"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).

Friday, November 23, 2018

Christmas 2018 Recommendations

Hard though it is to believe, we are staring down the last five weeks of the civil year, and so it is time for our annual look back at some of the books published, noted, and discussed on here in 2018. For last year's recommendations, go here (and follow the links there for previous years).

Once again, the real highlight of this blog is the ability to talk to new authors about their work, as I did with an array of folks this year.

Author Interviews:

For his magisterial book on the complicated and long-standing conflicts in Ukrainian Orthodoxy, see Nicholas Denysenko interviewed here. His The Orthodox Church in Ukraine: A Century of Separation should be required reading before anyone comments on the on-going struggles there.

Ines A. Murzaku and Douglas J. Milewski both wrote thoughtful responses to my interview with them about their translation of the life of Neilos of Rossano, which may be found here.

I interviewed Ashley Purpura here about her fascinating and timely book on Byzantine theologies of authority. I'm drawing on this welcome new book of hers for a paper I'm giving in Romania in January at the inaugural gathering of the International Orthodox Theological Association.

David Fagerberg was interviewed here discussing his new book on Alexander Schmemann. Both Fagerberg and Schmemann are always worth reading, and I regularly assign both to students in my liturgy classes, and both authors invariably prove hugely popular.

For some time there has been a burgeoning interest in Bulgakov studies. We began the year with a new one by Walter Sisto on Bulgakov's Mariology. I interviewed Sisto here.

One of the real highlights of my spring semester was meeting the legendary biblical scholar Fr Paul Tarazi, whom I interviewed here. I've heard many stories about him from Orthodox friends over the years, and they did not disappoint when we were able to have a rollicking good time over lunch. I could easily have spent several days listening to him and his wonderfully no-nonsense approach to the Bible, Church, Orthodoxy, and must else. You will get a good flavour of that in his book The Rise of Scripture

Bp. Seraphim Sigrist is really the one to whom I owe the inspiration to interview authors, as I did with him back in this blog's early days. So I was glad to be able to do so again, discussing his new short book on life's tapestries.


Byzantine history always remains a popular category even among general readers. I noted several new studies this year, including one on monastic institutions in Byzantium, for which go here.

The widely respected Byzantinist Averil Cameron this year gave us Byzantine Christianity: A Very Brief History, first noted here.

Byzantine notions of personhood are treated in a new book noted here.

And, in a similar vein, Byzantine bodily perceptions are treated in a book whose details are here.

Patristics/Antique Christian History: 

Is there anyone, at least in the Catholic world today, who finds that bishops are increasingly indistinguishable from gangsters? These issues are not new, and some of the wider ecclesiological problems pertaining to the office of bishop are treated in a new study on St. Cyprian and the episcopal office, noted here.

The Donatist crisis has sometimes been flung about in recent "debates" between a certain votary of a certain Roman ordinary and a certain American blogger. For a new study about that controversy, go here.

For a new translation of a particular work of Cyril of Alexandria, go here.

The first time I attempted the Summa some twenty years ago, it was quickly becaome obvious to me that Thomas owed huge debts to the East, especially the Cappadocian Fathers. I never did a formal or exact count, but even a cursory noting of his references to the Greek fathers quickly added up to a huge list. And now, just this month we have a welcome new collection further fleshing out Thomas's debts to Greek patristics: Thomas Aquinas and the Greek Fathers.

That book should be required reading, alongside Marcus Plested, for any future Orthodox "apologist" tempted to open his mouth to traduce what I call the A-Team: Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas are all represented as the font of every Western error by people who've never read any of them in the original languages, much less a critical scholarly edition. Six years ago I interviewed Marcus Plested about his book, Orthodox Readings of Aquinaswhich remains utterly indispensable.

For some modern American Christians Genesis and its interpretation continues to present difficulties. In such circumstances, they turn to see what the Fathers may have said. A new collection devoted to patristic interpretations of Genesis was noted here.

I am greatly looking forward to reading a wholly welcome new collection, Exploring Gregory of Nyssa, first noted here. It won't be out until the end of December, but it will be worth waiting for. Of all the figures in fourth-century patristics, Nyssa seems to be the most intriguing, not least for his controverted and (in some cases) ambiguous ideas about sex, gender, and eschatology.

Since I began this blog, there has always been a steady stream of new books, often several every year, on Maximus the Confessor. This year was no different as we saw the publication of a translation of his work on difficulties in Scripture.

Brian Daley is a part of that generation of great Jesuit historians and scholars who are, alas, beginning to pass from the scene. I've met him several times, and always found him a wonderfully warm and gracious human being. And he's never written a bad book--or at least one that I've read. He has a new one out on patristic Christology reconsidered.

Philo of Alexandria continues to be an intriguing figure. For more on him, see this new biography.

Communism and the Cold War:

On Bulgarian Orthodoxy and the communist regime see the new study briefly noted here.

Here I wrote some longer notes on North American Churches and the Cold War, a fascinating and unusually detailed new collection.


For a new scholarly work on liturgy and the New Testament go here

For liturgy and Byzantine self-formation go here to find the latest work by the widely respected Derek Krueger.

Again, if you missed it earlier, the greatest Orthodox liturgical theologian of the last century, Alexander Schmemann, is seen through David Fagerberg's eyes.

Muslim-Christian Relations/Middle East:

For a collection raising questions of religious freedom and the status of minorities in the Middle East, go here.

Iraq: For a study on Christianity in Iraq in the fifteenth century see this new book. And for a new book on ancient and modern Christian martyrs in Iraq, go here.

Eqypt: I noted a new book on Coptic identity in context here. And I noted a new book on Coptic martyrs of 2015 in light of Catholic theology here. I wrote a review of it for Catholic World Report. It's a useful, accessible, workmanlike book for any Catholic labouring under any difficulty about whether Orthodox martyrs can be recognized as such by Catholics.

Israel: For a new book studying Syriac Christians in Bethlehem, go here.

For a broader study on Syriac Christian life, see this new book. On the death of the Syriacist Robert Murray, see the books noted here.

For those who have followed his scholarship to date, it has been obvious that Jack Tannous will continue to be an impressive figure in the years ahead. For his new book go here.

For a study on Christian martyrs and the formation of Islam, see here. Similarly, on the legal status of Christians in early Islam, go here.

The historiography of early Islamic conquests has long been bedeviled by many problems. A new study, noted here, sheds light on some of them.

World Wars and Genocides: 

This year, of course, and particularly this month, marked the anniversary of the end of the Great War. Centenaries of the beginning and end of the Great War were noted here with lengthy lists of books treating various aspects of this history and its enduring legacy.

During that war, of course, there were multiple mass slaughters of Eastern Christian populations. For some time the Armenian genocide has generated a great deal of interest. Far less known is the Greek genocide of 1915, now treated in a welcome new book noted here.

On-going Turkish denials of the 1915 Armenian genocide were discussed in this book. For discussion of that genocide in light of what modern research into trauma has taught us, see this new book.


Slavoj Žižek and Christianity come together in a fascinating and fun new collection I discussed in some detail here.

Terry Eagleton is always worth reading for his provocative and often droll prose as well as for his pungent explosions of commonly held myths. For a book that does all that and more, see my long discussion of his newest work on misunderstanding sacrifice here.

Sarah Coakley responded to my paper at an international conference last summer and it was a great delight and honour to talk with her. I finally got around this year to reading her on God, Sexuality and the Self: An Essay 'On the Trinity,' which I discussed here. It is a deeply suggestive work containing much wisdom.

Maggie Ross is an absolute gem. This interview, now several years old, will give you great insights into why I think so highly of her. For my two-part discussion of her invaluable book on silence, go here.

Of all the books I read this year, the one by Todd McGowan on ascetical politics (go here for the three-part essay I wrote) ranks in the top three of most insightful and challenging works. I have thought about it more times this year than I can recount.


For a general overview of relations between Ukraine and the other parts of Europe today, go here 

For questions of war and memory in Ukraine, Russia, and elsewhere, see this new collection.

Again I draw your attention to my interview with Nicholas Denysenko here about his book on the history of Ukrainian Orthodox divisions and various attempts at autocephaly and unity.

Ukrainian Catholics in particular, especially those in North America, will be interested in the new biography of a Ukrainian-American bishop noted here.


Russia, because of its size in the Orthodox world as well as memories of the Soviet Union and the Cold War, continues to command much attention today on all fronts and for many reasons. Among the numerous books published this year, I noted one of Russian church-state relations here.

Discussions of nationalism have been heating up in Western Europe and North America, but among scholars analysis of Russian nationalism has been going on for some time, including in the recent book noted here.

The status of Old Believers in imperial Russia was noted here.

When I teach my course on Orthodox-Muslim relations, Russia is always a fascinating unit generating much discussion. Given the size and complex history of the country, I always tell my students there is no one simple narrative of relations between Orthodox Christians and Muslims in Russia. And now a new book further complicates the picture of relations between the two largest traditions. I noted it here.

A new book looks at Marian devotion in Russia from the imperial to the post-Soviet periods. I drew attention to it here.

Among some in North America especially, a narrative of "chosen trauma" (Christianity is declining here) works hand-in-hand with a narrative of "chosen glory" in which "holy Rus'" is held to be the saviour of Christian civilization today. But how holy is Russia? This question was asked and answered in a new book noted here.


A new book by Cyril Hovorun is always worth waiting for, reading, and then re-reading. I haven't yet discussed his new book, noted here, but I hope to in the coming weeks. It is short, accessible, clearly written, and very timely, not least in the on-going Moscow-Kyiv-Constantinople business.

Again, if  you missed my mentioning it earlier, I draw your attention to Nick Denysenko's book here, which contains fascinating vignettes into ecclesiology and ecclesial practices, especially in early-20th-century Ukraine not found elsewhere.

Broader and more general studies on the nature of the Church continue to emerge. And Oxford University press continues to publish most useful handbooks, including on ecclesiology noted here.

A new book by the Jesuit historian John O'Malley is also always worth waiting for and then reading with great profit. For his new book on Vatican I go here. I reviewed it at Catholic World Report.

In my forthcoming book, Crucifying the Church: the Costs of Reform Today, I found myself going back to this new book of Steven Ogden on Foucault and power and authority in the Church. I wrote extensively about that book here.

Intellectual History/Genealogy:

The publisher asked me to read and then write a blurb for Antoine Arjakovsky's What is Orthodoxy: A Genealogy of Christian Understanding, which I noted here. I have long profited from reading Arjakovsky, and this book is no different.

I read another work this year by Todd McGowan on false ideas of eschatology undergirding capitalist theories of desire. My discussion of that may be found here.


A very suggestive new study on Paul's theology of sin in light of Freud's death-drive was noted here. It's among the more serious and systematic studies putting psychoanalytic and biblical scholarship into dialogue.

I tried to suggest some similarities between the psychoanalytic "fundamental rule" of free association and prayer in light of Herbert McCabe and Christopher Bollas here.

Belief After Freud is a stunning new work, first noted here. I have not yet given it any treatment on here because I am still thinking it through. It is an exceedingly brave and necessary book, and never more so than at this moment of crisis in the Catholic Church. This book is apparently already in its fifth edition in Spanish. It deserves a wide anglophone audience. I will return to lengthy discussion of it on here in the weeks ahead.

I discussed two new books on mourning and melancholia here. For a similarly titled new work, see this book of Christopher Bollas.

Adam Phillips continues to be an invaluable dialogue partner. For my thoughts on his book on Darwin and Freud go here.

Psychoanalysis and religion: I have read more books in this area over the past two years than I can count. Most are worth rather little. For some thoughts on some of the better collections see here.


For inter-disciplinary works on iconography and Russian modernism go here; and for iconography and Russian literature see here.

An interesting new work on iconography and iconoclasm in light of Christology was noted here.

The well-known scholarship of John-Paul Himka continues to impress. For a newer and more affordable version of his book on Last Judgment imagery in the Carpathians see here.

The acts of Nicaea II, the council devoted to the defeat of iconoclasm, have not often been available in reliable translation--until now. For details see here.

For a general study on the Bible and images go here.

So-called pre-historic iconoclasm is studied in a new book noted here.

Theodore the Studite, of course, looms large in the campaign against iconoclasm. We have long had translations of his works, but not--until now--a sufficient study setting him and his works in wider intellectual context. For that go here.

Finally, I have long benefited from, and often returned to, the scholarship of C.A. Tsakiridou's 2013 book Icons in Time, Persons in Eternity. So I am greatly looking forward to reading her new book published this year, Tradition and Transformation in Christian Art, first noted here.

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