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

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Christos Yannaras: Philosophy, Theology, Culture

For more than a decade now, I have used Christos Yannaras's The Freedom of Morality in my moral theology courses to good effect. There are parts of the book--like every other of his books, at least among the ones I have read--that drive me to distraction by sometimes indolent polemicizing, but even that is redeemed somewhat in stirring up vigorous classroom discussion. (I rather suspect that may be part of his point, and that he would not be displeased to learn this.)

This summer a paperback edition of a book devoted to Yannaras, which first appeared in 2018, was published: Christos Yannaras: Philosophy, Theology, Culture by Andreas Andreopoulos, Demetrios Harper (Routledge, 2020), 218pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Christos Yannaras is one of the most significant Orthodox theologians of recent times. The work of Yannaras is virtually synonymous with a turn or renaissance of Orthodox philosophy and theology, initially within Greece, but as the present volume confirms, well beyond it. His work engages not only with issues of philosophy and theology, but also takes in wider questions of culture and politics.

With contributions from established and new scholars, the book is divided into three sections, which correspond to the main directions that Christos Yannaras has followed – philosophy, theology, and culture – and reflects on the ways in which Yannaras has engaged and influenced thought across these fields, in addition to themes including ecclesiology, tradition, identity, and ethics.

This volume facilitates the dialogue between the thought of Yannaras, which is expressed locally yet is relevant globally, and Western Christian thinkers. It will be of great interest to scholars of Orthodox and Eastern Christian theology and philosophy, as well as theology more widely.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Orthodoxy and Reform in 1920s Romania

I have long had a soft spot in my heart for Romanian Orthodoxy. When I was heavily involved in the World Council of Churches in the 1990s, I had a colleague from Romania who became a friend. He gave me a lovely icon of the Theotokos, which still occupies pride of place on my desk at the university. He and I had a kind of sotto voce habit of dry and often sarcastic commentary on whatever dreary meeting we happened to be in, which was all of them. 

More recently, Romania utterly delighted me in January 2019 at the inaugural IOTA meeting where I was an official ecumenical observer and also gave a paper on papal reforms. We arrived the day after Christmas on the Julian calendar to find Iasi absolutely ablaze with decorations, which I utterly love. So it was a charming town in a country I had long wanted to visit, and it did not disappoint. (It is hard to resist thinking that even the shabbiest town in Europe--which Iasi was not by any means--is incomparably more lovely and interesting than the hideous suburban sprawl which defines just about any American city.)

All that is but preface to advise you of what sounds to be a fascinating new book by Roland Clark, Sectarianism and Renewal in 1920s Romania: The Limits of Orthodoxy and Nation-Building (Bloomsbury Academic, January 2021). 232pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
The Romanian Orthodox Church expanded significantly after the First World War, yet Neo-Protestantism and schismatic Orthodox movements such as Old Calendarism also grew exponentially during this period, terrifying church leaders who responded by sending missionary priests into the villages to combat sectarianism. Several lay renewal movements such as the Lord's Army and the Stork's Nest also appeared within the Orthodox Church, implicating large numbers of peasants and workers in tight-knit religious communities operating at the margins of Eastern Orthodoxy.

Bringing the history of the Orthodox Church into dialogue with sectarianism, heresy, grassroots religious organization and nation-building, Roland Clark explores how competing religious groups in interwar Romania responded to and emerged out of similar catalysts, including rising literacy rates, new religious practices and a newly empowered laity inspired by universal male suffrage and a growing civil society who took control of community organizing. He also analyses how Orthodox leaders used nationalism to attack sectarians as 'un-Romanian', whilst these groups remained indifferent to the claims the nation made on their souls.

Situated at the intersection of transnational history, religious history and the history of reading, Sectarianism and Renewal in 1920s Romania challenges us to rethink the one-sided narratives about modernity and religious conflict in interwar Eastern Europe.

Friday, September 25, 2020

The Art of Minorities

As a longtime defender and fan of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, especially the Armenian and Copts, I look forward to the reading a new book that features both of those traditions and others: The Art of Minorities: Cultural Representation in Museums of the Middle East and North Africa,ed .Virginie Rey (Edinburgh University Press, 2020), 336pp. 

About this collection the publisher tells us this:
How are issues related to identity representation negotiated in Middle Eastern and North African museums? Can museums provide a suitable canvas for minorities to express their voice? Can narratives change and stereotypes be broken and, if so, what kind of identities are being deployed? Against the backdrop of the revolutionary upheavals that have shaken the region in recent years, the contributors to this volume interrogate a range of case studies from across the region – examining how museums engage inclusion, diversity and the politics of minority identities. They bring to the fore the region’s diversity and sketches a ‘museology of disaster’ in which minoritised political subjects regain visibility.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Orthodox Revolutions and Lesser Transitions

I am not by nature the sort of person who easily or regularly finds himself attending political rallies, marches, and protests. But I have not forgotten standing in the freezing ice storm in December 2004 on Parliament Hill in Ottawa as the Orange Revolution was unfolding in Ukraine, where I had taught English just three years before that. A goodly number of Ukrainian-Canadians turned out for that rally to show support to those fighting for a new government in Ukraine. 

That was one of several "colour" revolutions in the former Soviet Union. What role did the Orthodox and Catholic churches play in them? In the case of Ukraine, the answer has to be: a very considerable one. But in other countries? That is the question asked and answered in forthcoming book set for release at year's end: Orthodox Christianity and the Politics of Transition: Ukraine, Serbia, and Georgia. by Tornike Metreveli (Routledge, Dec. 2020), 200pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

This book discusses in detail how Orthodox Christianity was involved in and influenced political transition in Ukraine, Serbia and Georgia after the collapse of communism. Based on original research, including extensive interviews with clergy and parishioners as well as historical, legal and policy analysis, the book argues that the nature of the involvement of churches in post-communist politics depended on whether the interests of the church (for example, in education, the legal system or economic activity) were accommodated or threatened: if accommodated, churches confined themselves to the sacred domain; if threatened they engaged in daily politics. If churches competed with each other for organizational interests, they evoked the support of nationalism while remaining within the religious domain.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Post-War Ukraine

As we have just finished the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, we continue nonetheless to learn about its aftermath. I remain, as noted on here, a longterm inveterate reader of martial history of both global wars of the last century and many other conflicts. So I am looking forward to the December publication of Remaking Ukraine after World War II: The Clash of Local and Central Soviet Power by Filip Slaveski (Cambridge University Press, 2020), 200pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Ukraine was liberated from German wartime occupation by 1944 but remained prisoner to its consequences for much longer. This study examines Soviet Ukraine's transition from war to 'peace' in the long aftermath of World War II. Filip Slaveski explores the challenges faced by local Soviet authorities in reconstructing central Ukraine, including feeding rapidly growing populations in post-war famine. Drawing on recently declassified Soviet sources, Filip Slaveski traces the previously unknown bitter struggle for land, food and power among collective farmers at the bottom of the Soviet social ladder, local and central authorities. He reveals how local authorities challenged central ones for these resources in pursuit of their own vision of rebuilding central Ukraine, undermining the Stalinist policies they were supposed to implement and forsaking the farmers in the process. In so doing, Slaveski demonstrates how the consequences of this battle shaped post-war reconstruction, and continue to resonate in contemporary Ukraine, especially with the ordinary people caught in the middle.

Part I. The Battle for Land between the People and Local and Central Soviet Authorities:
1. A brief survey of illegal appropriations of collective farmland by local state and party officials
2. Taking land: officials' illegal appropriations and starving people in Raska, Bila Tserkva and elsewhere
3. Taking land back: the people and central authorities' recovery of land and prosecution of local party and state officials
Part II. The Cost of the Battle for Land to People and the State:
4. The cost of taking land: the damages caused by illegal appropriations of collective farmland to kolkhozniki, communities and the state
5. Then and now: the shaping of contemporary Ukraine in the post-war crises
Appendix. Archival source locations and guide for further research.

Friday, September 18, 2020

The Invention of Papal History

I'm teaching an historiography course this semester and it is one of the most rewarding things I have done in a very long time. I have often mentioned on here and elsewhere my fascination with how histories are crafted and recrafted, not least by Eastern Christians in and after periods of conflict--whether during the Crusades or otherwise with the Catholic Church, or Islam, inter alia. The works of Vamik Volkan and others discussed on here have been very useful in that regard. So too are other psychoanalysts such Charles Strozier, Donald Spence, and Jeffrey Prager. 

One thing I learned decades ago thanks to historians such as the late Robert Taft, the Anglo-Canadian Margaret MacMillan, and David Reynolds of Cambridge is that one must always pay attention to how history is crafted, by whom, in which context, and with what goals in mind. I have written a little bit about this elsewhere

With regard to Catholic, and especially papal, history, the scrutiny must be even greater in my view. I had four uninterrupted and delightful hours with the doyen of Church historians in this country, John O'Malley, when we brought him to town for a lecture nearly a decade ago. We had great fun discussing the ways in which papal history is often tendentiously rendered--e.g., the crafting of approved popes and anti-popes in the Annuario Pontificio, a list which is quietly "updated" from time to time. 

All that is just a long-winded preface to a new book I'm looking forward to reading: The Invention of Papal History: Onofrio Panvinio between Renaissance and Catholic Reform by Stefan Bauer (Cambridge UP, 2020), 288pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

How was the history of post-classical Rome and of the Church written in the Catholic Reformation? Historical texts composed in Rome at this time have been considered secondary to the city's significance for the history of art. The Invention of Papal History corrects this distorting emphasis and shows how historical writing became part of a comprehensive formation of the image and self-perception of the papacy. By presenting and fully contextualising the path-breaking works of the Augustinian historian Onofrio Panvinio (1530-1568), Stefan Bauer shows what type of historical research was possible in the late Renaissance and the Catholic Reformation. Crucial questions were, for example: How were the pontiffs elected? How many popes had been puppets of emperors? Could any of the past machinations, schisms, and disorder in the history of the Church be admitted to the reading public? Historiography in this period by no means consisted entirely of commissioned works written for patrons; rather, a creative interplay existed between, on the one hand, the endeavours of authors to explore the past and, on the other hand, the constraints of ideology and censorship placed on them. The Invention of Papal History sheds new light on the changing priorities, mentalities, and cultural standards that flourished in the transition from the Renaissance to the Catholic Reformation.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Christians in Iraq in the 15th Century

If I had lots of time and money, and the requisite languages, I have long wanted to go and spend endless amounts of time immersed in Ottoman and Arab archives discovering new things about Muslim-Christian relations from the eighth century onward. As it is, I'll have to content myself with such books as the recently released Christianity in Fifteenth-Century Iraq by Thomas A. Carlson, (Cambridge UP, 2020), 323pp. 

Christians in fifteenth-century Iraq and al-Jazīra were socially and culturally home in the Middle East, practicing their distinctive religion despite political instability. This insightful book challenges the normative Eurocentrism of scholarship on Christianity and the Islamic exceptionalism of much Middle Eastern history to reveal the often unexpected ways in which inter-religious interactions were peaceful or violent in this region. The multifaceted communal self-concept of the 'Church of the East' (so-called 'Nestorians') reveals cultural integration, with certain distinctive features. The process of patriarchal succession clearly borrowed ideas from surrounding Christian and Muslim groups, while public rituals and communal history reveal specifically Christian responses to concerns shared with Muslim neighbors. Drawing on sources from various languages, including Arabic, Armenian, Persian, and Syriac, this book opens new possibilities for understanding the rich, diverse, and fascinating society and culture that existed in Iraq during this time.

We are also given the Table of Contents:

1. Coming into focus: the world of fifteenth-century Iraq and al-Jazīra
2. Muslim lords and their Christian flocks
3. Living with suspicious neighbors in a violent world
4. Interlude: concepts of communities
5. Bridges and barriers of doctrine
6. Practical theology in a dangerous time
7. Rituals: the texture of belonging
8. Desperate measures: the changing ecclesiastical hierarchy
9. The power of the past: communal history for present needs
Appendix A. Glossary
Appendix B. Lists of rulers and patriarchs
Appendix C. The patriarchal succession of the Church of the East
Appendix D. Dating the ritual for reception of heretics.

Monday, September 14, 2020

The Oxford Handbook of Christian Monasticism

Oxford Handbooks, to a few of which I have myself contributed over the years, are always guaranteed to contain great riches. This one, set for release in late November, is no different. Unlike some other handbooks, this one has many individual chapters on Eastern monasticism--Oriental, Russian, ancient and modern, etc--and then an entire section devoted to it as well, featuring some of the leading scholars in Orthodoxy today. So it promises to be a very rich collection indeed: The Oxford Handbook of Christian Monasticism, ed. by Bernice M. Kaczynski

About this book we are told the following by the publishers:

The Handbook takes as its subject the complex phenomenon of Christian monasticism. It addresses, for the first time in one volume, the multiple strands of Christian monastic practice. Forty-four essays consider historical and thematic aspects of the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Protestant, and Anglican traditions, as well as contemporary 'new monasticism'. The essays in the book span a period of nearly two thousand years--from late ancient times, through the medieval and early modern eras, on to the present day. Taken together, they offer, not a narrative survey, but rather a map of the vast terrain. The intention of the Handbook is to provide a balance of some essential historical coverage with a representative sample of current thinking on monasticism. It presents the work of both academic and monastic authors, and the essays are best understood as a series of loosely-linked episodes, forming a long chain of enquiry, and allowing for various points of view. The authors are a diverse and international group, who bring a wide range of critical perspectives to bear on pertinent themes and issues. They indicate developing trends in their areas of specialisation. The individual contributions, and the volume as a whole, set out an agenda for the future direction of monastic studies. In today's world, where there is increasing interest in all world monasticisms, where scholars are adopting more capacious, global approaches to their investigations, and where monks and nuns are casting a fresh eye on their ancient traditions, this publication is especially timely.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Reforms in the Late Romanov Period in Russia

Like periods before the French or American revolutions, it has been customary in some quarters to portray the period before the Russian Revolution as totally revanchist and reactionary. No wonder they revolted, we are told, since conditions were so unutterably awful. But recent scholarship has been chipping away at this for some time, highlighting several ante-revolutionary reform movements and their mixed success, challenging received notions of reactionary monoliths. One recently published book continues this work: The Lawful EmpireLegal Change and Cultural Diversity in Late Tsarist Russia by Stefan B. Kirmse (Cambridge UP, 2020), 310pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
The Russian Empire and its legal institutions have often been associated with arbitrariness, corruption, and the lack of a 'rule of law'. Stefan B. Kirmse challenges these assumptions in this important new study of empire-building, minority rights, and legal practice in late Tsarist Russia, revealing how legal reform transformed ordinary people's interaction with state institutions from the 1860s to the 1890s. By focusing on two regions that stood out for their ethnic and religious diversity, the book follows the spread of the new legal institutions into the open steppe of Southern Russia, especially Crimea, and into the fields and forests of the Middle Volga region around the ancient Tatar capital of Kazan. It explores the degree to which the courts served as instruments of integration: the integration of former borderlands with the imperial centre and the integration of the empire's internal 'others' with the rest of society.
We are also given the table of contents:

1. Minority rights and legal integration in the Russian empire
2. Borderlands no more: Crimea and Kazan in the mid-nineteenth century
3. Implementing legal change: new courts for Crimea and Kazan
4. Images and practices in the new courts: the enactment of monarchy, modesty, and cultural diversity
5. Seeking justice: Muslim Tatars go to court
6. Confronting the state: peasant resistance over land and faith
7. Dealing with unrest: crime and punishment in the 'crisis years' 1878–79

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Eastern Christian Converts to Islam

One of the tasks I face with my students when looking at the history of Orthodox-Muslim encounters is to help them grasp the idea that one can belong more or less simultaneously to two seemingly divergent communities, and this is not necessarily experienced as "schizophrenic" in the pejorative sense. There is often a degree of overlap in multiple "identities" that some today find difficult to fathom. And the movement between communities is not simple, either, as though invasion at once begins a massive reversal rather than a long, drawn-out process.

All these phenomena are addressed in a new book: Conversion to Islam in the Premodern Age: A Sourcebook First Edition, eds., Nimrod Hurvitz, Christian C. Sahner, Uriel Simonsohn, and Luke Yarbrough (University of California Press, 2020, 366pp.).

About this book, the publisher tells us this:
Conversion to Islam is a phenomenon of immense significance in human history. At the outset of Islamic rule in the seventh century, Muslims constituted a tiny minority in most areas under their control. But by the beginning of the modern period, they formed the majority in most territories from North Africa to Southeast Asia. Across such diverse lands, peoples, and time periods, conversion was a complex, varied phenomenon. Converts lived in a world of overlapping and competing religious, cultural, social, and familial affiliations, and the effects of turning to Islam played out in every aspect of life. Conversion therefore provides a critical lens for world history, magnifying the constantly evolving array of beliefs, practices, and outlooks that constitute Islam around the globe. This groundbreaking collection of texts, translated from sources in a dozen languages from the seventh to the eighteenth centuries, presents the historical process of conversion to Islam in all its variety and unruly detail, through the eyes of both Muslim and non-Muslim observers.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Ordaining Women in the Orthodox Church

I was born into the Anglican Church of Canada just a few short years before it decided to proceed with the ordination of women. By the time I was growing up in the 1980s, a few ordinations had happened but women clergy were still vanishingly rare in my experience, and I remained very ambivalent about the issue. It was nothing to do with women, gender, or sex, for my grandmother was an Anglican lay reader who led summer services when our rector was on holiday and I always assisted her with delight; and I had plenty of hugely competent and adored female teachers (far more than the shabby and sometimes terrifying male teachers, at least one of whom, I discovered a few years ago, was jailed for abusing students not long after I had him); and my psychoanalyst was a wonderful woman I still think of almost daily. Instead, I kept asking myself: what does this decision to proceed with ordaining women do to Anglicanism's claim to being a part of the Church catholic if it proceeds with a practice the other two "branches"--Orthodoxy and Catholicism--cannot countenance?

The Catholic Church has tried to obliterate the discussion since the early 1990s when the late Pope John Paul II tried to order everyone to stop talking about it, which of course is the surest and most reliable technique for achieving the very opposite of what you ostensibly desire.

Orthodoxy has never been so heavy-handed, but it lacks nothing of the conservatism of Catholicism on this issue even if some of its more prominent hierarchs and spokesmen (!) have rather wanly suggested that the question remains open in Orthodoxy.

Some of those prominent leaders are featured in this new collection, which Carrie Frederick Frost (whom I interviewed here about her fascinating book) drew to my attention last week: Women and Ordination in the Orthodox Church: Explorations in Theology and Practice, eds. Gabrielle Thomas and Elena Narinskaya  (Wipf and Stock, 2020), 232pp.

The publisher tells us this:
This book—a collaborative, international initiative, involving academic theologians and practitioners—invites the reader into a conversation about the ordination of women in the Orthodox Church. It explores questions relating to the significance of being human, Eve’s curse, sexed bodies, the place of Mary, the nature of priesthood, the role of the deacon, and the task of being a priest in the twenty-first century. The reflections move across three main areas of discussion: issues of theological anthropology, particular questions pertaining to the priesthood and the diaconate, and contemporary practices. In each area the implications for ordaining women in the Orthodox Church today are explored.

We are also given the list of contributors and following endorsements:

Fr. John Behr
Dr Spyridoula Athanasopoulou-Kypriou
Dr. Dionysios Skliris
Fr. Andrew Louth
Dr Mary Cunningham
Met Kallistos Ware
Rev Dr Sarah Hinlicky Wilson
Dr Kyriaki Karidoyanes FitzGerald
Dr Carrie Frederick Frost
Dr Paul Ladouceur
Luis Josué Salés

“Some traditions are old because they are truly valuable, while some are valued only because they are old. The exclusion of women from the priesthood is a practice for which the theological arguments are notoriously weak—to the point of fatuity in many cases—but Orthodoxy’s veneration of the past has usually made it impossible to undertake a serious reconsideration of the issue. A book like this, encompassing essays by such eminent scholars, has long been desperately needed.”

—David Bentley Hart, author of That All Shall Be Saved

“This collection of essays represents by far the most thorough engagement within Orthodox theology with the question of women’s ordination. With contributions from some of the most recognizable scholars of Orthodox Christianity, this volume advances the discussion in such a way that the idea of women deacons—or even priests and bishops—within the Orthodox church cannot be so easily ignored or dismissed as being in contradiction with the Tradition.”

—Aristotle Papanikolaou, Archbishop Demetrios Chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture, Fordham University, and co-founding Director of Orthodox Christian Studies Center

Friday, September 4, 2020

Eastern Christians Eating Virtuously

Several years ago I taught a very fun freshman seminar called "Eating God." We looked at the history, economics, politics, geography, psychology, philosophy, and theology of food around the world and across cultures, culminating in a unit on the Eucharist and the daring Orthodox-Catholic claim to be eating God. So books in this genre continue to interest me, including one just released: Food, Virtue, and the Shaping of Early Christianity by Dana Robinson (Cambridge University Press, 2020), 257pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
In this book, Dana Robinson examines the role that food played in the Christianization of daily life in the fourth century CE. Early Christians used the food culture of the Hellenized Mediterranean world to create and debate compelling models of Christian virtue, and to project Christian ideology onto common domestic practices. Combining theoretical approaches from cognitive linguistics and space/place theory, Robinson shows how metaphors for piety, such as health, fruit, and sacrifice, relied on food-related domains of common knowledge (medicine, agriculture, votive ritual), which in turn generated sophisticated and accessible models of lay discipline and moral formation. She also demonstrates that Christian places and landscapes of piety were socially constructed through meals and food production networks that extended far beyond the Eucharist. Food culture, thus, provided a network of metaphorical concepts and spatial practices that allowed the lay faithful to participate in important debates over Christian living and community formation.
We are also given the Table of Contents:

1. Introduction
2. The medicine moderation: John Chrysostom and the true fast
3. From dinner theater to domestic church in late antique Antioch
4. Shenoute's botanical virtues: fruit, labor, and ascetic production
5. The places of God: festivals, food service, and Christian community
6. Meals, mouths, and martyrs: Paulinus of Nola and sacrificial spaces
7. Conclusion.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Stolen Churches? Borrowed Bridges?

I was invited to give a lecture at this "Stolen Churches" conference in Germany last summer, but was unable to take up the invitation. Nonetheless, I look forward to reading, upon their publication early next year, the proceedings, forthcoming as Stolen Churches or Bridges to Orthodoxy?: Volume 1: Historical and Theological Perspectives on the Orthodox and Eastern-Catholic Dialogue (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021, 409pp.), eds.Vladimir Latinovic and Anastacia Wooden.

About this volume the publisher tells us this:
Throughout their shared history, Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches have lived through a very complex and sometimes tense relationship – not only theologically, but also politically. In most cases such relationships remain to this day; indeed, in some cases the tension has increased. In July 2019, scholars of both traditions gathered in Stuttgart, Germany, for an unprecedented conference devoted to exploring and overcoming the division between these churches. This book, the first in a two-volume set of the essays presented at the conference, explores historical and theological themes with the goal of healing memories and inspiring a direct dialogue between Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. Like the conference, the volume brings together representatives of these Churches, as well as theologians from different geographical contexts where tensions are the greatest. The published essays represent the great achievements of the conference: willingness to engage in dialogue, general openness to new ideas, and opportunities to address difficult questions and heal inherited wounds.
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