"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, December 31, 2020

Christianizing Egypt

In February it will, impossibly, be 30 years (!) since I went to the World Council of Churches seventh general assembly in Canberra, Australia. It was there, as an impressionable 18-year-old finishing high-school, that I learned a big new word: syncretism. Many people were up in arms at an apparent outbreak of the same during the assembly, and there was even a contingent of tiresome whackos from (where else?) the American Bible belt protesting outside our worship tent most days, saying syncretists were going to go to hell. We found these people vaguely amusing.

But to grow up and out of such lurid fantasies is to realize that people are constantly borrowing from other cultures and traditions, no matter how much the fundamentalist freaks and the purity fetishists scream and whinge about it. As the late great Robert Taft said of liturgical history, "we're all mongrels" so, a fortiori, is this true for "religious" traditions more broadly still--and the histories of ethnic and nationalist groups as well. This is a lesson amply illustrated by histories of almost every time and place. One of my most favored examples comes from Juliet du Boulay's haunting book (discussed here), Cosmos, Life, and Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Village.

Soon we will have an affordable version of another such book about another ancient Eastern Christian country: Egypt. First released in hardback in 2017, this book is set for paperback release in the middle of 2021: Christianizing Egypt: Syncretism and Local Worlds in Late Antiquity by David Frankfurter (Princeton University Press, June 2021), 336pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

How does a culture become Christian, especially one that is heir to such ancient traditions and spectacular monuments as Egypt? This book offers a new model for envisioning the process of Christianization by looking at the construction of Christianity in the various social and creative worlds active in Egyptian culture during late antiquity.

As David Frankfurter shows, members of these different social and creative worlds came to create different forms of Christianity according to their specific interests, their traditional idioms, and their sense of what the religion could offer. Reintroducing the term “syncretism” for the inevitable and continuous process by which a religion is acculturated, the book addresses the various formations of Egyptian Christianity that developed in the domestic sphere, the worlds of holy men and saints’ shrines, the work of craftsmen and artisans, the culture of monastic scribes, and the reimagination of the landscape itself, through processions, architecture, and the potent remains of the past.

Drawing on sermons and magical texts, saints’ lives and figurines, letters and amulets, and comparisons with Christianization elsewhere in the Roman empire and beyond, Christianizing Egypt reconceives religious change—from the “conversion” of hearts and minds to the selective incorporation and application of strategies for protection, authority, and efficacy, and for imagining the environment.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

On the Bicentennial of Greek Independence

Paschalis Kitromilides, as you may find here, has written a considerable number of scholarly works largely treating the relationship between "politics" and "religion," especially but not exclusively in a Greek Orthodox (and more broadly southern European) context. I have read some of his works and learned a great deal from him, not least about that perennial problem of Eastern Christian nationalism. 

Coming out, appropriately enough, on Greek independence day next year, is his latest work, co-edited with Constantinos Tsoukalas: The Greek Revolution: A Critical Dictionary (Belknap/Harvard University Press, 2021), 800pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

On the bicentennial of the Greek Revolution, an essential guide to the momentous war for independence of the Greeks from the Ottoman Empire.

The Greek war for independence (1821–1830) often goes missing from discussion of the Age of Revolutions. Yet the rebellion against Ottoman rule was enormously influential in its time, and its resonances are felt across modern history. The Greeks inspired others to throw off the oppression that developed in the backlash to the French Revolution. And Europeans in general were hardly blind to the sight of Christian subjects toppling Muslim rulers. In this collection of essays, Paschalis Kitromilides and Constantinos Tsoukalas bring together scholars writing on the many facets of the Greek Revolution and placing it squarely within the revolutionary age.

An impressive roster of contributors traces the revolution as it unfolded and analyzes its regional and transnational repercussions, including the Romanian and Serbian revolts that spread the spirit of the Greek uprising through the Balkans. The essays also elucidate religious and cultural dimensions of Greek nationalism, including the power of the Orthodox church. One essay looks at the triumph of the idea of a Greek “homeland,” which bound the Greek diaspora―and its financial contributions―to the revolutionary cause. Another essay examines the Ottoman response, involving a series of reforms to the imperial military and allegiance system. Noted scholars cover major figures of the revolution; events as they were interpreted in the press, art, literature, and music; and the impact of intellectual movements such as philhellenism and the Enlightenment.

Authoritative and accessible, The Greek Revolution confirms the profound political significance and long-lasting cultural legacies of a pivotal event in world history.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Muslims under Christian Rule, and Christians Under Muslim Rule

As you continue your Christmas feasting, and perhaps spending some gift cards you got, you would do well to consider this book set for release on the 30th of this month: Christians under the Crescent and Muslims under the Cross c.630 - 1923 by Luigi Andrea Berto  (Routledge, 2020), 178pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

This book examines the status that rulers of one faith conferred onto their subjects belonging to a different one, how the rulers handled relationships with them, and the interactions between subjects of the Muslim and Christian religions.

The chronological arc of this volume spans from the first conquests by the Arabs in the Near East in the 630s to the exchange between Turkey and Greece, in 1923, of the Orthodox Christians and Muslims residing in their territories. Through organized topics, Berto analyzes both similarities and differences in Christian and Muslim lands and emphasizes how coexistences and conflicts took directions that were not always inevitable. Primary sources are used to examine the mentality of those who composed them and of their audiences. In doing so, the book considers the nuances and all the features of the multifaceted experiences of Christian subjects under Muslim rule and of Muslim subjects under Christian rule.

Christians under the Crescent and Muslims under the Cross is the ideal resource for upper-level undergraduates, postgraduates, and scholars interested in the relationships between Christians and Muslims, religious minorities, and the Near East and the Mediterranean from the Middle Ages to the early twentieth century.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

The Monasteries and Churches of Moldavia

Forthcoming early next year is a book that looks to be rewarding indeed to peruse and soak up vicariously the artistic splendors and Revelations of Byzantium: The Monasteries and Painted Churches of Northern Moldavia by Octavian Ion Penda (Illustrator), Alan Ogden  (Centre for Romanian Studies, 2021), 288pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this: 

The monasteries and painted churches of Moldavia stand today as a testament to the rich cultural and spiritual heritage of the Romanian people. As the Romanians living in the historical provinces of Wallachia, Moldavia, and Transylvania, which today form modern Romania, struggled to maintain their autonomy against Ottoman expansion, their relative freedom allowed them to express themselves both artistically and culturally. Among their most remarkable creations are the monasteries and painted churches of Moldavia, in northeastern Romania, the subjects of this book. These monuments, unique in the world, reflect a cultural legacy inherited from Byzantium and the Roman Empire.

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Multitudes of the Nations

The revanchist and racist politics of too many so-called Christians in this country, especially among evangelicals and Roman Catholics, is a source of revulsion and scandal. But it is not new. 

There is a longstanding expectation among such groups that Christians are always and only white suburban members of the middle and upper classes who drive to churches with massive parking lots in the better parts of town for services only in English, lasting no more than 75 minutes in tastefully and comfortably appointed buildings wanting nothing by way of air conditioning, wifi, etc. The idea that Christians might be poor, of darker colours, and diverse races, attending liturgies in ancient languages in iconographically resplendent churches of antique lineage is unfathomable to such Americans as I have described. After more than a dozen years of trying to introduce Eastern Christianity to Americans, I can report that none of the above is remotely unjustified as a generalization, but is in fact a very closely, if not unanimously, held view among my students at least. 

It is to them, and so many others, that a new book must come as a shock, which I can only welcome: Vince Bantu, A Multitude of All Peoples: Engaging Ancient Christianity's Global Identity (IVP Academic, 2020), 256pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Christianity is not becoming a global religion. It has always been a global religion. The early Christian movement spread from Jerusalem in every direction, taking on local cultural expression all around the ancient world. So why do so many people see Christianity as a primarily Western, white religion? In A Multitude of All Peoples, Vince Bantu surveys the geographic range of the early church's history, revealing an alternate, more accurate narrative to that of Christianity as a product of the Western world. He begins by investigating the historical roots of the Western cultural captivity of the church, from the conversion of Constantine to the rise of European Christian empires. He then shifts focus to the too-often-forgotten concurrent development of diverse expressions of Christianity across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. In the process, Bantu removes obstacles to contemporary missiological efforts. Focusing on the necessity for contextualization and indigenous leadership in effective Christian mission, he draws out practical lessons for intercultural communication of the gospel. Healing the wounds of racism, imperialism, and colonialism will be possible only with renewed attention to the marginalized voices of the historic global church. The full story of early Christianity makes clear that, as the apostle Peter said, "God does not show favoritism, but accepts those from every people who fear him and do what is right."

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Histories of Christian-Muslim Relations

Twenty years after the first edition of a useful and accessible book, we have now a second: Hugh Goddard,  A History of Christian-Muslim Relations, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh University Press, 2020), 240pp. About this book the publisher tells us the following:

Christians and Muslims comprise the world’s two largest religious communities. This book looks at the history of their relationship – part peaceful co-existence and part violent confrontation – from their first encounters in the medieval period up to the present. It emphasises the theological, cultural and political context in which perceptions and attitudes have developed and gives a depth of historical insight to the complex current Christian–Muslim interactions across the globe.

And then, continuing on in this excellent series, which no serious library should be without, is a very hefty volume (more suited for scholars than Goddard) by David Thomas, Christian-Muslim Relations. A Bibliographical History Volume 14 Central and Eastern Europe (1700-1800) (Brill, 2020), 730pp. 

About this latest installment, the publisher tells us this:

Christian-Muslim Relations, a Bibliographical History Volume 14 (CMR 14) covering Central and Eastern Europe in the period 1700-1800 is a further volume in a general history of relations between the two faiths from the 7th century to the early 20th century. It comprises a series of introductory essays and also the main body of detailed entries which treat all the works, surviving or lost, that have been recorded. These entries provide biographical details of the authors, descriptions and assessments of the works themselves, and complete accounts of manuscripts, editions, translations and studies. The result of collaboration between numerous leading scholars, CMR 14, along with the other volumes in this series, is intended as a basic tool for research in Christian-Muslim relations.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Clerical Continence in England and Byzantium

Western apologists for celibacy, desperate to cover over the well-documented holes in their bogus and increasingly desperate apologias for that discipline, like tendentiously to play around with certain bits of canonical legislation to make the claim that continence is required of all clerics, and always has been, and the East gets it wrong, etc. This tedious clap-trap, subject to a royal rubbishing in my forthcoming Married Priests in the Catholic Church, by top-drawer historians without axes to grind, is given further scrutiny in this new book: Clerical Continence in Twelfth-Century England and Byzantium: Property, Family, and Purity Maroula Perisanidi (Routledge, 2020), 204pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Why did the medieval West condemn clerical marriage as an abomination while the Byzantine Church affirmed its sanctifying nature? This book brings together ecclesiastical, legal, social, and cultural history in order to examine how Byzantine and Western medieval ecclesiastics made sense of their different rules of clerical continence. Western ecclesiastics condemned clerical marriage for three key reasons: married clerics could alienate ecclesiastical property for the sake of their families; they could secure careers in the Church for their sons, restricting ecclesiastical positions and lands to specific families; and they could pollute the sacred by officiating after having had sex with their wives. A comparative study shows that these offending risk factors were absent in twelfth-century Byzantium: clerics below the episcopate did not have enough access to ecclesiastical resources to put the Church at financial risk; clerical dynasties were understood within a wider frame of valued friendship networks; and sex within clerical marriage was never called impure in canon law, as there was little drive to use pollution discourses to separate clergy and laity. These facts are symptomatic of a much wider difference between West and East, impinging on ideas about social order, moral authority, and reform.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Problems in Balkan Historiographies after Byzantium

The long-lasting, if conflicted, imprint left by "Byzantium"--both real and imagined--is itself a topic worthy of further consideration in any number of ways. In September of this year, we had one such way from the hand of Dimitris Stamatopoulos, Byzantium after the Nation: The Problem of Continuity in Balkan Historiographies (Central European University Press, 2020), 330pp.  

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Dimitris Stamatopoulos undertakes the first systematic comparison of the dominant ethnic historiographic models and divergences elaborated by Greek, Bulgarian, Serbian, Albanian, Romanian, Turkish, and Russian intellectuals with reference to the ambiguous inheritance of Byzantium. The title alludes to the seminal work of Nicolae Iorga in the 1930s, Byzantium after Byzantium, that argued for the continuity between the Byzantine and the Ottoman empires. The idea of the continuity of empires became a kind of touchstone for national historiographies. Rival Balkan nationalisms engaged in a "war of interpretation" as to the nature of Byzantium, assuming different positions of adoption or rejection of its imperial model and leading to various schemes of continuity in each national historiographic canon.

Stamatopoulos discusses what Byzantium represented for nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholars and how their perceptions related to their treatment of the imperial model: whether a different perception of the medieval Byzantine period prevailed in the Greek national center as opposed to Constantinople; how nineteenth-century Balkan nationalists and Russian scholars used Byzantium to invent their own medieval period (and, by extension, their own antiquity); and finally, whether there exist continuities or discontinuities in these modes of making ideological use of the past.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Abuse and Lies in the Catholic Church

Does anyone have any patience left for yet another article, report, story, book about the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church? How many have we had in the last three months alone? The McCarrick Report (which "psychological disaster" I addressed here), the English-Welsh bishops' report, the attorney general's report on the Diocese of Buffalo, and at least two others I have seen. We've had such reports going back forty years and more at this point, and nothing has changed. Has anyone the slightest faith left that this will ever be seriously addressed? Does anyone for a moment remain so fatuous as to think bishops will ever really change? Who amongst us has been able to resist the thought that the entire episcopate is simply protecting their monopoly on power like a bunch of neighborhood gangsters? 

For those who have the stomach and the patience to read another book about the problem, Routledge has just come out with The Abuse of Minors in the Catholic Church: Dismantling the Culture of Cover Ups, eds., Anthony J. Blasi and Lluis Oviedo (Routledge, 2020), 288pp. We are offered the following description and table of contents (from which, I note without surprise, that once more any consideration of structural problems in the Church, which I alone seem to have taken seriously enough to write a book about, are absent): 

This book offers an academically rigorous examination of the biological, psychological, social and ecclesiastical processes that allowed sexual abuse in the Catholic Church to happen and then be covered up. The collected essays provide a means to better assess systemic wrongdoing in religious institutions, so that they can be more effectively held to account.

An international team of contributors apply a necessarily multi-disciplinary approach to this difficult subject. Chapters look closely at the sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic clerics, explaining the complexity of this issue, which cannot be reduced to simple misconduct, sexual deviation, or a management failure alone. The book will help the reader to better understand the social, organizational, and cultural processes in the Church over recent decades, as well as the intricate world of beliefs, moral rules, and behaviours. It concludes with some strategies for change at the individual and corporate levels that will better ensure safeguarding within the Catholic Church and its affiliate institutions.  

This multifaceted study gives a nuanced analysis of this huge organizational failure and offers recommendations for effective ways of preventing it in the future. As such, it will be of keen interest to scholars of Religious Studies, Sociology of Religion, Psychology, Psychiatry, Legal Studies, Ethics, Anthropology, Cultural Studies, History, and Theology.

Table of Contents: 


1 Sexual Abuse of Young Boys in the RomanCatholic Church: An Insider Clinician’s Academic Perspective

Jay Feierman

2 For a Sociology of Pederasty in Catholic Clergy

Javier Elzo

3 Does Faulty Theology Play a Role in the Abuse Crisis?

Lluis Oviedo

4 The Role of Informal Networks in the Coverup of Clerical Sex Abuse

Anthony J. Pogorelc

5 From Causes toward Stratagems and Theological Considerations

Anthony J. Blasi

6 Has Canon Law Solved Any of the Challenges of the Sexual Abuse Crisis?

Patricia M. Dugan

7 Clergy Sex Abuse Litigation: Attribution of Responsibility to Religious Entities by Civil Courts

Nicolás Zambrana-Tévar

8 Sexual Abuse and Clerical Homosexuality: Notes on an Enigmatic Context

Dominikus Kraschl

9 Conclusion: Trying to Learn Some Lessons and Correct Past Mistakes

Anthony J. Blasi and Lluis Oviedo


Monday, December 7, 2020

Routledge Handbook of Early Christian Philosophy

With sections on themes, schools, doctrines, and individuals--including Ps-Denys, Justin the Philosopher/Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Evagrius, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, and other luminaries--and chapters by such prominent Orthodox scholars as Andrew Louth, this hefty collection looks very rich indeed: Mark Edwards, ed., The Routledge Handbook of Early Christian Philosophy (Routledge, 2020), 670pp.

The publisher tells us this about the book, released just last week:

This volume offers the most comprehensive survey available of the philosophical background to the works of early Christian writers and the development of early Christian doctrine.

It examines how the same philosophical questions were approached by Christian and pagan thinkers; the philosophical element in Christian doctrines; the interaction of particular philosophies with Christian thought; and the constructive use of existing philosophies by all Christian thinkers of late antiquity. While most studies of ancient Christian writers and the development of early Christian doctrine make some reference to the philosophic background, this is often of an anecdotal character, and does not enable the reader to determine whether the likenesses are deep or superficial, or how pervasively one particular philosopher may have influenced Christian thought. This volume is designed to provide not only a body of facts more compendious than can be found elsewhere, but the contextual information which will enable readers to judge or clarify the statements that they encounter in works of more limited scope.

With contributions by an international group of experts in both philosophy and Christian thought, this is an invaluable resource for scholars of early Christianity, Late Antiquity and ancient philosophy alike.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Clement of Alexandria

Originally published more than twenty years ago, just last month an electronic version of this book was released: Making Christians: Clement of Alexandria and the Rhetoric of Legitimacy by Denise Kimber Buell (Princeton University Press, 2020), 224pp.

Clement remains, as I noted on here some time back, a very intriguing figure who sits ambivalently in many Christian traditions and calendars. About him and this book the publisher tells us this:

How did second-century Christians vie with each other in seeking to produce an authoritative discourse of Christian identity? In this innovative book, Denise Buell argues that many early Christians deployed the metaphors of procreation and kinship in the struggle over claims to represent the truth of Christian interpretation, practice, and doctrine. In particular, she examines the intriguing works of the influential theologian Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-210 c.e.), for whom cultural assumptions about procreation and kinship played an important role in defining which Christians have the proper authority to teach, and which kinds of knowledge are authentic.

Buell argues that metaphors of procreation and kinship can serve to make power differentials appear natural. She shows that early Christian authors recognized this and often turned to such metaphors to mark their own positions as legitimate and marginalize others as false. Attention to the functions of this language offers a way out of the trap of reconstructing the development of early Christianity along the axes of “heresy” and “orthodoxy,” while not denying that early Christians employed this binary. Ultimately, Buell argues, strategic use of kinship language encouraged conformity over diversity and had a long lasting effect both on Christian thought and on the historiography of early Christianity.

Aperceptive and closely argued contribution to early Christian studies, Making Christians also branches out to the areas of kinship studies and the social construction of gender.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

IOTA's Acta:

After years of wanting to get to Romania, I made it in January 2019 for the inaugural conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association, where I both gave a paper and was also an official ecumenical observer. We arrived the day after Christmas on the old calendar into the charming provincial town of Iași, which was wonderfully ablaze with Christmas lights and decorations and a lovely covering of fresh snow.

The conference was a rich and impressive affair thanks to Paul Gavrilyuk and others. Now he and they have brought out the first volume of proceedings: Pilgrims toward the Kingdom: The Beginnings of the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA Publications, 2020), 256pp.

About this collection, we are told this: 

Responding to the call of the conciliar spirit and seeking to help the Orthodox Church address the challenges of our times, the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA) was founded in 2017. It first met in Iași, Romania in 2019 for its inaugural conference with over 300 scholars in attendance. Pilgrims toward the Kingdom: The Beginnings of the International Orthodox Theological Association, the first release from IOTA Publications, celebrates these accomplishments and chronicles the history of IOTA. It includes vision statements from IOTA’s 25 thematic groups, the full conference program from Iași, the conference keynote address by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), and 166 full-color photographs.

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