"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).

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Christmas 2015 Recommendations

For the last several years, I have been able to provide a synopsis of all the books noted on this blog in the previous twelve months. Last year's list is here, and the one from 2013 is here and contains links to previous years also. You are encouraged to review those lists, and the blog overall. What follows here is not an exhaustive summary of everything this year, but selected highlights under numerous categories.

Eastern Christian Encounters with Islam:

In a year in which so many headlines have been "inspired" by ISIS, it seems almost grimly fitting that the number of books treating Muslim-Christian relations, especially up to the end of the Ottoman period, has continued to grow. A new book on Christians in late antique Iran, and their interactions with Persian Muslims was recently noted here. A forthcoming book on Coptic Christians was noted here.

For further details on Europe and the Islamic World: A HistoryJohn Tolan's latest book, go here.

Perhaps the most widely respected Catholic scholar of early Christian-Muslim relations, especially in Syria, is Sidney Griffith, author of The Bible in Arabic: The Scriptures of the 'People of the Book' in the Language of Islam, details for whose new paperback edition are here.

A study looking at Christian exegesis of the Quran was mentioned here.

Egypt, long a front-line for Christian-Muslim relations, was the object of at least two new studies this year, including one noted here.

A second study, on Coptic Christianity in Ottoman Egypt, was discussed here.

My students get sick of my constantly telling them how important maps are in an era when we foolishly take for granted GPS systems. Thus I was especially interested in a recent study examining the shifting Byzantine-Islamic frontier, noted here.

A book treating Orthodox-Muslim relations in medieval Anatolia may be found here.

Syriac Christianity continues to receive perhaps the greatest attention in the field of Christian-Muslim relations, and for good reason insofar as Syria was of course the first country to be invaded and conquered by Islam, as a new book, noted here, reminds us.

A new study from Oxford on Greek Christians and power politics under the Ottoman sultans was mentioned here.

An important collection of primary source texts of Muslim-Christian relations was noted here. I hope to have more to say about it in the new year once I've finished reading it.

Byzantine Studies:

The category of Byzantium never runs dry. Dozens of books in Byzantine history continue to appear each year. I drew attention to just a few this year, including a book on Byzantine manuscripts here.

My year-long and ongoing fascination with death and funerary customs and practices saw me note a new book on Byzantine funeral orations here.

A fascinating study of Marian icons in Byzantium and their links to Italy was noted here.

I had occasion here to draw attention to a book on Byzantine vestments first published in 2012 but given renewed prominence this year thanks to a display at the Met in New York.

A recently published book, Performing Orthodox Ritual in Byzantium was noted here in some detail.

Derek Krueger's recent study on Byzantine liturgics was noted here.

Author Interviews: 

My friend, the prolific Orthodox pastoral theologian Bill Mills was recently interviewed here on the challenges to following Christ today.

The Ukrainian scholar Cyril Hovorun was recently interviewed here about his fascinating new work in ecclesiology, which I hope to adopt for my courses next year.

I interviewed Daniel Opperwall about his singular and welcome book translating the insights of the desert fathers to our time. This would make an excellent book for introductory courses on patristic spirituality, or for parish study groups.

Gregory Jensen was interviewed here on asceticism as the antidote to consumerism.

My interview with Peter Bouteneff about his new study of the Orthodox composer Arvo Part may be seen here.

The Tataryns were both interviewed here about their intriguing book on the Trinity and disability.

The Greek Orthodox philosopher John Panteleimon Manoussakis turned his hand to a short but lovely and compelling study on some of the challenges Catholics and Orthodox face in the search for unity. My interview with him may be seen here.

Evidently a brave man, Michael Martin tackles the still controversial question of sophiology in his new book, about which I interviewed him here.

Marcus Plested, whose splendid and vitally important book Orthodox Readings of Aquinas I reviewed here several years ago when it was first published in hardback, and whom I interviewed here, had his book released in paperback this year, as noted here. It continues to deserve a wide audience.

Syriac Christianity:

Though the on-going war in Syria threatens to continue to diminish the already reduced Christian communities there even further, they have not yet disappeared entirely from a place where they have had a vibrant, distinct, and vital tradition for most of the last two millennia. The Syriac tradition continues to be the object of scholarly study today more than at any point in the recent past, even in English alone. This year I drew attention to, inter alia, a new book on Ephraim's hymns here.

A new book on Syriac Christians and Islam was detailed here.

And finally Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent's study (her doctoral dissertation) on Syriac missionary stories was noted here. She has promised us an interview about this book, and I hope to run that as soon as she gets it to me, but as she's just had a baby, she is justly occupied with maternal duties just now.

Centenary of the Armenian Genocide:

For a unique story of "ecumenism in action," if you will, a story of an American Methodist rescuing Armenian Christians, see here.

For a collection that brings us up to date on the general state of the scholarly literature on genocide in general--covering not just the events in Armenia, but other more recent genocidal activities as well--see here.

In this centenary year of the genocide, it is not surprising that we have seen so many books emerge in the last 12-18 months on the horrifying fate that befell Armenian Christians in the summer of 1915. In a lengthy note here, I listed many of these recent publications.

Oxford Handbooks:

Oxford University Press, the oldest and most prestigious academic press in the anglophone world, continues to publish an impressive collection of "handbooks" devoted to hundreds of topics, including many theological topics. Their recent handbook on Christology was noted here.

Their hefty collection on sacramental theology was noted here, where I drew attention to the extensive inclusion of Eastern Christian thought, including a chapter from yours truly.

That great Byzantine theologian Maximus the Confessor continues to draw considerable scholarly attention, and Oxford's handbook on him was detailed here.

Finally, with attention to Eastern and patristic courses, the handbook on natural theology was noted here.

Russian Religious History:

This has been an interesting year especially for treatment of the question of tolerance of religious minorities in Russia, under the tsars and more recently. For one, the fate of Old Believers was noted here. For another, the role of the Jesuits at the court of the tsar was mentioned here. Additionally, Russian-Greek identities were treated in a new book by Lucien Frary, Russia and the Making of Modern Greek Identity, 1821-1844. Finally, tolerance and religious diversity in tsarist Russia was treated in a new book noted here.

Gavrilyuk's splendid book Georges Florovsky and the Russian Religious Renaissance is now available in a very affordable paperback. My lengthy discussion of it, based on my 2014 OTSA presentation, was noted on here last year.

The beautiful art and architecture of churches in Russia has long continued to draw admiration from around the world. A new book focuses on a neglected region, the far north of Russia as noted here.

At long last we had a fine English translation of Destivelle's landmark study, The Moscow Council (1917-1918): The Creation of the Conciliar Institutions of the Russian Orthodox Churchfurther details of which were noted here.


We saw at least two new books this year on the golden-mouthed preacher of Constantinople. In the first instance, we had a book on Chrysostom's views on slavery and in the second a book on his theology and preaching, noted here.

The great Alexandrian father Origen continues to inspire a large scholarly following, and this year a new book on his views on evil was noted here.

Oxford isn't the only game in town to publish handbooks. Wiley-Blackwell has been in on the action for a while, calling theirs "companions to...." In this case, we recently saw a hefty companion to patristics noted here.

As a psychoanalyst manqué, I was fascinated to see the publication this year of a book devoted to visions and patristic dreams.

A new collection of collected essays on John the Damascene may be found here.

And finally the latest translation of Cyril of Alexandria's commentary on John was noted here.

Problems in Historiography

I am becoming more and more fascinated by the uses and abuses of memory, history, and identity (on which see, inter alia, the elegant Margaret MacMillan's useful little book Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History) in not only intra-Christian disputes, but also in Christian-Muslim relations as well. A recent collection, noted here, treats some of the issues in Christian historiography.

A new study of the early Arab conquests revisits some of the problems, long known to scholars, of the unreliability of virtually everything from the first century of Islamic history.

The new edited collection The Bishop of Rome in Late Antiquity treats papal history in the first millennium but begins, as I noted in my initial review, with serious historiographical problems.

This summer saw the release of an important new book raising a difficult question on the secular-sacred split in Russian archives.

Ukrainian History and Christianity:

John-Paul Himka's lates book Ukrainian iconography was noted here.

Serhii Plokhy's year has been a busy one, with his latest study on Ukrainian history noted here. Earlier this year he also published The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union.

With the commemoration in July of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, I drew attention to Ukrainian Catholic churchmen of the 20th century here.

In addition, thanks to the ongoing in interest in the country over the last two years as a result of the Russian invasion and war of aggression, I noted various works in Ukrainian history here.


Though published in 2014, it was only this year that I got around to reading, and here initially reviewing, Orthodox Christianity and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Southeastern Europe. It remains an important and wide-ranging collection devoted to an issue that has long bedeviled Eastern Christianity--to say nothing of Islam.

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