"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, February 26, 2021

Dumbarton Oaks Papers

No truly serious library devoted to Byzantine and Eastern Christian studies will ever want to be without an up-to-date subscription to the ongoing Dumbarton Oaks Papers. The 73rd volume, edited by Joel Kalvesmaki and coming in at 250 pages, was published last year, and it deserves your attention for its many riches, including the necrology of the great Byzantine liturgical historian Robert Taft (by his great sometime student Daniel Galadza, whom I interviewed here about his own recent book) as well as the following: 

  • Walter E. Kaegi, “Irfan Shahîd (1926–2016)”
  • Daniel Galadza, “Robert F. Taft, S.J. (1932–2018)”
  • Sylvain Destephen, “From Mobile Center to Constantinople: The Birth of Byzantine Imperial Government”
  • Dina Boero, “Making a Manuscript, Making a Cult: Scribal Production of the Syriac Life of Symeon the Stylite in Late Antiquity”
  • Alexandre M. Roberts, “Framing a Middle Byzantine Alchemical Codex”
  • Lilia Campana, “Sailing into Union: The Byzantine Naval Convoy for the Council of Ferrara–Florence (1438–1439)”
  • Hugh G. Jeffery, “New Lead Seals from Aphrodisias”
  • Maria G. Parani, “Curtains in the Middle and Late Byzantine House”
  • Kostis Kourelis, “Wool and Rubble Walls: Domestic Archaeology in the Medieval Peloponnese”
  • Kathrin Colburn, “Loops, Tabs, and Reinforced Edges: Evidence for Textiles as Architectural Elements”
  • Eunice Dauterman Maguire, “Curtains at the Threshold: How They Hung and How They Performed”
  • Sabine Schrenk, “The Background of the Enthroned: Spatial Analysis of the Hanging with Hestia Polyolbos in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection”
  • Jennifer L. Ball, “Rich Interiors: The Remnant of a Hanging from Late Antique Egypt in the Collection of Dumbarton Oaks”
  • Maria Evangelatou, “Textile Mediation in Late Byzantine Visual Culture: Unveiling Layers of Meaning through the Fabrics of the Chora Monastery”
  • Thelma K. Thomas, “The Honorific Mantle as Furnishing for the Household Memory Theater in Late Antiquity: A Case Study from the Monastery of Apa Apollo at Bawit”
  • Avinoam Shalem, “‘The Nation Has Put On Garments of Blood’: An Early Islamic Red Silken Tapestry in Split”; and 
  • Elizabeth Dospěl Williams, “A Taste for Textiles: Designing Ummayad and Early ʿAbbāsid Interiors.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Do Clothes Maketh the Monk?

Growing up an Anglican altar boy, I was fascinated by vestments, and utterly, secretly thrilled when I first got to done cassock and surplice. Uniforms of all types continue to fascinate, even if today I generally tend to wonder, as a good Freudian should, about the urges some have--stronger in others, we always assume--to dress up, to be saluted or venerated or curtsied to based in large part on titles and clothes. 

Monastics are supposed to immunize themselves from these temptations by wearing death-to-the-world black, or other simple habits often of rough and monochromatic nature. But debates about such garments are as old as monasticism itself, as a forthcoming book by Ingvild  Sælid Gilhus suggests: Clothes and Monasticism in Ancient Christian Egypt: A New Perspective on Religious Garments (Routledge, March 2021), 212pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

This book is an exploration of the ideals and values of the ascetic and monastic life, as expressed through clothes. Clothes are often seen as an extension of us as humans, a determinant of who we are and how we experience and interact with the world. In this way, they can play a significant role in the embodied and material aspects of religious practice.

The focus of this book is on clothing and garments among ancient monastics and ascetics in Egypt, but with a broader outlook to the general meaning and function of clothes in religion. The garments of the Egyptian ascetics and monastics are important because they belong to a period of transition in the history of Christianity and very much represent this way of living. This study combines a cognitive perspective on clothes with an attempt to grasp the embodied experiences of being clothed, as well as viewing clothes as potential actors. Using sources such as travelogues, biographies, letters, contracts, images, and garments from monastic burials, the role of clothes is brought into conversation with material religion more generally.

This unique study builds links between ancient and contemporary uses of religious clothing. It will, therefore, be of interest to any scholar of religious studies, religious history, religion in antiquity, and material religion.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Liturgical Dogmatics

A new book by David Fagerberg will always rocket to the top of one's must-read lists for he is one of the outstanding commentators on the great Alexander Schmemann, and also himself one of the great liturgical theologians in the Catholic world today, where he has done much to bring Eastern understandings to Western awareness. 

I have used his book, especially Theologia Prima for more than 15 years in classes, and more recently his Liturgical Asceticism as well. So I shall read his newest one with an eye to enjoyment and edification for me and my students alike when it appears in a few weeks: Liturgical Dogmatics: How Catholic Beliefs Flow from Liturgical Prayer (Ignatius Press, April 2021), 260pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

God is incomprehensible, but he is not unapproachable. What cannot be fully comprehended by dogma can be approached when we liturgize God.

What knowledge cannot fasten together, love can unite. There is a movement occurring between God and his children, and this divine economy is the subject matter of dogmatics. It is also exactly the definition of liturgy that this work assumes. Liturgy is the perichoresis of the Holy Trinity kenotically extended to invite our synergistic ascent into deification.

The Trinity's circulation of love turns itself outward, and in humility the Son and Spirit work the Father&;s good pleasure for all creation, which is to invite our ascent into participation in the very life of God, which consists of glory, love, beatitude.

All chapter topics in this volume are subdivisions of this single story stretching from alpha to omega, and they all turn out to be liturgical verities. What dogma stammers to state, liturgy celebrates in mystical participation. Liturgical Dogmatics therefore examines dogma in light of liturgy. The whole sweeping, saving activity of God, as described by dogma, is the subject of this book.

I'll see if I can arrange an interview with David, as I have done on here in the past.  

Friday, February 19, 2021

Wandering Holy Men and their Conflicts

For those who, as I noted on Monday, have begun their time in the Lenten desert, the themes of conflict, battle, and asceticism will be foremost in mind. Those also happen to be the focus of a recent book: The Wandering Holy Man: The Life of Barsauma, Christian Asceticism, and Religious Conflict in Late Antique Palestine, eds. Johannes Hahn and Volker Menze (University of California Press, 2020), 324pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Barsauma was a fifth-century Syrian ascetic, archimandrite, and leader of monks, notorious for his extreme asceticism and violent anti-Jewish campaigns across the Holy Land. Although Barsauma was a powerful and revered figure in the Eastern church, modern scholarship has widely dismissed him as a thug of peripheral interest. Until now, only the most salacious bits of the Life of Barsauma—a fascinating collection of miracles that Barsauma undertook across the Near East—had been translated. This pioneering study includes the first full translation of the Life and a series of studies by scholars employing a range of methods to illuminate the text from different angles and contexts. This is the authoritative source on this influential figure in the history of the church and his life, travels, and relations with other religious groups.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

That Bizarre Book We Call the Bible

To grow up as I did in Canada with any interests in literature and theology meant that you were more or less compelled to read the great literary critic Northrop Frye at some point, as I did more than three decades ago now when I tried to benefit from his The Great Code: the Bible and Literature. I remember very little other than the sense of exhilaration at a man who could amass so vast a learning and press it into service of what one might call a metaphysics of sorts. His ability to see and demonstrate so many connections between Scripture and English literature (and a myriad other areas it seemed) was impressive indeed. 

In one of his books he rather offhandedly speaks of the Bible as being a great sprawling mess of a book, which is just the sort of frisson an adolescent prone to uncritical piety, as I then was, is bound to find delightfully shocking. 

Those words came back to mind in reading the latest catalogue from Oxford University Press, including a new book by Kristin Swenson, A Most Peculiar Book:The Inherent Strangeness of the Bible (February 2021, 288pp.).

 About this new book the publisher tells us this:

The Bible, we are constantly reminded, is the best-selling book of all time. It is read with intense devotion by hundreds of millions of people, stands as authoritative for Judaism and Christianity, and informs and affects the politics and lives of the religious and non-religious around the world. But how well do we really know it? The Bible is so familiar, so ubiquitous that we have begun to take our knowledge of it for granted. The Bible many of us think we know is a pale imitation of the real thing.

In A Most Peculiar Book, Kristin Swenson addresses the dirty little secret of biblical studies that the Bible is a weird book. It is full of surprises and contradictions, unexplained impossibilities, intriguing supernatural creatures, and heroes doing horrible deeds. It does not provide a simple worldview: what "the Bible says" on a given topic is multi-faceted, sometimes even contradictory. Yet, Swenson argues, we have a tendency to reduce the complexities of the Bible to aphorisms, bumper stickers, and slogans. Swenson helps readers look at the text with fresh eyes. A collection of ancient stories and poetry written by multiple authors, held together by the tenuous string of tradition, the Bible often undermines our modern assumptions. And is all the more marvelous and powerful for it.

Rather than dismiss the Bible as an outlandish or irrelevant relic of antiquity, Swenson leans into the messiness full-throttle. Making ample room for discomfort, wonder, and weirdness, A Most Peculiar Book guides readers through a Bible that will feel, to many, brand new.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Resources for Great Lent 2021

The Gregorian paschalion is out by a month this year from the Julian, the latter having Pascha on the first Sunday of May, the former on the first Sunday of April. So today begins for some Eastern Christians the Great Fast. 

I would direct you here to what I wrote in 2017 for my thoughts on the best books to understand Lent and both its liturgical history as well as its ascetical practices. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Islam and Christianity in Post-Soviet Russia

The complex realities of Muslim-Orthodox interactions in Russia continue to fascinate, and to repay careful study. A recent book builds on a considerable, and ever-growing, body of literature in this area: Languages of Islam and Christianity in Post-Soviet Russia by Gulnaz Sibgatullina (Brill, 2020), 232pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

In her book, Gulnaz Sibgatullina examines the intricate relationship of religion, identity and language-related beliefs against the background of socio-political changes in post-Soviet Russia. Focusing on the Russian and Tatar languages, she explores how they simultaneously serve the needs of both Muslims and Christians living in the country today. 

Mapping linguistic strategies of missionaries, converts and religious authorities, Sibgatullina demonstrates how sacred vocabulary in each of the languages is being contested by a variety of social actors, often with competing agendas. These linguistic collisions not only affect meanings of the religious lexicon in Tatar and Russian but also drive a gradual convergence of Russia's Islam and Christianity.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Jesuits and the Psychoanalysts

I've been neglectful in not pointing out to you a book and author interview I did at the other blog I maintain. It is a book that overlaps with the focus of this blog, focusing as much of it does on Jesuit theology and psychology in Latin America in the postwar period, which is then so wonderfully linked back to the first generation of psychoanalysts around Freud. 

That book is Daniel José Gaztambide's A People's History of Psychoanalysis: from Freud to Liberation Psychology, and it is really superb. 

Monday, February 8, 2021

Sex Abuse and Harvard

To my delight, I was invited last year to give a lecture at a Harvard symposium later this spring that is focused on bringing together a very impressive and international cast of scholars, clinicians, and activists to discuss the problems of child sex abuse, not least in the Catholic Church. My book, fast approaching its second birthday, Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power, forms the backbone of my lecture, but I will also be going beyond what I wrote there to sketch out a new proposal very much in its earliest and most inchoate stage that seeks to offer some regular, structured means of healing for victims and communities. 

This proposal is indebted to a chapter in a book I discussed in some detail at my other blog. That book, the second of two in an important and rewarding collection, is also very much worth your time.

As you can see here, I am one of the speakers. That website will give you further details as to how you may following along with the conference on Zoom. 

Friday, February 5, 2021

Church of the Holy Apostles

Edited by two major scholars in the field, published in perhaps the most prestigious series for Byzantine scholarship in the anglophone world, and covering one of the most hallowed churches of Byzantium, The Holy Apostles: A Lost Monument, a Forgotten Project, and the Presentness of the Past, eds. Margaret Mullett and Robert G. Ousterhout (Dumbarton Oaks Papers/Harvard University Press, 2020, 320pp.) is a book about a building that no longer exists physically. As the publisher tells us:

Founded by Constantine the Great, rebuilt by Justinian, and redecorated in the ninth, tenth, and twelfth centuries, the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople was the mausoleum of emperors, patriarchs, and saints. It was also a key station in the ceremonies of the city, the site of an important school, a major inspiration for apostolic literature, and briefly the home of the patriarch. Despite its significance, the church no longer exists, replaced by the mosque of Mehmet II after the fall of the city to the Ottomans. Today the church is remembered primarily from two important middle Byzantine ekphraseis, which celebrate its beauty and prominence, as well as from architectural copies and manuscript illustrations.

Scholars have long puzzled over the appearance of the church, as well as its importance to the Byzantines. Anxious to reconstruct the building and its place in the empire, an early collaborative project of Dumbarton Oaks brought together a philologist, an art historian, and an architectural historian in the 1940s and 1950s to reconstruct their own version of the Holy Apostles. Never fully realized, their efforts remained unpublished. The essays in this volume reconsider their project from a variety of vantage points, while illuminating differences of approach seventy years later, to arrive at a twenty-first-century synthesis.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

From Romania to the Kingdom

On Monday I received in the mail a handsome and worthy volume that does honour to the outstanding inaugural conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA) that I attended in January 2019 in Isai, Romania. That splendid conference was superbly organized by many people, but above all Paul Gavrilyuk who is also the editor of this volume: Pilgrims Toward the Kingdom: the Beginnings of the International Orthodox Theological Association (St. Paul, MN: IOTA Publications, 2020), ix+245pp+166 illustrations.  

Having contributed to, edited, and overseen the publication of numerous sets of conference proceedings over the years (including one forthcoming late this year from Peeters), I am not used to finding such a superlative example as this. Many times published in very expensive limited print runs by academic presses, and almost never illustrated, this volume, by contrast, is a large hardcover, on high-quality paper, lavishly illustrated all in colour, and with a highly detailed index as well. As a result the entire book, like the conference itself, reflects the hard work and uncompromising approach of the editor and redounds to his credit. That said, this is not in fact a book of proceedings. Many of the papers (as mine was) have already been published elsewhere.

Instead, this book begins by tracing the roots of IOTA to the Council of Crete in 2016, and to subsequent meetings thereafter, especially the Jerusalem gathering. The structure of IOTA, and its various working groups, are then detailed along with the rationale for each of the many diverse groups, from dogmatic theology to canon law to liturgy to Byzantine studies to ecumenical studies to Scripture, missiology, literature, ecology, politics, patristics, media, and on and on. 

For me it was a glorious conference not just because of the quality of papers and people there, but also because of the location. Iasi, Romania was a lovely and charming town and one day I should be glad to go back. Since I began my involvement in the ecumenical movement in Australia in 1991, where I met and for years afterwards remained friends with a young man from Romania who gave me an icon of the Theotokos I have always treasured (it sits beside my computer in my office at the university), I have wanted to get to Romania, and finally did. That we arrived the day after Christmas into a provincial city with freshly fallen snow, and abundantly decorated for the holidays, only added to my delight in the location. 

The other outstanding feature of this conference--at which I both gave a paper and was also an official ecumenical observer--was its unapologetic model of doing theology liturgically and prayerfully. We opened in the cathedral with a moleben that was wonderfully sung, walking home from which afterwards through the snow while seeing the dazzling displays of lights only adding to our liturgy after the liturgy. As I said in an interview I gave during the conference, the fact that we were doing theology liturgically, prayerfully, constitutes both a positive model for, but also a gracious rebuke of the more typical model of academic conferences where the sessions consist of nothing but lectures. 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Monks and Crusaders Together

As I have been showing on here for over a decade, interest in "the Crusades" always remains high, even if that interest rarely translates into people properly understanding these most-misunderstood of events. A recent book continues chipping away at some of these widespread and longstanding misunderstandings: Bernard Hamilton and Andrew Jotischky, Latin and Greek Monasticism in the Crusader States (Cambridge UP, 2020), 300pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this: 

Monasticism was the dominant form of religious life both in the medieval West and in the Byzantine world. Latin and Greek Monasticism in the Crusader States explores the parallel histories of monasticism in western and Byzantine traditions in the Near East in the period c.1050-1300. Bernard Hamilton and Andrew Jotischky follow the parallel histories of new Latin foundations alongside the survival and revival of Greek Orthodox monastic life under Crusader rule. Examining the involvement of monasteries in the newly founded Crusader States, the institutional organization of monasteries, the role of monastic life in shaping expressions of piety, and the literary and cultural products of monasteries, this meticulously researched survey will facilitate a new understanding of indigenous religious institutions and culture in the Crusader states.

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