"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, April 29, 2022

Plested on Sophiology

If you don't know the works of Marcus Plested, you need to remedy that immediately. I've interviewed him on here and discussed some of his other landmark works. 

Coming out the end of June is his latest book, Wisdom in Christian Tradition:The Patristic Roots of Modern Russian Sophiology (Oxford University Press, 2022), 288pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Following a survey of the biblical and classical background, Wisdom in Christian Tradition offers a detailed exploration of the theme of wisdom in patristic, Byzantine, and medieval theology, up to and including Gregory Palamas and Thomas Aquinas in Greek East and Latin West, respectively. Three principal levels of Christian wisdom discourse are distinguished: wisdom as human attainment, wisdom as divine gift, and wisdom as an attribute or quality of God. This journey through Wisdom in Christian Tradition is undertaken in conversation with modern Russian Sophiology, one of the most popular and widely discussed theological movements of our time. Sophiology is characterized by the idea of a primal pre-principle of divineâhuman unity (âSophiaâ) manifest in both uncreated and created forms and constituting the very foundation of all that is. Sophiology is a complex phenomenon with multiple sources and inspirations, very much including the Church Fathers. Indeed, fidelity to patristic tradition was to become an ever-increasing feature of its self-understanding and self-articulation, above all in the work of its greatest exponent, Fr Sergius Bulgakov (1871-1944). This âunmodern turnâ (as it is here christened) to patristic sources has, however, long been fiercely contested. This book is the first to evaluate thoroughly the nature and substance of Sophiologyâs claim to patristic continuity. The final chapter offers a radical re-thinking of Sophiology in line with patristic tradition. This constructive proposal maintains Sophiologyâs most distinctive insights and most pertinent applications while divesting it of some its more problematic elements.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Christianity and Ecology

I have watched, even in my own short lifetime, how Christian theology has recovered a sense of the ecological and its importance. In 1991 at the World Council of Churches assembly in Canberra, the theme of "justice, peace, and the integrity of creation" was already everywhere in discussion, and that has only continued over the last thirty years, with each of the last three popes contributing to a 'thicker' eco-theology if one may use that not entirely satisfactory phrase. Other thinkers have also played large parts here.

On the Orthodox side, the Ecumenical Patriarch has long been dubbed the "green patriarch" for his advocacy of a fully recovered Christian stewardship of "this fragile earth, our island home," to borrow a Canadian Anglican euchological phrase. Orthodox theologians have made signal contributions to this discussion. 

And now we have a new book that gathers together much of the best of Christian scholarship: The Oxford Handbook of the Bible and Ecology, eds. Hilary Marlow and Mark Harris (Oxford UP, 2022), 496pp. About this collection the publisher tells us this:

Environmental issues are an ever-increasing focus of public discourse and have proved concerning to religious groups as well as society more widely. Among biblical scholars, criticism of the Judeo-Christian tradition for its part in the worsening crisis has led to a small but growing field of study on ecology and the Bible. This volume in the Oxford Handbook series makes a significant contribution to this burgeoning interest in ecological hermeneutics, incorporating the best of international scholarship on ecology and the Bible. The Handbook comprises 30 individual essays on a wide range of relevant topics by established and emerging scholars. Arranged in four sections, the volume begins with a historical overview before tackling some key methodological issues. The second, substantial, section comprises thirteen essays offering detailed exegesis from an ecological perspective of selected biblical books. This is followed by a section exploring broader thematic topics such as the Imago Dei and stewardship. Finally, the volume concludes with a number of essays on contemporary perspectives and applications, including political and ethical considerations.

The editors Hilary Marlow and Mark Harris have drawn on their experience in Hebrew Bible and New Testament respectively to bring together a diverse and engaging collection of essays on a subject of immense relevance. Its accessible style, comprehensive scope, and range of material means that the volume is a valuable resource, not only to students and scholars of the Bible but also to religious leaders and practitioners.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Greek Evil Eyes

Not a week ago were my students insistently asking me everything I knew about the role of the evil eye in Greek Orthodox culture. I am now in the happy position of being myself able to learn more about this, and refer them to learn more from a forthcoming book: Orthodox Christianity, New Age Spirituality and Vernacular Religion: The Evil Eye in Greece by Eugenia Roussou  (Bloomsbury, October 2022), 216pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this: 

This anthropological work thoroughly illustrates the novel synthesis of Christian religion and New Age spirituality in Greece. It challenges the single-faith approach that traditionally ties southern European countries to Christianity and focuses on how processes of globalization influence and transform vernacular religiosity.

Based on long-term anthropological fieldwork in Greece, this book demonstrates how the popular belief in the 'evil eye' produces a creative affinity between religion and spirituality in everyday practice. The author analyses a variety of significant research themes, including lived and vernacular religion, alternative spirituality and healing, ritual performance and religious material culture.

The book offers an innovative social scientific interpretation of contemporary religiosity, while engaging with a multiplicity of theoretical, analytic and empirical directions. It contributes to current key debates in social sciences with regard to globalization and secularization, religious pluralism, contemporary spirituality and the New Age movement, gender, power and the body, health, illness and alternative therapeutic systems, senses, perception and the supernatural, the spiritual marketplace, creativity and the individualization of religion in a multicultural world.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Orthodoxy and Politics

With so much attention justifiably focused on the complete surrender of Russian Orthodoxy to Russian nationalism and its wars of aggression, including against Ukraine, now is a good time to draw attention to a number of recent resources giving wider critical analysis, including Tobias Koellner's Orthodox Religion and Politics in Contemporary Eastern Europe: On Multiple Secularisms and Entanglements (Routledge, 2020), 274pp.

This book explores the relationship between Orthodox religion and politics in Eastern Europe, Russia and Georgia. It demonstrates how as these societies undergo substantial transformation Orthodox religion can be both a limiting and an enabling factor, how the relationship between religion and politics is complex, and how the spheres of religion and politics complement, reinforce, influence, and sometimes contradict each other. Considering a range of thematic issues, with examples from a wide range of countries with significant Orthodox religious groups, and setting the present situation in its full historical context the book provides a rich picture of a subject which has been too often oversimplified.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The Utter Fatuousness of All Nationalisms

Why is anyone a nationalist in any context, at any point, and in and for any nation-state ("that most dangerous and unmanageable of institutions" in MacIntyre's memorable words)? Is it a lack of education? An insularity that refuses to travel to, study, and engage other cultures which results in an othering and blindness so that I do not see how their struggles are like my nation's, and their supposed glories like unto mine as well?

I am hard-pressed to think of anything stupider or more pointless--or more destructive insofar as nationalism is often a key motivator of war. Anyone with a passing familiarity with historiography, narrative theory, psychoanalysis, and much else immediately can see how often nationalism is shot through with tendentious tales of "chosen triumph" and "chosen glory." Even the more plausible tales are invariably embroidered with all kinds of fantasies and illusions and therefore utterly unreliable.

Nationalisms, then, are sinister forces most of the time. The rest of the time they are merely banal. MacIntyre was right to denounce the idea of dying for the nation-state as equivalent to being asked to die for the telephone company. 

It is, of course, a staple within Eastern Christian discourse that nationalism has been a besetting sin of many Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches for centuries. This has long had ample demonstration by scholars with reference to Greece and Southeastern Europe, as well as the East-Slavic countries. But it had, and has, its greatest demonstration this year with the war Russia is waging against Ukraine. This monstrous evil has been lauded and blessed at every turn by the patriarch of Moscow to his everlasting shame. He will surely have to account before the dread tribunal of Christ for wickedly whoring himself out to Putin. 

But Eastern Christians, in a perverse ecumenism, now have their communion joined by fellow nationalist communicants from, of all places, America. (The Man for All Seasons line comes unbidden to mind here, amended slightly: "Why...it profit a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world...but for America!")

These so-called Christian nationalists in America have come in for study in a brand new book by a sociologist whose work I discovered some months back: Samuel Perry. He's doing first-rate scholarship in the sociology of religion and deserves wide attention. His book Addicted to Lust: Pornography in the Lives of Conservative Protestants is a fascinating and sympathetic treatment of what happens when evangelical cultures meet pornography and how they try to co-opt clinical terms to describe their experience. Perry and others have pushed back on this, suggesting that "addiction" is not the right conceptualization to describe what he calls "moral incongruence." I may have more to say about this elsewhere and later. 

But for now I want to draw your attention to his newest book co-authored with Philip Gorski, The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy (Oxford University Press, April 2022), 176pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Most Americans were shocked by the violence they witnessed at the nation's Capital on January 6th, 2021. And many were bewildered by the images displayed by the insurrectionists: a wooden cross and wooden gallows; "Jesus saves" and "Don't Tread on Me;" Christian flags and Confederate Flags; even a prayer in Jesus' name after storming the Senate chamber. Where some saw a confusing jumble, Philip S. Gorski and Samuel L. Perry saw a familiar ideology: white Christian nationalism.

In this short primer, Gorski and Perry explain what white Christian nationalism is and is not; when it first emerged and how it has changed; where it's headed and why it threatens democracy. Tracing the development of this ideology over the course of three centuries―and especially its influence over the last three decades―they show how, throughout American history, white Christian nationalism has animated the oppression, exclusion, and even extermination of minority groups while securing privilege for white Protestants. It enables white Christian Americans to demand "sacrifice" from others in the name of religion and nation, while defending their "rights" in the names of "liberty" and "property."

White Christian nationalism motivates the anti-democratic, authoritarian, and violent impulses on display in our current political moment. The future of American democracy, Gorski and Perry argue, will depend on whether a broad spectrum of Americans―stretching from democratic socialists to classical liberals―can unite in a popular front to combat the threat to liberal democracy posed by white Christian nationalism.

Monday, April 11, 2022

You Never Know Whom You'll Find in Appalachia

I'm greatly looking forward to reading a book just published last week, and to interviewing its author. That book is Between Heaven and Russia: Religious Conversion and Political Apostasy in Appalachia by Sarah Riccardi-Swartz  (Fordham University Press, April 2022), 288pp. It brings together so many themes of interest and in such a timely manner, too. About this book the publisher tells us this: 

How is religious conversion transforming American democracy? In one corner of Appalachia, a group of American citizens has embraced the Russian Orthodox Church and through it Putin’s New Russia. Historically a minority immigrant faith in the United States, Russian Orthodoxy is attracting Americans who look to Russian religion and politics for answers to Western secularism and the loss of traditional family values in the face of accelerating progressivism. This ethnography highlights an intentional community of converts who are exemplary of much broader networks of Russian Orthodox converts in the United States. These converts sought and found a conservatism more authentic than Christian American Republicanism and a nationalism unburdened by the broken promises of American exceptionalism. Ultimately, both converts and the Church that welcomes them deploy the subversive act of adopting the ideals and faith of a foreign power for larger, transnational political ends.

Offering insights into this rarely considered religious world, including its far-right political roots that nourish the embrace of Putin’s Russia, this ethnography shows how religious conversion is tied to larger issues of social politics, allegiance, (anti)democracy, and citizenship. These conversions offer us a window onto both global politics and foreign affairs, while also allowing us to see how particular U.S. communities are grappling with social transformations in the twenty-first century. With broad implications for our understanding of both conservative Christianity and right-wing politics, as well as contemporary Russian–American relations, this book provides insight in the growing constellations of far-right conservatism. While Russian Orthodox converts are more likely to form the moral minority rather than the moral majority, they are an important gauge for understanding the powerful philosophical shifts occurring in the current political climate in the United States and what they might mean for the future of American values, ideals, and democracy.

Friday, April 8, 2022

Ye Are As Like Unto Gods

David Bentley Hard bids fair to be the most prolific and best-known Eastern Orthodox scholar in the anglophone world today, able to pen whimsical essays and weighty tomes with equal facility while ensuring that many oxen on all sides are gored with obvious glee. His capacity to not merely undermine but blow up bad history, including bad doctrinal history and faulty receptions and appropriations of historical figures (like Anselm or Augustine or Aquinas), is wonderfully ecumenical, and I have no reason to doubt that all these gifts will be on fulgurating display in his new book out this month: You Are Gods: On Nature and Supernature (University of Notre Dame Press, April 2022), 158 pp. 

About this new book the publisher tells us this:

In recent years, the theological—and, more specifically, Roman Catholic—question of the supernatural has made an astonishing return from seeming oblivion. David Bentley Hart’s You Are Gods presents a series of meditations on the vexed theological question of the relation of nature and supernature. In its merely controversial aspect, the book is intended most directly as a rejection of a certain Thomistic construal of that relation, as well as an argument in favor of a model of nature and supernature at once more Eastern and patristic, and also more in keeping with the healthier currents of mediaeval and modern Catholic thought. In its more constructive and confessedly radical aspects, the book makes a vigorous case for the all-but-complete eradication of every qualitative, ontological, or logical distinction between the natural and the supernatural in the life of spiritual creatures. It advances a radically monistic vision of Christian metaphysics but does so wholly on the basis of creedal orthodoxy.

Hart, one of the most widely read theologians in America today, presents a bold gesture of resistance to the recent revival of what used to be called “two-tier Thomism,” especially in the Anglophone theological world. In this astute exercise in classical Christian orthodoxy, Hart takes the metaphysics of participation, high Trinitarianism, Christology, and the soteriological language of theosis to their inevitable logical conclusions. You Are Gods will provoke many readers interested in theological metaphysics. The book also offers a vision of Christian thought that draws on traditions (such as Vedanta) from which Christian philosophers and theologians, biblical scholars, and religious studies scholars still have a great deal to learn.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Cyril of Alexandria's Biblical Commentaries

Apologies, dear readers, for the unintended neglect over the last week as the semester enters its most crushing phase and multiple demands on my time converge.

But I am happy to report that IVP Academic sent me their most recent catalogue, and in it are some new books readers will be interested in, including a new volume in their Ancient Christian Texts series: by Cyril of Alexandria, Commentaries on Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Hebrews, trans D.R. Maxwell and J.C. Elowsky  (IVP Academic, March 2022), 176pp. 

About this new translation the publisher tells us this:

Cyril of Alexandria (c. 378–444) was one of the most significant figures in the early church: bishop of the church, defender of orthodoxy, proponent of Alexandrian theology. Indeed, he is probably best known as the supporter of the term Theotokos (God-bearer) with regard to Mary in opposition to Nestorius during the early Christological controversies.

But Cyril viewed himself, first and foremost, as an interpreter of Scripture. In this volume in IVP Academic's Ancient Christian Texts series, Joel Elowsky and David Maxwell offer―for the first time in English―a translation of the surviving Greek and Syriac fragments of Cyril's commentaries on four New Testament epistles: Romans, 1–2 Corinthians, and Hebrews.

Abounding with Cyril's insights regarding these canonical texts and biblical themes such as the triune nature of God, Christ's sacrificial death, and justification, these commentaries are essential tools for understanding Cyril's reading of Holy Scripture.

Ancient Christian Texts is a series of new translations, most of which are here presented in English for the first time. The series provides contemporary readers with the resources they need to study for themselves the key writings of the early church. The texts represented in the series are full-length commentaries or sermon series based on biblical books or extended scriptural passages.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...