"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).

Thursday, August 31, 2017

What is the Common Good?

When I teach courses on the social teachings of Orthodox and Catholic Christianity, my students invariably want a more fleshed out answer to the question "What is the common good" than what is supplied in the abstract and often unhelpfully vague treatments of it found in, e.g., the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, published by Rome more than a decade ago.

Perhaps help is now at hand in the form of Daniel K. Finn's new book, Empirical Foundations of the Common Good: What Theology Can Learn from Social Science (Oxford UP, 2017), 272pp.

About this collection we are told:
The idea of the common good was borrowed by the Fathers of the early Catholic Church from the rich philosophical traditions of ancient Greece and Rome. It has been a fundamental part of Catholic thinking about social, political, and economic life throughout the Catholic intellectual tradition, from Augustine and Aquinas to modern Catholic social thought in the encyclicals of popes in recent centuries. Yet this history has been rooted in the traditions of philosophy and theology. With the rise of the social sciences in the nineteenth century as distinct disciplines no longer limited to the methods of their philosophical origins, humanity has learned a great deal more about the human condition. Empirical Foundations of the Common Good asks two questions: what have the social sciences learned about the common good? how might theology alter its understanding of the common good in light of that insight?
In this volume, six social scientists, with backgrounds in economics, political science, sociology, and policy analysis, speak about what their disciplines have to contribute to discussions within Catholic social thought about the common good. Two theologians then respond by examining the insights of social science and exploring how Catholic social thought can integrate social scientific insights into its understanding of the common good. This volume's interplay of social scientific and religious views is a unique contribution to contemporary discussion of what constitutes "the common good."

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

An Earthly Pilgrimage to the Tormented City of Peace

A staple of early Christian history, especially liturgical history, is that famous and fascinating diary kept by Egeria of her pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Both before her trip, and many times after, Christians and others have made the same trip for many of the same reasons.

Such pilgrimages are not just pious activities of a private few, but often have international political ramifications as well. In both Orlando Figes's fascinating and elegantly written The Crimean War: A History as well as the more recent study The Great Powers and Orthodox Christendom: The Crisis over the Eastern Church in the Era of the Crimean War by Jack Fairey, we see the role that pilgrimages played in shaping English Anglican, German Lutheran, and Russian Orthodox (inter alia) imaginations not just of the places in question, but also of their geopolitical significance, and the need for each of those imperial powers, and others, to "protect" the holy places.

People travel, then, to Jerusalem and environs with a variety of motives and such trips can have a diversity of outcomes, some clearly favoured by capitalist and imperialist powers for their own mundane self-interest.

Many of those who do go to Jerusalem make it a point, as Egeria did, to write about the experience afterwards. Later this year we will see the publication of an anthology gathering together some of those writings: A Jerusalem Anthology: Travel Writing through the Centuries Hardcover, eds. T.J. Gorton and Andree Feghali Gorton (Oxford UP, 2017), 160pp.

About this book we are told:
Jerusalem has a special status as a city that is both terrestrial and celestial. The name includes a cognate for 'peace,' but the old stones of the city have witnessed epic bloodshed and destruction over the centuries. The three great monotheistic religions all regard it with especial fervor, and it has for at least two millennia attracted pilgrims intent on seeing it before they die. This rich and compelling anthology of travelers' writings attempts to convey something of the diverse experiences of visitors to this most complex and enigmatic of cities. A Jerusalem Anthology takes us on a journey through a city, not just of illusion and powerful accumulated religious emotion, but of colors, lights, smells, and sounds, an inhabited city as it was directly experienced and lived in through the ages. Memoirs of visitors such as as sixth-century AD pilgrim Saint Silvia of Bordeaux, medieval Jerusalemite al-Muqaddasi, Grand Tour voyagers Gustave Flaubert and Alexander Kinglake, the humorous Mark Twain, or the cynical T.E. Lawrence provide vivid and sometimes disturbing vignettes of the Holy City at very different times in its tumultuous history.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Early Coptic Papacy

I first read this book more than a decade ago as it began to emerge as the first of a trilogy, originally published in hardback editions. Next month, it will finally appear in paperback, and it is the sort of series that any library serious about Coptic realities, ecclesiology, and ecumenism must have: Stephen J. Davis, The Early Coptic Papacy: The Egyptian Church and Its Leadership in Late Antiquity: The Popes of Egypt, Volume 1 (American University of Cairo Press, 2017), 280pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
The Copts, adherents of the Egyptian Orthodox Church, today represent the largest Christian community in the Middle East, and their presiding bishops have been accorded the title of pope since the third century AD. This study analyzes the development of the Egyptian papacy from its origins to the rise of Islam. How did the papal office in Egypt evolve as a social and religious institution during the first six and a half centuries AD? How do the developments in the Alexandrian patriarchate reflect larger developments in the Egyptian church as a whole-in its structures of authority and lines of communication, as well as in its social and religious practices? In addressing such questions, Stephen J. Davis examines a wide range of evidence-letters, sermons, theological treatises, and church histories, as well as art, artifacts, and archaeological remains-to discover what the patriarchs did as leaders, how their leadership was represented in public discourses, and how those representations definitively shaped Egyptian Christian identity in late antiquity.
I don't know whether volumes II  (The Coptic Papacy in Islamic Egypt, 641-1517 by Mark N. Swanson) and III (The Emergence of the Modern Coptic Papacy by Magdi Girgis and Nelly van Doorn-Harder) will also appear in paperback, though one would suppose so. Still, the hardbacks of both are available and are not expensive.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Iconoclasm Then and Now

What ought we to do about statues--whether in the American South or elsewhere--we do not like, or with whose politics we disagree? I do not have any definite answers to these questions, but I would note that those demanding the removal of the statues have given little evidence of  having carefully and calmly considered just a few of the necessary and important questions, not least among which is the demand for moral perfection in those commemorated. All great men and women who change history in dramatic ways are flawed, as indeed are all human beings. Who may be found worthy and on the basis of what criteria? Who has the power to decide?

Who, moreover--and, again, on what basis--may decide when remembering must give way to forgetting? As I noted on here last summer in several installments, recent works of David Rieff and Manuel Cruz on the importance of forgetting may have things to tell us in these debates today.

Another necessary set of questions concerns the politics of the future. For one thing that has become clear in the study of iconoclasm, which has really taken off in the academic world as dozens of new books on the topic have appeared in the last decade or so (see, e.g., here, here, here [treating iconoclasm in the Latin Church after Vatican II], and especially here) is that iconoclasm is always the prelude to a new politics. So let us say we pull down every statue we object to. What comes next? Once again mobs braying and rampaging seem scarcely to recognize these as questions, never mind to have coherent and satisfactory answers to them.

The politics of iconoclasm has been well treated in a book I have mentioned and discussed on here before: James Noyes, The Politics of Iconoclasm: Religion, Violence and the Culture of Image-Breaking in Christianity and Islam, which was released last year in a paperback edition.

Other recent studies are also very useful. Routledge, just last month, released Kindle editions of books first published several years ago, including Jeffrey Johnson and Anne McClanan, eds., Negating the Image: Case Studies in Iconoclasm.

Stacy Boldrick's fascinating and useful book, Striking Images, Iconoclasms Past and Present, was also just released in a Kindle edition.

What is clear in these and other works is that "iconoclasm" has moved well beyond its Byzantine provenance, where it has been extremely well covered by such as Leslie Brubaker in Inventing Byzantine Iconoclasm (a good basic introductory text for those with no background) and then at lavish length, with John Haldon, in Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era, c. 680-850: A History.

Finally, one of the best general works that begins in Byzantium but works its way outward, treating ancient Greek philosophy, Jewish and Muslim arguments, and much else besides in the ancient and modern worlds, remains Alain Besançon, The Forbidden Image: An Intellectual History of Iconoclasm.

Once More on Vatican II

When, in the fall of 2012, the commemorative events on the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II began in such profusion, continuing through each of the three successive years marking the half-century of each session, I very quickly grew very weary of all this anniversary-making, not least because it was of course bound up with myth-making of the most dubious sort.

After a bit of a respite, however, I could again contemplate the council without suffering uncontrollably from the desire to rush into the nearest sea and be carried off, never to have to hear of it again. So I was able happily to accept Matthew Levering's commission in the summer of 2015 to write a chapter for the collection he edited with Matthew Lamb, The Reception of Vatican II.  That welcome collection appeared in print earlier this year. My chapter is on Orientalium Ecclesiarum.

I saw Matthew just over a month ago, and he told me sales were a bit slow, so if you have held off on ordering the book, now is as good a time as any to do so! Or if you want to ensure you get a copy in time to leave under the Christmas tree four months from today for your favourite Catholic family member, by all means follow this link to do so!

By the way, I saw Matthew at a splendid conference at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, organized so superbly by Paul Gavrilyuk, author of, inter alia, the very widely praised Georges Florovsky and the Russian Religious Renaissance, and co-editor with Sarah Coakley, of The Spiritual Senses: Perceiving God in Western Christianity. Paul had invited Sarah to be respondent to my paper, and I am very glad of her gracious and useful comments, which I have taken to heart in continuing to revise the paper for publication, I hope, sometime late next year.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Ecclesiology of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel

Nearly four years ago now, I interviewed Sarah Hinlicky Wilson about her book Woman, Women, and the Priesthood in the Trinitarian Theology of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel.

Behr-Sigel, for those who do not know of her fascinatingly complex life, has been told in a wonderful biography I discussed here.

Sarah wrote to me recently to draw my attention to a fascinating new collection I'm looking forward to reviewing: A Communion in Faith and Love: Elisabeth Behr-Sigel's Ecclesiology (2017, 176pp).

About this book we are told:
The life and work of Orthodox theologian and ecumenical pioneer Elisabeth Behr-Sigel (1907-2005) still holds radical implications for how we understand authentic Christian life. Born into a Lutheran and Jewish family and ordained in the Reformed tradition, Behr-Sigel converted to Orthodox Christianity and continued a lifetime of theological wrestling with the major questions and leading thinkers of her time. Immersed in the religious and social struggles of twentieth-century Europe, she dove deep into the tradition and saw clearly the relevance of Orthodox spirituality and theology for our turbulent age and Christian communion in the church. Here are featured the latest and best scholarship on the theological legacy of Behr-Sigel, her restless and searching spirit, her deep appreciation of the early church writers, her creative endurance of the assaults of wartime Europe, and her grappling with and championing of the ordination of women--all point to her relevance for today.
I look forward to reading this and having more to say about it in due course.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Northern Egyptian Christianity

So much of Christian monastic history is indebted to late antique Egypt, which continues justly to be the object of regular study, especially by Coptic scholars. A very impressive and wide-ranging group of them has collaborated to produce a substantial collection due out at the end of this month: Christianity and Monasticism in Northern Egypt: Beni Suef, Giza, and the Nile Delta, eds. Gawdat Gabra and Hany Takla (American University of Cairo Press, 2017), 384pp.

About this book we are told:
Christianity and monasticism have long flourished in the northern part of Upper Egypt and in the Nile Delta, from Beni Suef to the Mediterranean coast. The contributors to this volume, international specialists in Coptology from around the world, examine various aspects of Coptic civilization in northern Egypt over the past two millennia. The studies explore Coptic art and archaeology, architecture, language, and literature. The artistic heritage of monastic sites in the region is highlighted, attesting to their important legacies.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Note on Trotsky's Life on the Day of His Death

I claim no great expertise in Russian revolutionary history, and even less in the life of Trotsky. So take this for what it's worth: just a very simple note to say that, in this centenary year of the revolution, my bedtime reading has included Robert Service's fascinating Trotsky: A Biography (Belknap Press, 2011), 648pp. One of the virtues of this book is to disabuse people of the line one sometimes hears that Trotsky would have been far kinder than Stalin was, and was far less inclined to the use of mass violence. Conquest pours considerable doubt on this claim, and I am in no position to say otherwise.

It is interesting to see how, almost until the end, Trotsky seemed to expect that people would finally come around again to his views and welcome him back from, first, internal exile in Russia, and then in Turkey, France, and finally Mexico. For someone as clever as Trotsky was, and as ruthless as he could be in some circumstances, he seems in the end to be been done in repeatedly by--call it what you will--a naivete or an intellectual's overconfidence in the power of ideas combined with an over-great trust of people to put ideas before themselves, as Trotsky sometimes seems to have done. How else to explain how wantonly he would talk to just about anybody and everybody (not a few of whom were Soviet agents, as one must surely have expected), and how utterly careless he seems to have been about personal security, even after a very near-miss by assassins in Mexico before finally being done in by Ramón Mercader and his infamous ice ax in August 1940.

Robert Service has also authored biographies of the other two big men of the Russian triumvirate: Stalin: A Biography (2006); and Lenin: A Biography (2000).

I have not (yet) read either of those, and perhaps never will. Having read, about a decade ago, Simon Sebag Montefiore's Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar I am not sure I have the desire to enter again into the catalogue of horrors which Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky did so much to usher in.

They ushered Soviet communism in at The End of Tsarist Russia: The March to World War I and Revolution, a book by Dominic Lieven I have just begun. It is very well done so far, linking the socioeconomic problems of the Romanov dynasty, the war, and the revolution together to show what a sprawling complex scene was to be found in the Russia of the first two decades of the twentieth century.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Orthodox Architecture in North America: An Interview with Nicholas Denysenko

I count it a great gift to have Nick Denysenko among my friends. I have happily interviewed him on here over the years about his many books, and 2017 must be something of a record for him insofar as he has two coming out this year.

He has recently moved from the so-called city of angels (who are, after all, the lowest-ranked in the celestial hierarchy) to the state of Indiana where, it is reported, the dominions and thrones, if not exactly the cherubim and seraphim, are sometimes inclined to take their annual holidays. So he's moved up in the world, or at least to the Mid-West, and that allows me to bring him to town next year to lecture on his book Christmation: A Primer for Catholics. I interviewed him about that book here. You can read other interviews here and here.

So now to the first of two books coming out this year: Theology and Form: Contemporary Orthodox Architecture in America. It is a fascinating study, and just the sort of scholarship that makes this academic life all worthwhile: a serious, sustained look across a number of disciplines to see what stories they tell. Since studying Jane Jacobs more than twenty years ago, I have had an amateur's fascination with buildings and street-scapes, and the messages they convey, the agendas they have, and the stories they try, sometimes badly and sometimes well, to tell. So Nick's newest book is especially interesting as he ranges quite literally across the country to many and very diverse buildings and communities, looking at their architectural design, iconography, and underlying theology, seeking to analyze the stories those buildings tell, and the communities of which they are a part.

Following my usual practice, I e-mailed him some questions, and here are his thoughts.

AD: What led you from books on Theophany, Chrismation, and liturgical reform to now architecture? Are there links between all these works?

ND: In the earlier studies, I encountered several references to seminal studies on the Byzantine liturgy and architecture. I was particularly intrigued by the evolution of Byzantine liturgy and the relationship between the 'cathedral' and 'monastic' liturgical types. As I examined the literature, there seemed to be a consensus that the received tradition of the Byzantine rite could--and should--be celebrated in any given space.

To be honest, it was a series of personal experiences that inspired this study. In 1997, I participated in the consecration of St. Katherine's Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Arden Hills, Minnesota. Again, in 2008, I served at the consecration of the Orthodox Church of St. Matthew in Columbia, Maryland. The time I spent in these parish communities permitted me to experience the process of planning the building of Church complexes. There were so many factors contributing to the desired edifices that were outside of liturgy. Certainly, raising the needed funds was a major factor in both cases, but there were also questions of parish history, architectural models of the past, and the unique mission of the individual parishes in comparison with other Orthodox parishes in the area. These factors came to be inscribed on the actual architecture, and it occurred to me that Orthodox architecture in America just did not conform to the principle of form following function. So, I decided to look at a sample size of parishes to learn more. The outcome taught me a lot about liturgy, but even more about the mosaic of Orthodoxy in America.  

AD: Your introduction notes the common assumption that "architectural form follows liturgical function" but a little later suggests that your research has uncovered other "factors contributing to the architectural design besides liturgy." Were you expecting to find this when you set out on this project, or was it a surprise? And of those other factors besides architectural design, is there one that stands out as the most important? 

I was expecting to find other factors contributing to architectural form. In my study, I identified a handful that stood out: cultural memory, liturgical renewal, and mission in an American context. I think one could synthesize these into a more general factor that contributes to architectural form: the local community's core values.

AD: You've got six chapters focusing on seven different buildings and communities across the country. How did you choose these? 

I was familiar with most of the communities in one way or another. I decided to examine Annunciation Church in Milwaukee because of its unique history, and the story of the building of the Church really pushed my imagination, because it was clear to me that the architect was considering elements that weren't really a part of the community's vision.

In my reading, it was apparent that including Holy Virgin Cathedral (ROCOR) in San Francisco was absolutely necessary. The community has a longstanding reputation for fidelity to liturgical tradition, the iconographic program is truly extraordinary, and the community's new identity as the home of St. John Maximovich added a new dimension, because so many pilgrims come to the Church for veneration of his relics and prayer.

I added Three Hierarchs Chapel at St. Vladimir's Seminary because it was a good opportunity to consider liturgy and architecture in light of Alexander Schmemann as the preeminent father of liturgical renewal in America, and Fr. Alexis Vinogradov as a practicing architect who designed spaces for multiple communities with a vision for Orthodox mission to America in the background.

The Church of the Holy Wisdom at New Skete Monastery was a special opportunity to see how an Orthodox monastery used liturgical scholarship to construct a building hosting a liturgy founded upon the cathedral tradition. I had also served in a handful of Orthodox missions, and had reflected at length on the significance of mission communities worshiping in non-traditional spaces.

Finally, Joy of All Who Sorrow mission in Culver City was a wonderful way to examine all of these issues in a mission context. I'm particularly pleased with the outcomes of the study, because some of them were surprising.

AD: All seven are Byzantine Orthodox temples. Was that deliberate? Were you tempted at all to look at the theology and form of, say, Armenian or Coptic churches--or even Byzantine Catholic ones? 

Yes - I had planned on an ecumenical volume to enhance the dialogue and make comparisons across traditions. My interest in ecumenical dialogue prodded me to include Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant traditions. Practical considerations led me to limit the study to Orthodox churches, and in this sense, the comparisons were somewhat "apple-to-apple." It certainly would have been fine to include Byzantine Catholic congregations as well, or Oriental Orthodox communities. I see no reason to exclude the possibility of a follow-up article that might examine a variety of Churches in a particular urban, suburban, or rural region. One could learn a great deal about the way diverse congregations in the same region negotiate the economy, politics, environment, and demographic patterns.

AD: You note repeatedly the role that immigrants and immigration played in shaping Orthodox architecture and communities in the US. Among those diverse groups--Ukrainians, Greeks, Serbs, Russians and others--are there commonalities in their experience and in their shaping of their churches? 

Yes, absolutely. I think the most important commonality--or to return, again, to the notion of a "core value"--is continuity. The outcomes are not alike, but the rationale is the same. For example, Holy Virgin Cathedral values continuity of liturgical tradition and fidelity to the ordo established by its founders and primary figures.

St. Katherine's values continuity in establishing programs and spaces devoted to sustaining cultural identity. The core value of passing on beloved traditions that symbolize identity features is a hallmark of immigrant groups, which is one reason the secondary and tertiary spaces of the properties are so important. These spaces are devoted to the non-liturgical and they exist because they're important to the people. For example, the bandura showcased in the museum at St. Katherine's is placed prominently to promote the connection between life here and in the Ukrainian homeland. The same is true of the original iconostasis at Annunciation Church in Milwaukee, in a different way: the iconostasis marks the progression of the community through its generational history.

AD: In addition to the immigrant experience, you also repeatedly note another significant factor shaping architectural decisions: extra-liturgical usages, such as food fests or community events. Tell us a bit more about this factor. 

It is so convenient to put this topic aside and focus only on the liturgical space. It's irresponsible to ignore it, though, because the community also gathers in these non-liturgical spaces, and the people's use of the space discloses the vitality of the community. In Byzantine circles, we tend to refer to such gatherings as 'liturgy after the liturgy'. For some people, this 'liturgy after the liturgy' is coffee hour. For others, it is the liturgy of daily life. I think there is an important point to explore here, and that is the matter of strong, poignant life experiences that occur in non-liturgical spaces.

For example, I recall several community gatherings that contributed to my formation that occurred outside of Church and worship. Liturgy was never the only part of the community's gathering. There were lectures, meetings, sporting events, concerts, picnics, and classes that took place in the other spaces of the Church community, and these encounters were real, meaningful, and formative.

Our mutual friend Michael Plekon, in his book Uncommon Prayer, demonstrates the power of encounter and engagement in his narrative about making pierogies at St. Gregory the Theologian Orthodox Church in Wappingers Falls. These experiences are formative and we need them: there is a certain vitality to meaningful exchange with people outside of the liturgy that is fed by liturgy, and also contributes to it. I'm not trying to undermine liturgy here, but to show that the non-liturgical spaces of a community tell us a lot about the parish profile, if we would just pay attention to it. When we learn that the parish hall is occasionally larger than the church building, we re-examine our assessment of parish life.

The same principle can apply to a parish that is in the process of planning its property. Let's say that parish devotes an ample amount of space to something non-liturgical, like a food shelf, or for more ambitious communities, a retreat center. Those spaces would have the potential to become fixtures of the local neighborhood and create relationships with the surrounding community that make the parish a true neighbor to the people who live there. Parishes that have the courage to think like this have a strong sense of a pulse for contemporary Christian mission.

AD: Popular discussions of church architecture and design almost invariably include a comment about pews. In the communities you surveyed, was the question of pews ever a question for them, or were they just assumed to be part of the American ecclesial landscape? 

The question did not come up, although I have heard it in mentioned in casual conversation about interior Church space. I do think that pews give us an insight into the arrival and establishment of Orthodox communities in America. On one hand, parishes that adopted pews adapted to the larger local liturgical culture. You could think of an Orthodox Church with pews as conforming to organic development, Orthodoxy acclimating to the local cultural conditions.

On the other hand, pews are foreign to Byzantine liturgy: they constrict space for ritual movement. And they're uncomfortable, at least in my opinion. When the discussion about pews becomes a liturgy war, we need to step back and consider the practical issue at hand. We're talking about seating. An appropriate seating arrangement should be part of every interior church space, and that arrangement needs to honor the need for ritual and devotional movement, and provide an opportunity for people to sit. As for the parishes in my study, the seating arrangements varied. Some have pews, others have chairs, and others have open spaces in the nave with no seating for ritual movement with chairs or benches in the rear for those who need or choose to sit in church. There is no resolution to this debate: on this matter, liturgical pluralism will continue to prevail in America.

AD: Of the seven churches you focus on, do you have a favorite? If so, why?

I have a sentimental attachment to St. Katherine's in Arden Hills because my grandfather was the pastor of the community for eighteen years, and I spent my childhood there. I also sense that St. Katherine's captures the journey of Orthodox people in America: a parish established by immigrants moves to the suburbs and builds a temple based on the model of Kyivan baroque. When I'm inside the church at St. Katherine's, I see room for new icons on the walls of the temple. Will thee future icons continue to honor the heritage of the Kyivan Church? Or will the new icons join the living in prayer with North American saints? So for me, St. Katherine's illuminates the opportunity to understand the unique challenges of immigrant communities to cultivate parish life for several generations to come.

All of the parishes in my study inspire me in some way. Holy Virgin Cathedral is an iconographic wonder and a true liturgical center. St. Matthew gives us a sense of how the Orthodox Church might adapt to contemporary conditions. New Skete sheds light on liturgical creativity. I could go on, the point being that each parish has something to offer.

AD: If a community currently renting a school or community hall were to hire you as a consultant on the design of a new church building complex, is there one piece of advice you'd give them as the most important thing to keep in mind? 

I don't think I can reduce this list to one item, so I'll try to prioritize. The first item is probably the most obvious, but it's worth repeating: sustainability over a long period of time. Communities need to be honest with themselves about what they CAN do, and this requires avoiding the temptation to build a massive edifice because "if we build it, then they will come." Communities have to face the realities of our current world: people are more mobile than ever, and children will move for employment, so no parish can simply count on the next generation continuing parish life apace. Plan a realistic structure the community can actually sustain over the course of multiple generations. It's not necessary for the founders of the structure to run into the courtyard shouting "I have outdone Solomon and Justinian!" Don't build an edifice emphasizing verticality for the glory of God; design a church that inspires the people to glorify God. If your community is fortunate enough to outgrow its space, don't fret--just encourage people to build a new church in a neighborhood that has space.

The second item I'll mention here is mission. How will your community carry out its mission? Larger communities with generous benefactors might consider how they can witness to the people in the neighborhood. We need more parish communities that offer education, service to the community, food shelves, and a space in which the parish interacts with the neighborhood in normal fashion. Perhaps a larger community might have a retreat center with rooms or even a restaurant that invites the public into the space hosted by the Church. Smaller communities can take on humbler approaches that are equally powerful: the point is to build a space that makes contemporary mission in America possible. And that mission is to be a good neighbor to all in our local neighborhoods.  

One bonus item for consideration: how can a community modify a space to make it truly appropriate for worship when options are limited? Orthodox missions in America are constantly confronting this issue, and the textbook answer is to simply take the received Byzantine rite and fit it into that space. But I wonder if there is room for a new creativity, especially when some communities accept the fact that they're never going to purchase land and build, and that a parish community can be vibrant without owning property? We don't know what is coming to us over the horizon.

Two years ago, I heard a fascinating presentation by Stephanie N. Gilles, who is working closely with the Catholic Church in the Philippines to design quality worship spaces in shopping malls. Her work is not a gimmick or a fad: it is a reality driven by limited real estate and the need for the Church to find a suitable place for liturgy. In our context, some people might grumble about the lack of financial support to buy property and build a Church. It could be that the lack of finances for building is offering a more meaningful opportunity: for the Church to gather and worship in non-traditional spaces, and to learn how to witness through those spaces.

AD: Having finished Theology and Form: Contemporary Orthodox Architecture in America, and undertaken some significant changes in your life recently, what comes next? What projects are you at work on now? 

I am currently in transition. This Fall semester, I am taking on a research fellowship at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota, where I will be examining Greek and Slavonic liturgical manuscripts. I hope to learn something new about the blessing of waters on Theophany and to focus on the history of liturgical offices appointed to the fifth week of Lent in the Byzantine tradition.

Additionally, I'm finishing a book on the religious identity of the Orthodox Churches in Ukraine and am writing a new book titled "The People's Faith," a close look at how Orthodox laity in America understand and experience the liturgy. I'm also preparing for a new position: I have been appointed as the Jochum Professor and Chair at Valparaiso University in Indiana, effective January 2018.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Psychoanalyzing the World's Conflicts (II)

As I began by noting, the history of psychoanalysis has been one not just of great clinical insights but also of wider cultural applications as well. That is clearly evident in the later Freud and in many of his successors, as Eli Zaretsky, inter alia, has demonstrated.

One contemporary American scholar who has applied analytic theory to socioeconomic and political issues in a number of books is David Levine, retired from the University of Colorado where he taught economics and political economy. He has also trained at the Colorado Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies, and has applied such insights in a variety of books on economic, political, and social topics, including his most recent, Psychoanalysis, Society, and the Inner World: Embedded Meaning in Politics and Social Conflict (Routledge, 2017), 144pp. (Levine is also co-author of a book forthcoming next year that looks fascinating in light of contemporary conflicts on university campuses.)

This is a slender, subtle, and suggestive book that raises a number of psychoanalytic ideas, primarily drawn from the well-known analyst D.W. Winnicott and the larger British and object relations schools, and then seeks to apply them to contemporary sociopolitical problems, including "fake news." The justification for doing so comes relatively late in the book when Levine argues that "psychoanalytic ideas and methods become important to the extent that it becomes important to understand the special suffering that people inflict on themselves and their special attachment to it" (93). Commendably, however, Levine recognizes the limitations of this approach, knowing that merely gaining insight into why someone does something is not, in itself, usually going to be a significant force for broader social change.

The merit of this book is that Levine writes with a light touch, and commendably refuses to turn psychoanalysis into an ideological club with which to attack problems, or to force all issues to fit a pre-existing frame. At the same time, though, his arguments are sometimes attenuated by an unhelpful degree of abstraction, though some of this is remedied in the last few chapters of the book in particular, the usefulness of which quickly becomes very obvious in an age of rising nationalism, "fake news," Donald Trump, and constant protest and outrage at perceived slights to people grouped together via "identity politics."

Levine begins from the insight that "training in and development of psychoanalytic habits of mind...offers a measure of protection against the impulse to externalize responsibility for what originates inside and enhances sensitivity to the presence of that impulse in others" (10). In other words part of the value of psychoanalytic training (as Fred Busch has also argued) is that it offers not just a 'what,' that is, access to the 'contents' of something called the 'unconscious mind,' but that it offers insights into the 'how' of the mind, how it works.

Too often our minds work by concealing certain operative assumptions that may in fact be imprisoning us without our realizing it, forcing us to continue thinking and acting in ways based on unexamined habit. Levine thus rightly argues that what we may well need to give up is a certain history, a certain view of our history that doesn't merely narrate the past, but do so in a way that prevents new options from being brought to the fore in the present: "psychic change only has meaning, then, where our history is not also our destiny" (16). Adding to this, a little later on he notes that the only kind of change that will last and prove to be valuable is "change that moves us from a closed to an open system" (30). Both Eastern Christians viewing our history, and many Muslims theirs (and both viewing the Crusades), will surely find this an important challenge to undertake.

Levine's second chapter unpacks some of the central insights of the object relations school including the mind's rather "primitive" inclination to see everything as having a cause for which someone can be held responsible: "nothing is an accident; nothing simply happens" (20). He also draws on the widely discussed experience we all have, which was given a name by Christopher Bollas: the "unthought known" as developed by him in such works as The Shadow of the Object: Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known (Columbia UP, 1989), recently re-released in a 30th-anniversary edition.

From Winnicott in particular Levine draws the important insight that many people find their identities in groups--whether political parties, churches, nationalist or racist movements, or many other such clubs--but that in doing so they sacrifice part of, and sometimes all of, their true self for a false one. They may well be doing so precisely to avoid contact with parts of their true self that are disturbed and disturbing. The group identity is clean, idealized, and often totalized, whereas their own personal identity may be rough, disorderly, and fragmentary. These latter aspects result in what Levine calls "ambivalence about the self," a good deal of which may be founded on early childhood experiences of guilt and shame.

Levine's eighth ("Hate in Groups and the Struggle for Individual Identity") and tenth ("Truth in Politics") chapters are perhaps the most pertinent in 2017. The insights driving both are derived in part from Freud's insights into the connection between "Mourning and Melancholia," noting that an unwillingness or inability to complete the former is almost always bound up with outbreaks of the latter, which are in turn often bound up with anger, lashing out, and blaming others. (In my estimation, as I've argued elsewhere, this is very much what we see in ISIS propaganda--anger based on incomplete mourning of a lost empire.) The capacity to mourn adequately carries with it the promise of being able to renew one's separate identity afterwards instead of becoming fused with and stuck on the dead or lost object. There is, as I just suggested, much wisdom here in thinking of those who have not mourned for past losses, whether in the Crusades or elsewhere.

The tenth chapter notes that a key problem with much current political rhetoric is that it makes sweeping and unsubstantiated claims alleging that "survival is at stake" (cf. in this regard Rod Dreher) and does so via expansive and abstract "apocalyptic rhetoric." Such tactics project onto others "an extreme form of the bad object that must be controlled or destroyed rather than treated as a partner in the reasoning process" (130). The chapter very briefly mentions a few examples in connection with the 2016 elections in these United States, but overall it is far too short and under-developed, missing a very considerable opportunity here.

Levine's book could, in fact, have been strengthened, in my view, by greater engagement with the British psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, especially his two books Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life, discussed here, and Unforbidden Pleasures: Rethinking Authority, Power, and Vitality, which I discussed at some length here.

Overall, the merit of Levine's newest work, Psychoanalysis, Society, and the Inner World: Embedded Meaning in Politics and Social Conflict comes in raising issues and suggesting useful lines of analytic theory for further exploration without heavy-handedly bludgeoning his point, and readers, to death. That is no small thing. It does, after all, take greater self-discipline to write a short book of useful questions than a very long book of useless answers.


Monday, August 14, 2017

The Great Terror Revisited

I read lots of books, and forget some or all of a good many of them. But seared into my memory, as it must surely be to everyone who has read it, are the images of staggering iniquity and cruelty documented by Robert Conquest decades ago in covering some of Stalin's many crimes in The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine and in The Great Terror: A Reassessment. Both were groundbreaking books at the time part of whose force and "unforgetability" came from the relentless documentation of evil upon evil.

Since those books came out, the USSR of course collapsed, and many people have understandably preferred to focus on a better future than on the ravages of the past.

But note James Harris, who last year published in hardcover The Great Fear: Stalin's Terror of the 1930s. And later this year, in mid-October according to Oxford University Press, a paperback version of the same will be in print.

About this book we are told
Between the winter of 1936 and the autumn of 1938, approximately three quarters of a million Soviet citizens were subject to summary execution. More than a million others were sentenced to lengthy terms in labour camps. Commonly known as 'Stalin's Great Terror', it is also among the most misunderstood moments in the history of the twentieth century. The Terror gutted the ranks of factory directors and engineers after three years in which all major plan targets were met. It raged through the armed forces on the eve of the Nazi invasion. The wholesale slaughter of party and state officials was in danger of making the Soviet state ungovernable. The majority of these victims of state repression in this period were accused of participating in counter-revolutionary conspiracies. Almost without exception, there was no substance to the claims and no material evidence to support them. By the time the terror was brought to a close, most of its victims were ordinary Soviet citizens for whom 'counter-revolution' was an unfathomable abstraction. In short, the Terror was wholly destructive, not merely in terms of the incalculable human cost, but also in terms of the interests of the Soviet leaders, principally Joseph Stalin, who directed and managed it. The Great Fear presents a new and original explanation of Stalin's Terror based on intelligence materials in Russian archives. It shows how Soviet leaders developed a grossly exaggerated fear of conspiracy and foreign invasion and lashed out at enemies largely of their own making.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Liturgy and Byzantinization in Jerusalem

It is one of the undeserved gifts of my life that I can count Daniel Galadza as a friend as well as co-worker (we are editing a collection of papers on the 1946 pseudo-sobor of Lviv based on a conference at the University of Vienna in June of 2016, which I discussed a bit here). He is a scholar's scholar without any of the pretenses such men sometimes have, combining great erudition with great humility. I've never forgotten our conversation about six or seven years ago now when I was in Washington giving a paper at a conference, and he was a junior fellow at the most prestigious centre for Byzantine studies in North America, Dumbarton Oaks. As we were standing in the rain waiting to cross some street or other en route to lunch, I asked him what he'd been up to lately, and he very off-handedly remarked that he was teaching himself Georgian (to add to his fluent Ukrainian, English, German, French, Italian, and, as I saw this past June in San Felice del Benaco, not impassable Russian!), at which I doffed my cap yet again in amazement.

He has been teaching at the University of Vienna since completing his doctoral studies in Rome. That dissertation will be published next year in the very prestigious series, Oxford Early Christian Studies, from the publisher of the same name: Liturgy and Byzantinization in Jerusalem (OUP, 2018), 432pp.

About this forthcoming study, we are told:
The Church of Jerusalem, the "mother of the churches of God," influenced all of Christendom before it underwent multiple captivities between the eighth and thirteenth centuries: first, political subjugation to Arab Islamic forces, then displacement of Greek-praying Christians by Crusaders, and finally ritual assimilation to fellow Orthodox Byzantines in Constantinople. All three contributed to the phenomenon of the Byzantinization of Jerusalem's liturgy, but only the last explains how it was completely lost and replaced by the liturgy of the imperial capital, Constantinople. The sources for this study are rediscovered manuscripts of Jerusalem's liturgical calendar and lectionary. When examined in context, they reveal that the devastating events of the Arab conquest in 638 and the destruction of the Holy Sepulchre in 1009 did not have as detrimental an effect on liturgy as previously held. Instead, they confirm that the process of Byzantinization was gradual and locally-effected, rather than an imposed element of Byzantine imperial policy or ideology of the Church of Constantinople. Originally, the city's worship consisted of reading scripture and singing hymns at places connected with the life of Christ, so that the link between holy sites and liturgy became a hallmark of Jerusalem's worship, but the changing sacred topography led to changes in the local liturgical tradition. Liturgy and Byzantinization in Jerusalem is the first study dedicated to the question of the Byzantinization of Jerusalem's liturgy, providing English translations of many liturgical texts and hymns here for the first time and offering a glimpse of Jerusalem's lost liturgical and theological tradition.
Upon its publication next year, you can be sure I'll arrange an interview with the author to discuss his work in more detail.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Psychoanalyzing the World's Conflicts (I)

I have for several years now been engaged in a project of returning to psychoanalytic thought for several purposes, including especially the light it can shed on problems of historical memory in Orthodox-Catholic conflicts, in the Crusades, and in contemporary ISIS propaganda about the latter. As many other scholars in the humanities have found over the last several decades, psychoanalytic thought admits of wider application than what goes on in the individual consulting room. Freud himself, of course, had no problem moving from analyzing patients to analyzing cultures and religious traditions, though I have long maintained that the late Freud, of Civilization and its Discontents, and even more of Moses and Monotheism or The Future of an Illusion, is neither so interesting nor so helpful as as the earlier more clinical Freud.

Later analysts have helpfully applied analytic categories and theory to social conflicts and problems. Thus I have drawn attention to the important work of such as Charles Strozier and Vamik Volkan (discussed a little bit here), and spent rather a lot of time focusing on the fascinating and wonderfully provocative work of Adam Phillips. All these, and others who should be mentioned such as Jeffrey Prager and Donald Spence (both discussed here), have shown the usefulness of Freudian and later analytic categories. They are not unaware, however, of some of the methodological issues that arise in attempting such work, and I am also keenly aware of them. People have in fact been aware of them for decades, as one sees in such works as Psychoanalysis and History from 1963, or, more recently, Edwin Wallace's Historiography and Causation in Psychoanalysis or the edited collection, Dark Traces of the Past: Psychoanalysis and Historical Thinking, eds. Jurgen Straub and Jorn Rusen (Berghahn, 2011).

And now Routledge Press, which carries a larger list of books devoted to psychoanalysis than any other publisher (apart, of course, from Karnac), has kindly sent me a new short study by David P. Levine, a Yale-trained economist recently retired from the University of Colorado:Psychoanalysis, Society, and the Inner World: Embedded Meaning in Politics and Social Conflict (Routledge, 2017), Levine also has analytic training and has put it to use in other books.

About this book the publisher tells us:

Psychoanalysis, Society, and the Inner World explores ideas from psychoanalysis that can be valuable in understanding social processes and institutions and in particular, how psychoanalytic ideas and methods can help us understand the nature and roots of social and political conflict in the contemporary world.
Among the ideas explored in this book, of special importance are the ideas of a core self (Heinz Kohut and Donald Winnicott) and of an internal object world (Melanie Klein, Ronald Fairbairn). David Levine shows how these ideas, and others related to them, offer a framework for understanding how social processes and institutions establish themselves as part of the individual’s inner world, and how imperatives of the inner world influence the shape of those processes and institutions. In exploring the contribution psychoanalytic ideas can make to the study of society, emphasis is placed on post-Freudian trends that emphasize the role of the internalization of relationships as an essential part of the process of shaping the inner world.
The book’s main theme is that the roots of social conflict will be found in ambivalence about the value of the self. The individual is driven to ambivalence by factors that exist simultaneously as part of the inner world and the world outside. Social institutions may foster ambivalence about the self or they may not. Importantly, this book distinguishes between institutions on the basis of whether they do or do not foster ambivalence about the self, shedding light on the nature and sources of social conflict. Institutions that foster ambivalence also foster conflict at a societal level that mirrors and is mirrored by conflict over the standing of the self in the inner world. Levine makes extensive use of case material to illuminate and develop his core ideas.
Psychoanalysis, Society, and the Inner World will appeal to psychoanalysts and to social scientists interested in psychoanalytic ideas and methods, as well as students studying across these fields who are keen to explore social and political issues.
When I'm done reading it, I shall post some further thoughts.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Getting to and Joining a Church

There's a silly tract that periodically gets recycled among Eastern Christians alleging that men prefer Eastern Orthodoxy because it is more "manly" and "demanding" in its liturgical and ascetical culture. It is, of course, the typical product of the fevered imagination one finds in American converts to Orthodoxy, an extremely un-self-aware group of people so well analyzed in D. Oliver Herbel's book as well as in Amy Slagle's.

Among its several flaws is its lack of serious scholarly study of a statistically respectable population surveyed according to scientific methods (to say nothing of the fact it ignores the attendance and activity rates of men in Europe, which tell a very different story). Those flaws do not look to mar the forthcoming study of the sociologist Sally K. Gallagher, Getting to Church: Exploring Narratives of Gender and Joining (Oxford UP, 2017), 240pp.

What makes this book so unique is the fact that it pays special and sustained attention to an Eastern Orthodox parish in this country. Orthodoxy in North America is so numerically small that it is often given only very cursory treatment if it shows up on sociological radar screens at all. So this book is especially to be welcomed, and I'm greatly looking forward to reading it.

About this book we are told:
Why do people go to church? What about a congregation attracts new members? What is it that draws women and men differently into diverse types of congregations? Getting to Church assesses the deeply personal and gendered narratives around how women and men move toward identifying with three very different Christian congregations one Orthodox, one conservative, and one mainline. Drawing on extensive research and ranging across layers of congregational history, leadership, architecture, new member process, programs, and service ministries, Sally Gallagher explores trajectories of joining, as well as membership loss and change over a seven-year period. By following both those who join a community and those who explore but choose not to, Gallagher avoids the methodological limitations of other studies and assesses the degree to which the spaces, people, programs, and doctrines within distinctive traditions draw women and men toward affiliation and involvement. Getting to Church demonstrates that women are attracted to specific doctrines and ideas, opportunities for individual reflection, experience and expanded personal agency; while men find in these congregations a sense of community within which they experience greater connection with other men, appreciate beauty, and yield to something greater than themselves. Drawing on extensive field work, personal interviews, and focus groups, Getting to Church challenges extant theories of gender and religious involvement.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Leontius of Byzantium

A new book by the eminent and widely respected patrologist and historian Brian Daley is always a welcome and important event. Oxford University Press informs me that early next month they are bringing out Daley's Leontius of Byzantium: Complete Works (OUP, 2017), 608pp.

About this book we are told:
Leontius of Byzantium (485-543) Byzantine monk and theologian who provided a breakthrough of terminology in the 6th-century Christological controversy over the mode of union of Christ's human nature with his divinity. He did so through his introduction of Aristotelian logical categories and Neoplatonic psychology into Christian speculative theology. His work initiated the later intellectual development of Christian theology throughout medieval culture. Brian E. Daley provides translation and commentary on the six theological works associated with the name of Leontius of Byzantium. The critical text and facing-page translation help make these works more accessible than ever before and provide a reliable textual apparatus for furture scholarship of this key writing.
The Press also gives us the table of contents:

I. The Author and his Times
II. The Works
A. The Six Treatises
B. The Florilegia
III. Leontius the Theologian
IV. The Manuscripts
V. The Scholia
VI. Earlier Editions
VII. This Edition
VIII. Select Bibliography
Key to the apparatus of Leontius's Florilegia
1. Contra Nestorianos et Eutychianos
Appendix I (Scholion)
Appendix II (Scholion)
2. Epilyseis (= Solutiones Argumentorum Severi)
3. Epapor=emata (= Triginta Capita contra Severum)
4. Contra Aphthartodocetas
5. Deprenhensio et Triumphus super Nestorianos
6. Adversus Fraudes Apollinaristarum
7. Fragmenta Incerta
Appendix III (Excerpta Leontina)
Appendix IV (Tabular comparison of extracts in Leontius s florilegia with those in other ancient and medieval florilegia)

Friday, August 4, 2017

Byzantine Architecture and Aurality

I hope soon to run an interview with Nicholas Denysenko about his new book, Theology and Form: Contemporary Orthodox Architecture in America.

But this is a rich summer for those with an interest in such topics, as Bissera Pentcheva has just edited and published Aural Architecture in Byzantium: Music, Acoustics, and Ritual (Routledge, 2017), 272pp.

About this collection the publisher tells us:
Emerging from the challenge to reconstruct sonic and spatial experiences of the deep past, this multidisciplinary collection of ten essays explores the intersection of liturgy, acoustics, and art in the churches of Constantinople, Jerusalem, Rome and Armenia, and reflects on the role digital technology can play in re-creating aspects of the sensually rich performance of the divine word. Engaging the material fabric of the buildings in relationship to the liturgical ritual, the book studies the structure of the rite, revealing the important role chant plays in it, and confronts both the acoustics of the physical spaces and the hermeneutic system of reception of the religious services. By then drawing on audio software modelling tools in order to reproduce some of the visual and aural aspects of these multi-sensory public rituals, it inaugurates a synthetic approach to the study of the premodern sacred space, which bridges humanities with exact sciences. The result is a rich contribution to the growing discipline of sound studies and an innovative convergence of the medieval and the digital.
Pentcheva also has a monograph coming out in September under her own hand, clearly related this topic: Hagia Sophia: Sound, Space, and Spirit in Byzantium (Penn State, 2017), 304pp.

About this forthcoming book, the publisher tells us:
Experiencing the resonant acoustics of the church of Hagia Sophia allowed the Byzantine participants in its liturgical rituals to be filled with the Spirit of God, and even to become his image on earth. Bissera Pentcheva’s vibrant analysis examines how these sung rites combined with the church’s architectural space to make Hagia Sophia a performative place of worship representative of Byzantine religious culture in all its sensory richness.
Coupling digital acoustic models and video with a close examination of liturgical texts and melodic structures, Pentcheva applies art-historical, philosophical, archeoacoustical, and anthropological methodologies to provide insight into the complementary ways liturgy and location worked to animate worshippers in Byzantium. Rather than focus on the architectural form of the building, the technology of its construction, or the political ideology of its decoration, Pentcheva delves into the performativity of Hagia Sophia and explains how the “icons of sound” created by the sung liturgy and architectural reverberation formed an aural experience that led to mystical transcendence for worshippers, opening access to the imagined celestial sound of the angelic choirs.
Immersive, deeply researched, and beautifully illustrated, this exploration of Hagia Sophia sheds new light on sacred space, iconicity, and religious devotion in Byzantium. Scholars of art and architectural history, religious studies, music and acoustics, and the medieval period will especially appreciate Pentcheva’s field-advancing work.
Pentcheva is the author of two earlier studies in iconography, both of which were very positively reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies. In 2006 she published Icons and Power: The Mother of God in Byzantium.

In 2010 she published The Sensual Icon: Space, Ritual, and the Senses in Byzantium (Penn State, 320pp).

Both books deserve a prominent place in any library serious about iconography.
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