural and linguistic ambiguities, considering premodern Islamic textual and cultural forms from law to Quranic exegesis to literary genres alongside attitudes toward religious minorities and foreigners. He emphasizes the relative absence of conflict between religious and secular discourses in classical Islamic culture, which stands in striking contrast to both present-day fundamentalism and much of European history. Bauer shows how Islam’s encounter with the modern West and its demand for certainty helped bring about both Islamicist and secular liberal ideologies that in their own ways rejected ambiguity—and therefore also their own cultural traditions.

Awarded the prestigious Leibniz Prize, A Culture of Ambiguity not only reframes a vast range of Islamic history but also offers an interdisciplinary model for investigating the tolerance of ambiguity across cultures and eras.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Avvakum's Autobiography Newly Translated

To my surprise, when perusing the new releases from Columbia University Press--which has not hitherto been a prominent or regular publisher of theology in general, and Eastern Christian works in particular--I saw that they have just brought out a translation of a work that has long been a classic of Russian Christian literature: The Life Written by Himself: Archpriest Avvakum, translated by Kenneth N. Brostrom (Columbia University Press, July 2021), 208pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Moscow in the middle of the seventeenth century had a distinctly apocalyptic feel. An outbreak of the plague killed half the population. A solar eclipse and comet appeared in the sky, causing panic. And a religious reform movement intended to purify spiritual life and provide for the needy had become a violent political project that cleaved Russian society and the Orthodox Church in two. The autobiography of Archpriest Avvakum—a leader of the Old Believers, who opposed liturgical and ecclesiastical reforms—provides a vivid account of these cataclysmic events from a figure at their center.

Written in the 1660s and ’70s from a cell in an Arctic village where the archpriest had been imprisoned by the tsar, Avvakum’s autobiography is a record of his life, ecclesiastical career, painful exile, religious persecution, and imprisonment. It is also a salvo in a contest about whether to follow the old Russian Orthodox liturgy or import Greek rites and practices. These concerns touched every stratum of Russian society—and for Avvakum, represented an urgent struggle between good and evil.

Avvakum’s autobiography has been a cornerstone of Russian literature since it first circulated among religious dissidents. One of the first Russian-language autobiographies and works of any sort to make use of colloquial Russian, its language and style served as a model for writers such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Gorky. The Life Written by Himself is not only an important historical document but also an emotionally charged and surprisingly conversational self-portrait of a crucial figure in a tumultuous time.

Monday, July 12, 2021

On Liturgical Dogmatics: David Fagerberg Interviewed

If you read past entries on here, you will know that I am an undisguised admirer of the work of David Fagerberg, whom I have interviewed previously about his many excellent books, all of which are worth your time. I have used his first book, Theologia Prima, in courses for some fifteen years now. 

More recently I have been recommending his On Liturgical Asceticism to students.

Now there is a new must-read book from him, and it really does belong on every RCIA reading list, and on the syllabus of introductory courses in Christianity, whether in a parish or undergraduate classroom. For Liturgical Dogmatics is, quite simply, that good. It has achieved the rare feat of being a book written by a top-drawer academic who eschews complicated jargon and an academic apparatus to write an accessible, cogent book that is not at all dumbed down but remains meaty and substantial from your first bite to the last morsel. 

As is my custom, I sent David some questions about his background, the book, and future plans. Here are his thoughts. 

AD: Tell us a bit about your background

DF: I am nearing retirement (another year) so I find myself retrospecting quite a lot. In 1988 I submitted a dissertation proposal titled “What Is Liturgical Theology” and I have been adding to my answer since, as though the dissertation was a small sculpture and I’ve been adding clay to the bust. The pathway to Liturgical Dogmatics was direct thematically, even if meandering biographically.

AD: What led to the writing of Liturgical Dogmatics?

DF: The books on the wall in front of me are about liturgy and Byzantine theology. The books on the wall behind me are about philosophy and systematic theology. They are from two different phases of my life, and perhaps this volume is their reconnection. I began with systematics, and was drawn into liturgical studies. It is nice to think that instead of those initial years being wasted, they have hung around to be put to use now.

I also answer this question with a short and true anecdote. I wrote the book in a second and a half in my mind; putting it on paper naturally took longer. 

I was asked once if I could teach the course in liturgical history one summer. I thought, “Yes I could. I would start with Adam and Eve as cosmic priests, talk about their forfeiture of a liturgical career, cover salvation history from Abraham to Moses to the prophets, arrive at Jesus as the High Liturgist, and consider the baptized Christian as his liturgical apprentice.” 

Then I realized I was only being asked to teach a course on the history of the liturgy. All that got me thinking that we might also do a liturgical triadology, liturgical cosmology, liturgical anthropology, liturgical hamartiology (sin), liturgical soteriology, liturgical Christology/Pneumatology, liturgical ecclesiology, and liturgical eschatology. These are the sections of the book.

AD: Your first book, Theologia Prima, has been out for many years now, and I've used it for over a decade in classes before also using On Liturgical Asceticism  and Liturgical Mysticism. How does Liturgical Dogmatics stand in relation to those other three? What is its unique contribution?

DF: There was no grand plan. I marvel at authors who have some multi volume project in mind from the start, but such was not the case for me. I was carried along the current of liturgical theology. The first task was to understand what Kavanagh and Schmemann meant when they said, respectively, that liturgy is primary theology and the ontological condition for theology. The first book was linking liturgy + theology as two words naming one reality. 

But I found that students and colleagues misunderstood, and I concluded it must be due to operating with a different grammar, so I wanted to thicken both terms: treat liturgy as leitourgia, theology as theologia. The Orthodox theologians of asceticism helped me with that. 

The ascetical dimension opens another door. Not only is it what capacitates us for committing liturgy, it also is a connection between the sacred and the profane. Robert Taft wrote, “the purpose of all Christian liturgy is to express in a ritual moment that which should be the basic stance of every moment of our lives.” So my previous two books (Consecrating the World and Liturgical Mysticism) looked at daily life through the lens of liturgy. And since dogma concerns the whole of Christian thought and life, it was time to look at dogma through the lens of liturgy.

Kavanagh referred to his fictitious Mrs. Murphy as someone who does primary theology. If I may say so, then, my books have been describing Mrs. Murphy as a liturgical theologian (though not of the academic variety), a liturgical ascetic (though not of the monastic variety), a liturgical mystic (though not of the extraordinary variety), and now I am considering her as a liturgical dogmatician. The dogmas that scholars talk about, she experiences.

AD:Already in your introduction you unapologetically introduce a term that, in the Latin Catholic world at least, is still being "recovered" as it were: theosis. Tell us a bit about the connection between liturgy and theosis.

It is like flower and fruit, pathway and home, tasting and seeing, work and beatitude, dawn and noontime, tabernacle tent and Solomon’s Temple. There is a foretaste of theosis in liturgy, but the discipline and rhythm of liturgy leads to the throne of God. That we drink from the river of liturgy (the reference to Jean Corbon is intentional) means we acquire a taste for deification. It brings us home. One of the sentences that fell off my keyboard said what I mean: “the liturgy is not the performance of a human religion; liturgy is the religion of Christ perpetuated in Christians.” Theosis is Christ taking up his occupancy in us. 

AD: The great liturgical historian Robert Taft of blessed memory often analogized liturgy to what happens between the outstretched fingers of Adam and God in Michelangelo's famous Sistine fresco. Is that analogy useful in illustrating your opening emphasis on liturgy as synergistic co-operation with God?

I found Lev Gillet’s definition of synergy to be perfect: “two unequal, but equally necessary, forces.” Both fingers must stretch out, but God’s power of grace is stronger than man’s power of ritual. So it is in sacraments: the human minister applies water and grace regenerates. So it is in liturgy: liturgy is a work of God, though it is an activity of man. (This is also expressed in scholastic categories of causation. Garrigou-Lagrange wrote, “one part does not come from us in the other from God. The act is entirely from God as from its first cause, and it is entirely from us as from its neck and cause. The first cause does not render secondary causes superfluous.”)

AD: I'm wondering if the use of "dogma" and cognates in your work won't stick in a few throats given common misconceptions of dogma as stifling, cramped, restrictive. Here is where I'm wondering if your work on Chesterton might be helpful. I often paraphrase him (accurately, I hope, for it's been a while since I went back and read him!) that we should see "dogma" as a bounded playground, as a free space where we can play at leisure within certain boundaries beyond which the Church simply says "Here be mines!" or "There be dragons!" Is that apt?

You have helped me fulfill my vow to quote Chesterton to somebody, somewhere, once a week. That is exactly his point, yes. “Nine out of ten of what we call new ideas are simply old mistakes. The Catholic Church has for one of her chief duties that of preventing people from making these old mistakes.” So he calls doctrine or dogma a sort of map of the mind; a guide to the maze; the key that fits the lock. Dogmatic teaching takes “the responsibility of marking certain roads as leading nowhere or leading to destruction, to a blank wall, or a sheer precipice.” It allows for freedom.

AD: Perhaps more seriously, tell us a bit about the relationship between dogma and liturgy. The old tags about "lex orandi" and "lex credendi" have sometimes carelessly been used to suggest a monocausal and unidirectional relationship between the two, but it's more complicated than that, surely?

DF: I do propose a unidirectional relationship, but that’s because it’s a category mistake to treat them on the same level. Kavanagh thought we are misled by having ignored the verb statuat. “So long, I think, as the verb stays in the sentence it is not possible to reverse subject and predicate any more than one can reverse the members of the statement: the foundation supports the house.” Of course the house exerts weight upon the foundation, but the unidirectionality is expressed by Schmemann calling liturgy the ontological condition for theology.

AD: I'm struck by the care you pay to the great Orthodox Met. John Zizioulas in your book (as well as Florensky and others), and this, together with your long interest in and writing about Schmemann and others from the East, makes me think that while our liturgical practices differ very considerably, our liturgical theology, as Catholics and Orthodox, is very closely intertwined indeed. Is that a fair assessment?

DF: I would like to think so – agreed. I sometimes say that I can catch the scent of something in Eastern liturgy, Eastern spirituality, Eastern theology that I might not otherwise single out, but once I am aware of it I can detect it also in the West. 

Bowing down in docility to both the letter and spirit of the Second Vatican Council (from docilis, meaning “easily taught”), I have sought to obey the magisterium’s command in paragraph 15 of Unitatis Redintegratio:

Catholics therefore are earnestly recommended to avail themselves of the spiritual riches of the Eastern Fathers which lift up the whole man to the contemplation of the divine. The very rich liturgical and spiritual heritage of the Eastern Churches should be known, venerated, preserved and cherished by all. They must recognize that this is of supreme importance for the faithful preservation of the fullness of Christian tradition, and for bringing about reconciliation between Eastern and Western Christians. 

I want to avail myself of spiritual riches. I want to be lifted to the contemplation of the divine. I want to know, venerate, preserve, and cherish the heritage of liturgy and spirituality as it appears in the fullness of Christian tradition, and therefore I will look over the fence to pastures of the East. (I borrowed that from the opening of an essay I wrote for a forthcoming collection titled Mapping the Una Sancta, ed. Sotiris Mitralexis and Andrew Kaethler.)

AD: I'm struck by the creedal structure of your book: you start by reflecting on the conditions necessary for the "I believe" or "I know," move next to God, the fall and redemption, the Holy Spirit, the Church, and then eschatology. In addition, we get sections on angels and demons, on seven deadly sins, and much else, making the book seem in some ways ideally suited for, say, an RCIA program? Was that structure deliberate?

I looked at the table of contents of some manuals on dogmatics on the shelves behind me and noticed that’s the way they divide things up. If I’m going to look at traditional dogmatics through a liturgical eye, I might as well use their organizational scheme. It would please me very much to think I have made things more intelligible to someone in RCIA. They will have to send an email to Ignatius Press. 

AD: Naturally, while enjoying the whole book, I paid special attention to your section on ecclesiology, an area I have written about in my own books. Oddly enough I confess to relief at what is not here: any notion that offices and structures are worth your time! You say nothing about them and I'm assuming--correct me if I'm wrong--that this reflects the truth that offices and structures will pass away and exist no more in heaven, but that there we will always and forever liturgize?

Though I cannot find the quote in all the Schmemann material at my fingertips, I swear he is the one who said: “the Church is not an institution with sacraments, she is a sacrament with institutions.” That seems to speak to your point. I did not intentionally skip offices and structures: they simply were not the main characteristics of the Church to parade before my eyes.

AD: You open by explicitly eschewing footnotes, leading me to assume you are hoping for a readership beyond the AAR or the Society of Oriental Liturgy. Then your very clear style, and concrete metaphors and illustrations, make this an accessible book for a lot of people I suspect. Who was your imagined audience, and who especially would benefit from reading the book?

DF: What do academics do with dogmas? Talk about them, organize them, prioritize them, footnote them, write about them, systematize them, shelve them and take them back down again. But I suppose the thesis of the book is that Mrs. Murphy can experience dogmas. I’m not expecting Mrs. Murphy to read this book, then, but I do hope it defends her to the academic guild. 

AD: Having finished this book, what are you at work on next?

A couple times I have quipped that it would be possible to write a second volume of Liturgical Asceticism by using only Western authors this time. I’m going to give it a try under the title Liturgical Abnegation. There are Catholic spiritual authors that use terms troubling to our modern ears, terms like “abnegation, annihilation, indifference, resignation, mortification, nothingness, self-denial,” etc. The terminology sounds harsh because we hear it within a limited horizon, but it might be better understood if we could place the language against a more transcendent horizon. 

That transcendent horizon, I hypothesize, is the act of liturgizing God. Liturgical asceticism is a capacitation for liturgy; liturgical abnegation is a consequence of liturgy. Asceticism and abnegation are akin, but I look forward through the former at liturgy and am now looking backward through liturgy upon the latter. I do not gather my authors under any hard and fast temporal or geographical line grouping the authors, they are simply ones who have spoken about abnegation in a way revealing and provocative to me: Olier, Grou, Boudon, Rodriguez, de Caussade, Fenelon, de Sales, Libermann, Saint-Jure, Eudes, Scaramelli, de Granada, Ravignan, for example. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

David Fagerberg on his New Book

In February I noted the forthcoming publication of David Fagerberg's next book, Liturgical Dogmatics

I was sent a review copy by Ignatius Press, and have now read it with the same profit and delight as I find in all of David's books. If you go here you will find interviews I have done with him on here over the years about those other books. 

I write today simply to say that I have sent him questions about Liturgical Dogmatics, and hope to have those posted when he responds. Watch this space for that.

In the meantime, let me say this would be an outstanding book for any introductory class on Christianity, whether at a parish or in an undergraduate classroom. The richness of its content is made more accessible still by the eschewing of references (which is a hard sentence for an academic to type!). 

Monday, July 5, 2021

FLASH! Roman Catholic Italy Declares War on Orthodox Ethiopia!

I have little direct contact with Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, alas, but immense respect nonetheless for their vibrant and delightful traditions, especially that of iconography on which I commented here. Theirs remains the largest Christian church in all of Africa. 

There are--in that catalogue of shame which someone should write, Roman Sins Against Eastern Christians--earlier shameful stories about Jesuit intrigues against Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. But it sounds like those will pale in comparison to those being told in a forthcoming book, Holy War: The Untold Story of Catholic Italy's Crusade Against the Ethiopian Orthodox Church by Ian Campbell (Hurst, October 2021), 336pp.

About this new book the publisher tells us this:

In 1935, Fascist Italy invaded the sovereign state of Ethiopia--a war of conquest that triggered a chain of events culminating in the Second World War. In this stunning and highly original tale of two Churches, historian Ian Campbell brings a whole new perspective to the story, revealing that bishops of the Italian Catholic Church facilitated the invasion by sanctifying it as a crusade against the world's second-oldest national Church. Cardinals and archbishops rallied the support of Catholic Italy for Il Duce's invading armies by denouncing Ethiopian Christians as heretics and schismatics and announcing that the onslaught was an assignment from God.

Campbell marshals evidence from three decades of research to expose the martyrdom of thousands of clergy of the venerable Ethiopian Church, the burning and looting of hundreds of Ethiopia's ancient monasteries and churches, and the instigation and arming of a jihad against Ethiopian Christendom, the likes of which had not been seen since the Middle Ages.

Finally, Holy War traces how, after Italy's surrender to the Allies, the horrors of this pogrom were swept under the carpet of history, and the leading culprits put on the road to sainthood.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Icons and Iconoclasm in the Western Traditions

Once more our iconography camp is being held this summer on the campus of the University of Saint Francis. You can read about it here.  Once more we are using an excellent book which I have previously recommended on here, so I take the liberty of reposting my comment about it from November 2017:

Over at Catholic World Report, you can read my review of Sr. Jeana Visel's splendid new book, which I have noted on here in the past: Icons in the Western Church: Toward a More Sacramental Encounter (Liturgical Press, 2016).

As I note, it's a short, accessible book, steeped in the best contemporary scholarship, and dealing, in a discerning and pastorally sensitive way, with the challenges facing the Western Church as she tries to overcome decades upon decades of iconoclasm.

It is the book you should buy for every Roman Catholic and even many Protestant Christians you know to have an interest in icons. And then buy copies for your pastor, bishop, and chancery.

Monday, June 28, 2021

On the Relationship Between Theology and Psychology

I thought I would cross-post this from my other blog as the person in question, Rollo May, spent his life at the intersection of theology and psychology. At least one significant period of his time was spent in Greece where he encountered Eastern Orthodoxy, though his writings on it are sparse. Nonetheless, he was a major figure who interacted with major figures in existentialist theology and philosophy as well as psychology. 

It is always melancholy for me when I reach the end of an exceptionally good book, but my consolation is that if I leave it on my shelf long enough, I can come back to it again in a few years time and enjoy its riches anew. This I will do with a fascinating biography that was melancholy for me in a second way: it took me back to a time when there seemed to be a closer, richer relationship between psychology and theology (as well as existentialist philosophy) than obtains in most places today. 

That relationship was lived by Rollo May, whom I first encountered almost thirty years ago as an undergraduate in psychology with a strong interest in theology, especially in its mid-century existentialist manifestations which I had explored in the last year of high-school when a generous French teacher (who very much saw himself as a soixante-huitard and thus indulged his contempt for rules and routine) gave me the entire semester off from class provided I show up on the last day in June after having written him a final paper on existentialism. This I gladly did, and so availed myself of the opportunity to read a lot of Paul Tillich--in English--and then Sartre and Camus in French. 

The following year, as an undergraduate, I read at least one of May's books as I recall: Love and Will(I also read Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology by his half-brother, the psychiatrist Gerald May.)

May is now the subject of Robert Abzug's brand new book, Psyche and Soul in America: The Spiritual Odyssey of Rollo May (Oxford University Press, 2021), 432pp. 

I finished this biography about a month ago on a lovely early summer evening on my patio. It is superbly written and a real treat to read. Abzug has an extremely deft touch in knowing how much detail to give about May's fascinating life and how much contextualization the reader needs without in either case overwhelming one with an excess of details. One would expect no less of so seasoned a scholar who is now professor emeritus of history at the University of Texas at Austin. 

Following standard practice, I e-mailed Dr Abzug some questions and was delighted when he agreed to my request for an interview about his new book, His thoughts are below. 

AD: Tell us about your background

RA: I grew up in a suburb of NY City, went to Harvard as an undergraduate and then to Berkeley for graduate school, both degrees in history. I was raised and remain a reform Jew by belief and tradition, though of course writing about May (and before that about 19th-century Protestant reformers) deepened my sense of the power of Christian faith and influence.

AD: What led you to writing Psyche and Soul in America: the Spiritual Odyssey of Rollo May?

RA: I tell the story of meeting Rollo in the Preface of the book, but the short answer is 1) After having taken Erik Erikson’s course on the life-cycle in college, I began to have an increasing curiosity about psychology and psychotherapy, one that had already been reflected in my first two books but only as a non-jargony use of what I would call a psychological aesthetic. 

Also, while in graduate school, had taken an external seminar in the latest psychoanalytic developments at the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute. And, of course, being in the Bay Area between 1967-1977, I was in a culture awash with therapeutic visions of the world. That said, it was only the accident of meeting Rollo that I became interested in writing about May and, for that matter, seeing some of the history of psychotherapy and religion through the lens of his life. Of course, the experience of knowing him and his world of friends and concerns for the last eight years of his life proved richer than I could  have imagined.

AD: I first read May in the 90s as an undergrad in psychology who also had an interest in theology, especially the existentialists like Paul Tillich. Tell us a bit about the long-term and hugely important relationship Tillich and May had

RA: The early 1930s were key in setting May’s future. First, while still in Europe as a missionary teacher, he encountered, and I would say “converted,” to psychoanalysis by taking a seminar in Vienna with Alfred Adler. That put a certain shape on his spiritual quest but didn’t end it, and when he returned to the U.S. he enrolled at Union Theological Seminary in New York. 

Tillich meanwhile had just escaped arrest by the Nazis by being invited to teach at Union, which he started to do in 1934. He and Rollo met early on in that year, and it began a relationship that was intellectual, spiritual, deeply personal, and lasted for the rest of Tillich’s life (he died in 1965). That relationship is certainly a central theme of Psyche and Soul in America. The mentorship of Tillich for May is clear, but it was something of a two way street. That is best indicated by the fact that Hannah Tillich asked May to deliver the eulogy at his first burial in East Hampton, NY, where the Tillichs had a summer home, and his reburial at the park named in his honor in New Harmony, Indiana.  

AD: May was also influenced by Freud, Adler, and Rank. But Adler seems to have been especially important. Tell us a bit about his relationship to and influence upon May. 

RA: Paul Tillich and Alfred Adler came into May’s life at a crucial period in his life, where his spiritual searching needed greater guidance and inspiration. Adler certainly had a life-changing influence on May, giving him a new way of envisioning the world and the possibility of a new profession. 

But Adler died in 1937, only four years after May met him and aside from a few friendly and important encounters in New York, the two didn’t really have the same sort of relationship as May did with Tillich. Nonetheless Adler’s ideas formed a compelling basis for his exploration of Freud, Jung, and Rank

But May told me that in the end he found other first generation analysts and later American neo-Freudians like Harry Stack Sullivan and Erich Fromm more powerful than Adler in their sense of complexity of the human condition and intellectual reach.

AD: You note (p.54) that May for "remained all his life wedded to obsessive self-scrutiny." That certainly comes through in your biography down to the last years of his life. What lay behind such an obsession?

I was about to say, “that’s a question for his analyst,” but let me give you two answers. First of all, I think his sense of spiritual devotion, which as it developed was truly a relationship with Tillich’s “God beyond God,” one which a therapist might call, insufficiently, OCD, made him investigate and judge his every action. This compulsion was historically not unusual among what Max Weber called “religious virtuosi,” and May was certainly of that breed. 

But I think more important was that he had the genius to build a theory of therapy based in many ways on his somewhat perhaps narcissistic but very productive contemplation of self. In short, these ongoing themes that provoked incessant self-questioning were in fact the well from which he drew much of his best work.

 AD: Part of May's project, you write (p.114), was "marrying the insights of psychoanalysis with the eternal quests of religion in a manner meaningful to the modern reader." Given how popular his books were, it seems he was successful in this endeavor in one way, but I'm wondering in another way about the kind of reception his books received in the professional psychoanalytic community. Did you come across reviews of and reactions to his works by psychoanalysts, and if so can you give us an idea of what they were?

RA: From almost the beginning, he saw as his mission in life the spiritual counseling of individuals, whether in the first instance through religion and later through psychotherapy, but perhaps most of all by educating an interested public through his writings. This was true when he first started publishing books that implicitly or explicitly saw a crucial interaction between the spiritual and the therapeutic (The Art of Counseling of 1939 and The Springs of Creative Living from 1940), the latter being a main selection of the Religious Book Club. It remained true even after he shed the theological trappings of Protestantism for a spiritualized existentialism.

Much of the answer to your question about his impact on therapists and reviews of his books is as much the ever-changing nature of psychology, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis as it does with the specific contents of one May book or another.  

AD: In early 1940 or 1941, you write (p.135), May began an analysis with Erich Fromm. I've been re-reading Fromm for the last two years and amazed at how well some of his insights stand up three quarters of a century after his English-speaking debut. Tell us a bit about the influence of Fromm on May that you see.

Another very interesting question.

I think there was some influence, though some of the most important ideas about the world and culture were transformed in May’s work from neo-Marxist thought to existential thinking, for instance living in a culture where not so much through the transformation of society but rather the resistance of self an authentic sense of the world might emerge. 

Nonetheless, there can be no question that Fromm influenced May, especially in those early years of analysis before the post-tuberculosis restart of the analysis. And certainly, by reading Fromm’s Escape from Freedom, he got a new and materialist view of an idea that he was already familiar with from reading the late Victorians and conversing with Tillich: the notion that both faith and community had been in decay for some time and that these trends had deleterious effects on the ability of individuals to “be” themselves. In that general sense, May joined with Fromm and others of the postwar era—David Riesman, William H. Whyte, John Kenneth Galbraith, and others—each in their own way critiquing the conformity, consumerist values, and general weakening of individual autonomy.

AD: I sometimes wonder if the existentialist movement in theology and psychology alike has been largely left behind, but then you trace out the burgeoning relationship between an older Rollo May and a then-young and upcoming Irvin Yalom, who is still with us after an astonishingly prolific career. Tell us a bit about that influence of May on Yalom.

RA: As Irvin Yalom has said many times, it was his reading of May’s Existence (a collection of essays from European therapists) introducing an existential framework to psychoanalysis and psychotherapy that inspired him to follow a psychiatric and analytic path. Later, when they got to know each other, I believe each helped the other in imagining the possibilities of existential psychology. However, there were differences. Yalom was a doctor, taught at a prestigious university medical school, pioneered group psychotherapy, was a self-declared atheist, and was a successful novelist. Rollo May was many things but none of those. In short, while they came together on existentialism, their careers and commitments were strikingly different.

AD: May's relationship to Christianity waxed and waned over the decades--from being a pastor and preacher early on to falling away it seems and then to returning to attending church later in life as an Episcopalian (p.331). Where, in the end, do you see May's life in relationship to Christianity?

RA: I think it is fair to say that past the early 1950s, at which point the formal church was no longer part of his life, he nonetheless lived a life imbued with the values he gained within the Protestant church culture and retained an abstract but real sense of what he called “infinitude.” His attendance at the Episcopal church in Tiburon in the 1980s had more  

AD: For those new to May and wondering where to begin, do you have, say, your top three favorites of his writings? What would you recommend beginning with for those who want to discover May today?

RA: My top three for getting to know May’s work would be Man’s Search for Himself (1953), Love and Will (1969), and The Courage to Create (1975), which is short, fits creativity into a vision of society, and as usual is clearly and compellingly written. And I would also suggest reading May’s introductory chapters in Existence (1958), an edited introduction to the possibilities of merging psychotherapy with existential thought. These are marvelous explanations of the power of existentialism. I might add that since the book’s publication, I have received any number of emails, some quite lengthy attesting to the influence May’s ideas had on their lives, and the three I recommended were ones that most often came up in our exchanges.

AD: Having finished this biography, what are you at work on now--new works in the pipeline?

I am still catching my breath but have thought about a short book based upon some lectures I have given recently about the practice of spiritual life in America, both in and out of formal denominations and traditional ritual practice. One element I wish to explore is the impact of religious and cultural pluralism on individual and group spiritual practice.

AD: Sum up your hopes for the book, and who especially should read it.

RA: Most of all, I hope to restore Rollo May’s place in the history of public intellectual life and, indeed, allowing readers to grasp the significance of his work to contemporary society and thought and inspire to engage with his ideas. As a biographer, I have also tried to write as “intimate” a biography as the sources allowed in order to provide readers with an account of May’s life that conjoins the public and private, as well as the unconscious and conscious—that is, brings an understanding that the origins of significant public lives lie in unique and often less than ideal sojourns. 

As for a readership, my hope is that psychologists open to a broader view of their profession as well as all who in one way or another were affected by May’s writings would profit from it. Yet, I also hope that those too young to know of Rollo May first-hand but who are in need of a broader and deeper sense of life somehow find the book and seek out May’s own attempts to offer roads to a richer life.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Married Priests in the Catholic Church: the Families Speak

I have periodically drawn not nearly enough attention to my new book, released in April, on Married Priests in the Catholic Church. So let us continue to look at its many riches due to the many individual contributors from around the world. 

In previous commentaries on the book, I have noted, inter alia, Anglican contributions from the Catholic ordinariates, and discussed some of the pernicious myths which surround married priests. 

Today, let us pause to look at the voices of clergy families, who are represented in the book by such as Irene Galadza, Nicholas Denysenko, Julian Hayda, Andrew Jarmus, and William Mills. Of these five, truth be told, three are themselves clerics: Denysenko is a deacon while Jarmus and Mills join him as priests in the Orthodox Church of America. But Nick is a grandson of a long-time Ukrainian Orthodox priest, as is Jarmus; and Mills is married into a clerical family. So they have experienced both roles not just in the book but in their lives. 

I had sought many more voices from wives and children, but again and again was turned down by people who felt a sometimes understandable and sometimes puzzling reticence to talk about their experiences. Still, the few who contributed wrote worthy and important chapters. 

Irene has been married to her husband, the mitred archpriest Roman Galadza, for nearly half a century. So her experience is very long-standing indeed, and includes the rather rare experience of building a new parish from the ground up not once but twice! (The original St. Elias, where I was married, burned to the ground in a heart-breaking fire in 2014). She has also taught school for many years and has a fine theological mind. So her chapter in the book is very much a theological meditation on the role of the presbytera in light of the Theotokos. To borrow a phrase from antique Christological debates, Irene's view is a very "high" one, though she does note some of the "lower" or more "mundane" concerns and challenges that come to the wife of a priest and mother of (in her case) large family. But I think Irene would be the first to say that the wife of a priest should have the same freedom as others in the parish to discover her vocation for herself in all of its uniqueness. 

Nick Denysenko (a dear friend, I should note, and author of many fine books you should read, all of them noted here where you will also find interviews with him over the years about those books) is the grandson of an immigrant Orthodox priest from Ukraine about whom he writes with great and moving care, showing what sometimes hard lessons he learned from his grandfather, who had seen some of the horrors of wartime Europe and Soviet communism. His grandfather's wisdom about how, and how not, to fast have remained with me for some time. I wish I had met him. He sounds like a real mensch. Nick grew up serving in his parish in Minnesota and watching the dynamics between him and the parish. 

Similarly, Andrew Jarmus, also of Ukrainian background, grew up watching his father, also a priest in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (but this time in Canada). Jarmus moved to the US more than a decade ago now and has been the pastor here in Ft. Wayne at one of the OCA's larger parishes which I have attended on occasion for many years now. Jarmus's chapter is especially worthwhile for its pointing out some of the subtle psychodynamics that govern (and often distort) any relationship where one man is constantly addressed as "father" and treated as such. 

Julian Hayda's father was a Ukrainian Catholic priest in Chicago until he was killed in a bike accident in 2007, leaving his wife and young children. (Julian's grandparents befriended me about a decade ago through the Orientale Lumen conferences in Washington and afterwards we had a very lovely dinner over Christmas one year when I was visiting my in-laws just down the road in Connecticut. They were splendid people.) Julian writes with a different perspective on growing up in a rectory. He does not romanticize his experiences or gloss over the difficult dynamics of living in what he aptly calls the parish "fish bowl." He rightly raises such questions as why PKs (preacher's/priest's/pastor's) are often subjected to highly unfair and discriminatory attitudes and expectations when all they want is to be regular kids like everyone else in the parish. 

William Mills also writes with compelling honesty and charming humour about the challenges of parish ministry while married. His chapter is good, but his recent memoir even better, not least for it allows him to go into more depth and detail than he could in the chapter in my book, Married Priests in the Catholic Church.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Muslims and Greek Nationalism

I shall greatly look forward to reading this forthcoming book in September upon its release for it sounds like just the sort of work I take perhaps inordinate delight in. It confounds the fabulists who retail fantastical fiction about a past that never was in service of some dreary agenda in the present. This book reminds us once again that history is almost always written with nothing but crooked lines: it is, as I ceaselessly tell my students, messy, and a failure to appreciate that almost always dooms one to buffoonery instead of intelligent commentary and judicious analysis. 

In any event, forthcoming is Islam and Nationalism in Modern Greece, 1821-1940 by Stefanos Katsikas (Oxford UP, Sept. 2021), 321pp. About this book the publisher tells us this: 

Drawing from a wide range of archival and secondary Greek, Bulgarian, Ottoman, and Turkish sources, Islam and Nationalism in Modern Greece, 1821-1940 explores the way in which the Muslim populations of Greece were ruled by state authorities from the time of Greece's political emancipation from the Ottoman Empire in the 1820s until the country's entrance into the Second World War, in October 1940. The book examines how state rule influenced the development of the Muslim population's collective identity as a minority and affected Muslim relations with the Greek authorities and Orthodox Christians.

Greece was the first country in the Balkans to become an independent state and a pioneer in experimenting with minority issues. Greece's ruling framework and many state administrative measures and patterns would serve as templates in other Christian Orthodox Balkan states with Muslim minorities (Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Cyprus). Muslim religious officials were empowered with authority which they did not have in Ottoman times, and aspects of the Islamic law (Sharia) were incorporated into the state legal system to be used for Muslim family and property affairs. Religion remained a defining element in the political, social, and cultural life of the post-Ottoman Balkans; Stefanos Katsikas explores the role religious nationalism and public institutions have played in the development and preservation of religious and ethnic identity. Religion remains a key element of individual and collective identity but only as long as there are strong institutions and the political framework to support and maintain religious diversity.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Tatian's Diatessaron and Our Unspeakable Editorial Urges

Growing up in Canada more than 30 years ago now with an interest in literature and theology, I found reading Northrop Frye was de rigueur. I remember nothing of him now except his marvelous throw-away line about the Bible being a "sprawling, tactless book." Indeed it is.

Can you imagine, then, what temptations it poses if you are some aspiring scribe and editor in the late second century who thinks that at least the gospels could withstand a good going-over? Perhaps you are unusually bothered, or the people of your community confused, by what you and they see as myriad repetitions, lacunae, and inconsistencies? What harm might there be in picking up your Red Redacting Stylus and tidying up Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (inter alia)? 

Many Christians today are recoiling in horror at these very questions, but are only able to do so with the benefit of living after the "canon question" was settled, and more recently after centuries of fights about scriptural inerrancy, infallibility, and other talismanic phrases pounded into their heads. Put all that aside for a time and spare a thought for Tatian the Assyrian and his efforts with the singularly synthesized gospel we know as the Diatessaron, newly studied in Tatian's Diatessaron: Composition, Redaction, Recension, and Reception by James W. Barker (Oxford UP, November 2021), 168pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

In the late-second century, Tatian the Assyrian constructed a new Gospel by intricately harmonizing Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Tatian's work became known as the Diatessaron, since it was derived 'out of the four' eventually canonical Gospels. Though it circulated widely for centuries, the Diatessaron disappeared in antiquity. Nevertheless, numerous ancient and medieval harmonies survive in various languages. Some texts are altogether independent of the Diatessaron, while others are definitely related. Yet even Tatian's known descendants differ in large and small ways, so attempts at reconstruction have proven confounding. In this book James W. Barker forges a new path in Diatessaron studies.

Covering the widest array of manuscript evidence to date, Tatian's Diatessaron reconstructs the compositional and editorial practices by which Tatian wrote his Gospel. By sorting every extant witnesses according to its narrative sequence, the macrostructure of Tatian's Gospel becomes clear. Despite many shared agreements, there remain significant divergences between eastern and western witnesses. This book argues that the eastern ones preserve Tatian's order, whereas the western texts descend from a fourth-century recension of the Diatessaron. Victor of Capua and his scribe used the recension to produce the Latin Codex Fuldensis in the sixth century. More controversially, Barker offers new evidence that late medieval texts such as the Middle Dutch Stuttgart harmony independently preserve traces of the western recension. This study uncovers the composition and reception history behind one of early Christianity's most elusive texts.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Christians Hijacking History

Although this new book is aimed primarily at right-wing evangelicals in the United States, Catholics and Orthodox have no grounds for feeling smug here. In an American context, many of them--otherwise accustomed to lazy condemnations of "ecumenism"--have been only too happy to join up with their evangelical brethren in the reactionary culture wars which are currently focused on "critical race theory" which they are happy to demonize and condemn without manifestly bothering to understand it. 

More broadly, Catholic-Orthodox historiographical wars have not only kept them divided, but have also manifested many of the same dynamics described in this new book noted below. To pick just two examples at random: Orthodox regularly retail a version of the Fourth Crusade that conveniently leaves out their own attacks on Catholics in the preceding years--to say nothing of Byzantine Orthodox violence against non-Chalcedonians; or they invent out of whole cloth risible ideas about, say, Ireland being Orthodox before "the Franks" got at them. Or consider the competing histories of the Union of Brest and the Pseudo-Sobor of Lviv of 1946: about both, please God, Daniel Galadza and I will ourselves have in print a new book late this year. 

Or consider Catholics and their absurd fights over "tradition" before and after, and in relation to, Vatican II, which I addressed in part here. I looked at some of these historiographical issues in more detail in this essay. In sum, and to amend a phrase of the great historian Robert Taft, of blessed memory and the Society of Jesus, when it comes to hijacking history, nobody has clean hands!

Such historiographical issues are in for some incisive treatment in Kathleen Wellman's forthcoming book, set for fall release: Hijacking History: How the Christian Right Teaches the Past and Why It Matters (Oxford UP, Sept. 2021), 384pp. About this book the publisher tells us this: 

The teaching of history has long been the subject of partisan warfare. Religion often plays a prominent role in these debates, as secular progressives and conservative Christians disagree over which historical figures are worthy of study, how (or whether) certain events should be portrayed, and ultimately how tax dollars should be spent. But what about students who are educated outside the public schools, either in religious schools or at home? How are they learning history, and what effect does that have on our democracy?

Hijacking History analyzes the high school world history textbooks produced by the three most influential publishers of Christian educational materials. In these books, the historian, informed by his faith, tells the allegedly unbiased story of God's actions as interpreted through the Bible. History becomes a weapon to judge and condemn civilizations that do not accept the true God or adopt “biblical” positions. In their treatment of the modern world, these texts identify ungodly ideas to be vanquished-evolution, humanism, biblical modernism, socialism, and climate science among them.

The judgments found in these textbooks, Kathleen Wellman shows, are rooted in the history of American evangelicals and fundamentalists and the battles they fought against the tide of secularism. In assuming that God sanctions fundamentalist positions on social, political, and economic issues, students are led to believe that that the ultimate mission of America is to succeed as a nation that advances evangelical Christianity and capitalism throughout the world. The Christianity presented in these textbooks is proselytizing, intolerant of other religions and non-evangelical Christians, and unquestionably anchored to the political right.

As Hijacking History argues, the ideas these textbooks promote have significant implications for contemporary debates about religion, politics, and education, and pose a direct challenge to the values of a pluralistic democracy.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Church Architecture in Mesopotamia

Is there such a thing as Syrian Orthodox church architecture? Is there such a thing for any Christian tradition? If so, are such traditions stable across time, or if they change what does that tell us? These are other questions are up for review in a forthcoming book that looks at ecclesial buildings in antique Mesopotamia: Church Architecture of Late Antique Northern Mesopotamia by Elif Keser Kayaalp (Oxford UP, November 2021), 304pp. + 96 b/w + 16 colour illustrations. About this book the publisher tells us this:

Church Architecture of Late Antique Northern Mesopotamia examines the church architecture of Northern Mesopotamia between the fourth and eighth centuries. Keser Kayaalp draws attention to several aspects ranging from the small scale to the large, focusing on settlements, the variety of plan types, the remarkable continuity of the classical tradition in the architectural decoration, the heterogeneity of the building techniques, patrons, imperial motivations, and stories that claim and make spaces. Employing archaeological and epigraphical material and hagiographical and historical sources, a holistic picture of the church architecture of this frontier region emerges, encompassing the cities of Nisibis (Nusaybin), Edessa (Şanlıurfa), Amida (Diyarbakır), Anastasiopolis (Dara/ Oğuz), Martyropolis (Silvan), Constantia (Viranşehir), and the rural Ṭur'Abdin region. The period covered spans the last centuries of Byzantine and the first century and a half of Arab rule, when the region was, on the one hand, a stage of war and riven by religious controversies, and on the other, a dynamic space of cultural interaction. Keser Kayaalp provides a regional contribution to the study of the transformation that the Byzantine civilisation underwent in the late antique period, and assesses the continuities and changes after the Arab conquest in pursuit of discovering whether one can talk about a church architecture in this period that is specific to the Syrian Orthodox.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Dreams as the Royal Road to Religious Enlightenment?

When he released his landmark book The Interpretation of Dreams at the dawn of the last century, Sigmund Freud was both being and not being original and revolutionary. Truth be told he was merely calling to mind again the fascination with dreams that people have had since the beginning of time. 

Muslims and Christians are no different in this regard. I have noted books on dreams in religious traditions on here over the years. Now we have another. Released in March of this year is a book by Bronwen Neil, Dreams and Divination from Byzantium to Baghdad, 400-1000 CE (Oxford UP, 2021), 256pp. About this book the publisher tells us the following:

Why did dreams matter to Jews, Byzantine Christians, and Muslims in the first millennium? Dreams and Divination from Byzantium to Baghdad, 400 - 1000 CE shows how the ability to interpret dreams universally attracted power and influence in the first millennium. In a time when prophetic dreams were viewed as God's intervention in human history, male and female prophets wielded was unparalleled power in imperial courts, military camps, and religious gatherings. The three faiths drew on the ancient Near Eastern tradition of dream key manuals, which offer an insight into the hopes and fears of ordinary people. They melded pagan dream divination with their own scriptural traditions to produce a novel and rich culture of dream interpretation.

Prophetic dreams enabled communities to understand their past and present circumstances as divinely ordained and helped to bolster the spiritual authority of dreamers and those who had the gift of interpreting their dreams. Bronwen Neil takes a gendered approach to the analysis of the common culture of dream interpretation across late antique Jewish, Byzantine, and Islamic sources to 1000 CE, in order to expose the ways in which dreams offered women a unique opportunity to exercise influence. The epilogue to the volume reveals why dreams still matter today to many men and women of the monotheist traditions.

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