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


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Russian Orthodox Pilgrimages

The blurb is replete with the sort of off-putting jargon that is popular in academia just now, but there is at least one chapter in this collection that will be of interest to Eastern Christians: Stella Rock's essay "Touching the Holy: Orthodox Christian Pilgrimage within Russia" in John Eade and Dionigi Albera, eds., International Perspectives on Pilgrimage Studies: Itineraries, Gaps and Obstacles (Routledge, 2015), 226pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Although research on contemporary pilgrimage has expanded considerably since the early 1990s, the conversation has largely been dominated by Anglophone researchers in anthropology, ethnology, sociology, and religious studies from the United Kingdom, the United States, France and Northern Europe. This volume challenges the hegemony of Anglophone scholarship by considering what can be learned from different national, linguistic, religious and disciplinary traditions, with the aim of fostering a global exchange of ideas. The chapters outline contributions made to the study of pilgrimage from a variety of international and methodological contexts and discuss what the ‘metropolis’ can learn from these diverse perspectives. While the Anglophone study of pilgrimage has largely been centred on and located within anthropological contexts, in many other linguistic and academic traditions, areas such as folk studies, ethnology and economics have been highly influential. Contributors show that in many traditions the study of ‘folk’ beliefs and practices (often marginalized within the Anglophone world) has been regarded as an important and central area which contributes widely to the understanding of religion in general, and pilgrimage, specifically. As several chapters in this book indicate, ‘folk’ based studies have played an important role in developing different methodological orientations in Poland, Germany, Japan, Hungary, Italy, Ireland and England. With a highly international focus, this interdisciplinary volume aims to introduce new approaches to the study of pilgrimage and to transcend the boundary between center and periphery in this emerging discipline.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Missionary Stories and Syriac Churches

We are living in boom times for the study of Syriac Christianity--relative, of course, to the previous neglect. A pioneering generation of scholars--Sidney Griffith, Sebastian Brock, Susan Ashbrook Harvey and others--is still around, but as they age they have fortunately have been training a younger generation, several of whom I have met, including the author of this forthcoming study, Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent, who finished her doctorate under Harvey at Brown University and for the last few years has been teaching at Marquette. I met Saint-Laurent at a conference in Washington, DC in 2011 and she was very lovely and gracious. Her scholarly acumen is matched by a deep faith from what I could tell, and Marquette is thus very lucky to have her.

Set for release in the middle of next month is her Missionary Stories and the Formation of the Syriac Churches (U California Press, 2015, 232pp).
 
About this book the publisher tells us:
Missionary Stories and the Formation of the Syriac Churches analyzes the hagiographic traditions of seven missionary saints in the Syriac heritage during late antiquity: Thomas, Addai, Mari, John of Ephesus, Simeon of Beth Arsham, Jacob Baradaeus, and Ahudemmeh. Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent studies a body of legends about the missionaries’ voyages in the Syrian Orient to illustrate their shared symbols and motifs. Revealing how these texts encapsulated the concerns of the communities that produced them, she draws attention to the role of hagiography as a malleable genre that was well-suited for the idealized presentation of the beginnings of Christian communities. Hagiographers, through their reworking of missionary themes, asserted autonomy, orthodoxy, and apostolicity for their individual civic and monastic communities, positioning themselves in relationship to the rulers of their empires and to competing forms of Christianity. Saint-Laurent argues that missionary hagiography is an important and neglected source for understanding the development of the East and West Syriac ecclesiastical bodies: the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Church of the East. Given that many of these Syriac-speaking churches remain today in the Middle East and India, with diaspora communities in Europe and North America, this work opens the door for further study of the role of saints and stories as symbolic links between ancient and modern traditions.
I'm hoping to arrange an author interview with this book once the publisher sends me a copy.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Comrades Stumbling Along

We hosted a fantastic conference on the life and work of Dorothy Day last week at the University of Saint Francis. I was delighted that the priest-scholar Robert Wild from Madonna House in the Ottawa Valley was able to come and give a paper on the "Eastern" connections as it were. His lecture drew on his book, Comrades Stumbling Along: The Friendship of Catherine de Hueck Doherty and Dorothy Day as Revealed Through Their Letters (Alba, 2009), 173pp. The correspondence between these two women is as fascinating as they themselves were. Doherty, a Russian Orthodox who wound up in Canada, and Day, an Episcopalian who wound up in New York: both found themselves in the Catholic Church at the same time with a similar vision and mission to serve the poor, which they did in unique and lasting ways. Born within a year of each other, and both dying in the 1980s, these two fascinating, deeply challenging women have left behind a legacy on this continent that continues to enrich the lives of many. Eternal memory indeed!

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Messiness of Synodality

It always astonishes me that my students are astonished at the development of Christian doctrine. These innocents, knowing very little even recent American history, know absolutely nothing about ancient Christian history. They seem fondly to have imagined—if they have thought about the matter at all—that, e.g., the Nicene Creed “had fallen from heaven quite unexpectedly during Good Friday luncheon some years back” (to use one of the lines from Evelyn Waugh’s uproariously politically incorrect novel Black Mischief). When they discover that it did not—that the creed was a lengthy process of synodal or conciliar debate going on for decades—they are not only amazed but some of them even a little disgusted. The raw humanity of the Church--which, I must remind them, has two natures, as Christ did: divine and human--seems to be rather disdainful to some. (Others, of course, can see only the human side, and therefore reductionistically and simplistically assume that every decision was the result always and only of political machinations of the most sordid and self-interested variety, with no possible room for the Holy Spirit to drop His ready-made creeds into the diners' laps.)

When we cover the era of The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787): Their History and Theology, starting at Nicaea I in 325 and ending with Nicaea II in 787, and spending the most time on Chalcedon in 451, every one of them in classes going back nearly a decade has professed to be amazed at how messy, protracted, polemical, and confrontational the process was by which Christological doctrine was shaped and defined, not least in the creed. In the passive-aggressive argot of today, they ask: Why was everyone so “divisive”? Wasn’t the reaction to Arius rather “extreme”? Couldn’t they have just tolerated a diversity of opinions? After all, who cares how many natures Christ has, or what the relationship, if any, between them is. This is all irrelevant nonsense--isn't it? We can still be nice persons whether Christ has one nature, two, or 391,704.

Eventually, of course, the Church was guided to understand the dyophysite nature of Christ, and to settle other related and controverted matters. But it took time and effort lasting centuries. There was, then, no neat, tidy, simple, quick process for the formation of doctrinal claims that most of us take for granted today and have seemed settled for ages if not forever. It was a process taking decades and centuries, and in the meantime there was a lot of unsettled opinion and a great deal of vigorous, and occasionally violent, fighting. A very good, if dense, book for the formation of Christological doctrine remains that of Khaled Anatolios (whom I interviewed here), Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine.

Such is the way of synods and councils, East and West, ancient and modern. As we finish the seemingly endless commemorations of Vatican II this year, Catholics of a certain age--now fewer and fewer with each passing year--will remember the tumult in the post-conciliar period. Those with longer historical memories will know that whether it is Nicaea I, Chalcedon, Lateran IV, Trent, or some other synod, it takes decades for things to settle down, and in the meantime the process remains often painfully messy. Indeed, in not a few cases, things get worse after a synod/council, and the question is often raised: was the "cure" not worse than whatever the precipitating "disease" was? Such is the way synodality down through the ages.

I mention all this in anticipation of what I fully expect to be a shambolic synod in Rome in October, picking up where last year's session left off. I've talked to many people who have been disconcerted by the messiness and controversy last fall, but such concern is, in part, likely a function of just how unfamiliar the West is with synodality, though there is a long history of the same going back to the earliest centuries, as I documented in my book, Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity.

For those wishing more depth and detail on the topic, see the hefty scholarly collection (of uneven quality, and with articles in French and other European languages), Synod and Synodality: Theology, History, Canon Law and Ecumenism in New Contact.

Other works, most of them mentioned or reviewed on here over the years, that may be of interest would include Paul Valliere's rather uneven but still insightful Conciliarism: A History of Decision-Making in the Church.

Valliere's title does not really treat what one expects under the heading of "conciliarism," on whose history, in the West, Francis Oakley is the doyen. As I have noted before, Oakley's book on the topic, The Conciliarist Tradition: Constitutionalism in the Catholic Church 1300-1870, discussed in depth here, is a deeply disturbing one raising age-old questions that nobody has bothered to answer--preferring instead to ignore them or "forget" them. I am using part of it in a lecture I am giving at Fordham next month at the OTSA meeting.

Finally, I would recommend a rich collection discussing ecclesiological and ecumenical issues, including synodality: Receptive Ecumenism and the Call to Catholic Learning: Exploring a Way for Contemporary Ecumenism.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Von Balthasar Among the Russians

Just as, recently, it seems that everyone has suddenly "discovered" the great Russian thinker Sergius Bulgakov thanks to the translations of his works that Eerdmans has been cranking out over the last decade, so too there was a period in the 1990s when it seemed that suddenly everyone had "discovered" the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, who died suddenly in 1988 days before being made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II. Journals were suddenly ablaze with all kinds of articles about von Balthasar, whom Joseph Ratzinger, preaching his funeral homily, called perhaps the most cultured man in Europe. Certainly von Balthasar's vast learning, and enormous output, made him a formidable man to grapple with. Of all this many works, he is perhaps best known for his "theological aesthetics."

In the craze to engage him, many books were written, but not, to my knowledge, many engaging him vis-à-vis the Christian East--until now: Jennifer Newsome Martin, Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Critical Appropriation of Russian Religious Thought (University of Notre Dame Press, 2015), 315pp. The publisher tells us the following about this book, forthcoming this October:
in Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Critical Appropriation of Russian Religious Thought, Jennifer Newsome Martin offers the first systematic treatment and evaluation of the Swiss Catholic theologian’s complex relation to modern speculative Russian religious philosophy. Her constructive analysis proceeds through Balthasar’s critical reception of Vladimir Soloviev, Nicholai Berdyaev, and Sergei Bulgakov with respect to theological aesthetics, myth, eschatology, and Trinitarian discourse and examines how Balthasar adjudicates both the possibilities and the limits of theological appropriation, especially considering the degree to which these Russian thinkers have been influenced by German Idealism and Romanticism.
Martin argues that Balthasar’s creative reception and modulation of the thought of these Russian philosophers is indicative of a broad speculative tendency in his work that deserves further attention. In this respect, Martin consciously challenges the prevailing view of Balthasar as a fundamentally conservative or nostalgic thinker. In her discussion of the relation between tradition and theological speculation, Martin also draws upon the understudied relation between Balthasar and F. W. J. Schelling, especially as Schelling’s form of Idealism was passed down through the Russian thinkers. In doing so, she persuasively recasts Balthasar as an ecumenical, creatively anti-nostalgic theologian hospitable to the richness of contributions from extra-magisterial and non-Catholic sources.
“With her Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Critical Appropriation of Russian Religious Thought, Jennifer Newsome Martin has produced an accomplished, literate, and original contribution that is much needed in Balthasar scholarship. To my knowledge, this is the only text on Balthasar and three important Russian Orthodox thinkers—Soloviev, Berdyaev, and Bulgakov—who engaged ancient Christianity with modern philosophical currents. Additionally, Martin brings to light aspects of Balthasar’s theological method that go beyond Balthasar’s own importance to broader issues in theology.” — Anthony C. Sciglitano, Seton Hall University

Friday, May 8, 2015

On the 50th Anniversary of Ware's The Orthodox Church

For decades, it seemed that the only reliable, accessible, affordable introduction to Orthodox Christianity available to Anglophone readers was The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware and published by Penguin. And it was a solid book and very useful. When I began in 2008 to teach introductory courses on Eastern Christianity, I used Ware's book. I was later forced to abandon it, when, to my horror, students whined that it "has too much history in it," a claim I find about as intelligible and defensible as saying of the Pacific Ocean "it has too much water in it." But given that most students today don't know even the most recent and elementary history (I can reliably count on fewer than 5% of any given class knowing the dates of either of the two World Wars), still less anything about Christian history, I adopted another text which has worked better for us: David Bell's Orthodoxy: Evolving Tradition.

Today, happily, as I have had frequent occasion to note on here, we live in an era of riches and abundance: introductions to Orthodoxy abound in English, from simple, accessible and affordable paperback's like Bell's through to major encyclopedias and dictionaries as well as handbooks, companions, and other substantial and welcome studies from prominent and widely respected scholars, not all of them Orthodox themselves. 

Later this autumn, the 50th-anniversary edition of Ware's famous text is being published in an anniversary edition: The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity (Penguin, October 2015), 368pp.

About this forthcoming re-issue, we are told by the publisher:
'Orthodoxy claims to be universal . . .' 'Since its first publication fifty years ago, Timothy Ware's book has become established throughout the English-speaking world as the standard introduction to the Orthodox Church. Orthodoxy continues to be a subject of enormous interest among western Christians, and the author believes that an understanding of its standpoint is necessary before the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches can be reunited. In this revised and updated edition he explains the Orthodox views on such widely ranging matters as Ecumenical Councils, Sacraments, Free Will, Purgatory, the Papacy and the relation between the different Orthodox Churches.
It will be interesting to see how updated this version is, and how explicit it is about those updates, and whose they are. By that I mean one must look to see whether the updates merely reflect new scholarly developments and discoveries, or whether some of the updates reflect--as some, especially Catholic, critics of this book have long felt--a covert form of "doctrinal development" (or degradation, as the case may be). The infamous test-case here has long been birth control: the first edition of this book in the 1960s noted that it was forbidden in Orthodoxy; but subsequent versions through the 1970s-1990s progressively weakened that view, ending up with what we read in the 1997 edition: "Concerning contraceptives and other forms of birth control, differing opinions exist within the Orthodox Church. In the past birth control was strongly condemned but today a less strict view is coming to prevail....Many Orthodox theologians and spiritual fathers consider that the responsible use of contraception within marriage is not in itself sinful. In their view, the question...is best decided by the partners themselves, according to the guidance of their own consciences" (p.296).  

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Orthodox-Muslim Relations in Medieval Anatolia

This book, Islam and Christianity in Medieval Anatolia, just released last week, was sent to me and I began it straightaway after my semester ended, papers were marked, and grades all submitted. It is a hefty and very detailed and substantial collection I have only begun. So I will have a more detailed review later. But for now, let me stress that this rich and fascinating collection, edited by A.C.S. Peackock, Bruno De Nicola, and Sara Nur Yildiz, and just published by Ashgate, is a must-have for every serious scholar and library devoted to Muslim-Christian relations.

This book is not inexpensive, but very much worth the price. Collections of academic articles often vary in quality, but so far my reading of two of the articles, and skimming of the rest of the book, suggest that each article is of a very high quality. They are written by scholars who know what they are talking about, showing a wide and impressive familiarity with Eastern Christianity in various forms--especially Greek and Armenian--and with recent scholarship on Eastern Christianity and its encounters with Islam. The footnotes and nearly fifty-page bibliography are themselves virtually worth the price of the entire book.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Peter Bouteneff on Arvo Part

I have had a chance to interview Peter Bouteneff about his recent book to which I drew attention earlier. Bouteneff, a professor at St. Vladimir's Seminary in Crestwood, New York, is the author of such works as Sweeter Than Honey: Orthodox Thinking on Dogma And Truth and Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives. Here are his thoughts on his latest work.

AD: Tell us about your background
 
My first degree was in music – I studied jazz and ethnomusicology at New England Conservatory in the early 80’s. After travels far and wide, including a 2-year sojourn in Japan, I ended up at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, and then at Oxford for further theological studies. I spent five years in Geneva with the Faith and Order Commission of the WCC, and I’ve been teaching at St. Vladimir’s since 2000.

AD: What led to the writing of this book, Arvo Pärt: Out of Silence?

I first met the composer in 1990 and have been smitten by his music ever since. In 2011, my colleague Nicholas Reeves and I conceived of what would become The Arvo Pärt Project at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. That was a massive, all-consuming undertaking that led to concerts at Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and to the composer’s first New York appearance in 30 years. But the Project had always had a more reflective and theological dimension in mind as well. Once the concerts were over, I could devote attention to the book, which I’d been thinking about for the better part of a year. I also had several important conversations with Arvo and Nora Pärt that fed the book at crucial moments.

AD: For those not familiar with Pärt, give us a brief sketch of the man


Owing to at least three factors (his shyness and love of quiet, his beard, and commentators’ apparent need to Orientalize and exoticize him) he has this reputation for being “a monkish recluse.” He is indeed shy, but can be very animated, witty, whimsical, fun, and quite serious too. And comfortable with silence. As the world’s most-performed living composer, he is resigned to his fame, and to the effect of his music on people. Somehow he remains completely humble.

AD: You mention your first exposure to his music while you were a doctoral student at Oxford. Tell us about his Passio and your reaction to it. 

Well, I kind of describe that experience at the outset of the book, but that concert represented a turning point of my life. The book also concludes with a walk-through of that same composition, as a way of summarizing several of my recurring themes.

AD: In your introduction, you quote Pärt himself as saying that to understand his musical philosophy, one needs to turn to the Church Fathers. Are there specifically “patristic” influences on his music that you have detected, or was this a short-hand way of referring more generally to the influence of Orthodoxy on his music and life? 

The latter, for sure. But much of my book is concerned with proposing connections between Pärt’s music and certain scriptural, patristic, liturgical, and ascetical themes in the Orthodox tradition. I never claim that the composer drew on these very same sources, or consciously constructed his music on the themes as I construe them. I’m “just putting it out there,” as it were. I’ll be interested to see if my proposed connections resonate with other listeners. And with Pärt himself.

AD: In your “methodology” section, you take considerable pains to differentiate between causation and correlation when assessing the relationship between Orthodoxy and Pärt’s music. Why is it important to make these distinctions? 

Ah yes – I was just making that point, and I’m glad you notice it! It’s partly because Pärt himself is never explicit about the direct theological/spiritual sources of his music’s inner life. In fact I’m not at all sure that he has pondered the theological connections very fully. It’s more an organic, intuitive process for him. So it would be crazy-pretentious of me to presume that I’d unlocked the hidden key to his work.

AD: I confess that, as my late grandmother used to say, I cannot carry a tune in a bucket. For musical innocents such as myself, where should we start in seeking to appreciate Pärt’s music? If you were stranded on the proverbial island and could only have 3 of his compositions with you, which would you choose and why? 

You’re forcing me to choose from a treasury of riches, but let me try. The first might be Für Alina, the short, unassuming but haunting piano work with which he emerged from his eight-year compositional deadlock into his tintinnabuli style.

The second might be his Passio (the St. John Passion). This is a 70-minute immersive experience that is best experienced with close attention, following the text.

Third, Adam's Lament, to witness what he does with the text of St. Silouan of Mt. Athos, setting it within a widely ranging palette of tonalities.

AD: You reflect a great deal—as your title suggests—on the role of silence in Pärt’s music. If you were to speculate a bit, do you think the huge interest in Pärt today has to do precisely with how little silence we have in our world of endless twittering and texting?

Absolutely. A great many listeners speak about his music as a refuge, giving them space to create or think.

AD: The third and final section of your book uses a phrase I first read in Schmemann many years ago: “bright sadness.” How does that notion help us to understand Pärt’s music?

It’s become a common feature of stories about Pärt – people notice this strangely “dual” quality to his music, describing it in terms of “loss and hope,” “suffering and consolation,” “zero and one,” “frailty and stability.” Pärt even adds “human and divine,” as well as “sin and forgiveness.” It’s something that listeners simply intuit, with remarkable consistency. But there is a technical feature in his music, a rule that he consistently deploys, that is at the root of that binary. Read the book to learn more…

AD: Sum up your hopes for this book, and tell us who especially should read it

My hopes: to reach a broad audience, a-religious, religious, and in-between. To bring any listener into a deeper engagement with Pärt’s music. To explore the relationship between the music’s broad, near-universal reach, and its particular roots in Orthodoxy. To yield insights into the relationship between theology and art.

AD: Having finished the book, what are you at work on now—what is the next project?

After a few long-promised essays on theological topics, I’m planning a short book on how to understand oneself as “a sinner” without going crazy with either pride or self-hatred.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

John Chrysostom and Divine Pedagogy

Kierkegaard famously said of Chrysostom that "he gesticulated with his whole existence," a sentiment with which the author of a new study on him would appear to agree: David Rylaarsdam, John Chrysostom on Divine Pedagogy: The Coherence of his Theology and Preaching (Oxford Early Christian Studies, 2014), 352pp.
About this book we are told: 
Contrary to the portrayals of Chrysostom as a theologically impaired, moralizing sophist, this book argues that his thinking is remarkably coherent when it is understood on his own terms and within his culture. Chrysostom depicts God as a teacher of philosophy who adaptably guides people toward salvation. Since the theme of divine adaptability influences every major area of Chrysostom's thought, tracing this concept provides a thorough introduction to his theology. It also explains, at least in part, several striking features of his homilies, including his supposed inconsistencies, his harsh rhetoric and apparent political naivete, his intentionally abridged and exoteric theological discussions, and his lack of allegiance to an "Antiochene school."

In addition to illuminating such topics, the concept of adaptability stands at one of the busiest intersections of Late Antique culture, for it is an important idea found in rhetoric and discussions about the best methods of teaching philosophy. Consequently, adaptability is an ingredient in the classical project of paideia, and Chrysostom is a Christian philosopher who seeks to transform this powerful tradition of formation. He gives his Christianized paideia a theological foundation by adapting and seamlessly integrating traditional pedagogical methods into his reading and communication of Scripture. David Rylaarsdam provides an in-depth case study of one prominent leader's attempt to transform culture by forming a coherent theological discourse that was adapted to the level of the masses.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sacramental Theology

I have recently reviewed the final proofs for my chapter in this very substantial and impressive forthcoming collection, which is ideally suited for classroom usage: Matthew Levering and Hans Boersma, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Sacramental Theology (Oxford, 2015), 736pp.

Though I am of course somewhat biased, I do think the publisher is correct in enumerating some of the virtues of this collection thus, saying the handbook
  • Provides a multi-faceted introduction to sacramental theology
  • Introduces readers to the historical roots and development of Christian sacramental worship
  • Was written by an international team of authors who are leading practitioners of the discipline
We are further told about this book:
As a multi-faceted introduction to sacramental theology, the purposes of this Handbook are threefold: historical, ecumenical, and missional. The forty-four chapters are organized into the following parts five parts: Sacramental Roots in Scripture, Patristic Sacramental Theology, Medieval Sacramental Theology, From the Reformation through Today, and Philosophical and Theological Issues in Sacramental Doctrine.

Contributors to this Handbook explain the diverse ways that believers have construed the sacraments, both in inspired Scripture and in the history of the Church's practice. In Scripture and the early Church, Orthodox, Protestants, and Catholics all find evidence that the first Christian communities celebrated and taught about the sacraments in a manner that Orthodox, Protestants, and Catholics today affirm as the foundation of their own faith and practice. Thus, for those who want to understand what has been taught about the sacraments in Scripture and across the generations by the major thinkers of the various Christian traditions, this Handbook provides an introduction. As the divisions in Christian sacramental understanding and practice are certainly evident in this Handbook, it is not thereby without ecumenical and missional value. This book evidences that the story of the Christian sacraments is, despite divisions in interpretation and practice, one of tremendous hope.
And as you peruse this Table of Contents you will note many prominent scholars of Eastern Christianity (noted in italics)

Hans Boersma and Matthew Levering: Introduction: The Handbook's Three Purposes

Sacramental Roots in Scripture
1: Walter Moberly: Sacramentality And The Old Testament
2: Dennis T. Olson: Sacramentality in the Torah
3: Craig A. Evans and Jeremiah J. Johnston: Intertestamental Background of the Christian Sacraments
4: Nicholas Perrin: Sacraments and Sacramentality in the New Testament
5: Edith M. Humphrey: Sacrifice and Sacrament: Sacramental Implications of the Death of Christ
6: Richard Bauckham: Sacraments and the Gospel of John
7: David Lincicum: Sacraments in the Pauline Epistles
8: Luke Timothy Johnson: Sacramentality and Sacraments in Hebrews

Patristic Sacramental Theology
9: Everett Ferguson: Sacraments in the Pre-Nicene Period
10: Khaled Anatolios: Sacraments in the Fourth Century
11: Lewis Ayres and Thomas Humphries: Augustine and the West to AD 650
12: Andrew Louth: Late Patristic Developments in Sacramental Theology in the East (Fifth-Ninth Century)

Medieval Sacramental Theology
13: Mark G. Vaillancourt: Sacramental Theology from Gottschalk to Lanfranc
14: Boyd Taylor Coolman: The Christo-Pneumatic-Ecclesial Character of Twelfth-Century Sacramental Theology
15: Joseph Wawrykow: The Sacraments In Thirteenth-Century Theology
16: Ian Christopher Levy: Sacraments in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries
17: Yury P. Avvakumov: Sacramental Ritual in Middle and Later Byzantine Theology, 9th -15th centuries

From the Reformation through Today
18: Mickey L. Mattox: Sacraments in the Lutheran Reformation
19: Michael Allen: Sacraments in the Reformed and Anglican Reformation
20: John Rempel: Sacraments in the Radical Reformation
21: Peter Walter, Translated by David L. Augustine: Sacraments in the Council of Trent and 16th Century Catholic Theology
22: Brian A. Butcher: Orthodox Sacramental Theology: Sixteenth to Nineteenth Centuries
23: Trent Pomplun: Post-Tridentine Sacramental Theology
24: Scott R. Swain: Lutheran and Reformed Sacramental Theology, 17th-19th Centuries
25: E. Brooks Holifield: Sacramental Theology in America, 17th through 19th Centuries
26: .: Twentieth Century and Contemporary Protestant Sacramental Theology
Part I: Martha L. Moore-Keish: Sacraments in General and Baptism in Twentieth Century and Contemporary Protestant Theology
Part II: George Hunsinger: The Lord's Supper in Twentieth-Century and Contemporary Protestant Theology
27: Peter Casarella: Catholic Sacramental Theology in the Twentieth Century
28: Peter Galadza: Twentieth-Century and Contemporary Orthodox Sacramental Theology

Dogmatic Approaches
29: David W. Fagerberg: Liturgy, Signs, and Sacraments
30: Geoffrey Wainwright: One Baptism, One Church?
31: C. C. Pecknold and Lucas Laborde, S.S.J.: Confirmation
32: Bruce D. Marshall: What is the Eucharist? A Dogmatic Outline
33: Brent Waters: Marriage
34: Adam DeVille: The Sacrament of Orders Dogmatically Understood
35: Anthony Akinwale, O.P.: Reconciliation
36: John C. Kasza: Anointing of the Sick

Philosophical and Theological Issues in Sacramental Doctrine
37: Thomas Joseph White, O.P: Sacraments and Philosophy
38: Benoît-Dominique de La Soujeole, O.P. Translated by Dominic M. Langevin, O.P.: The Sacraments and the Development of Doctrine
39: David Brown: A Sacramental World: Why It Matters
40: Francesca Aran Murphy: Christ, The Trinity, and The Sacraments
41: Peter J. Leithart: Signs of the Eschatological Ekklesia: The Sacraments, the Church, and Eschatology
42: Gordon W. Lathrop: Liturgy, Preaching and the Sacraments
43: C. J. C. Pickstock: Sense and Sacrament
44: Jorge Scampini, O.P: The Sacraments in Ecumenical Dialogue

Monday, April 27, 2015

Syriac Writers of Qatar

In the spring issue of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies (details forthcoming), we feature an article on the role Syriac Christianity played in early missionary efforts into the Far East--China especially. Perhaps even more neglected than these efforts are Syriac writers further south in the Persian Gulf. They have been treated in a new book: Mario Kozah et al., eds., The Syriac Writers of Qatar in the Seventh Century (Gorgias Press, 2014), 300pp.


About this book we are told:
This edited volume presents a number of Syriac monastic and ascetical writers from the seventh century who were born and educated in Beth Qatraye (Syriac for Qatar or Region of the Qataris) of which Isaac of Nineveh of Qatar is considered to be the most influential of all Syriac monastic writers and who continues to exert a strong influence in monastic circles today. Many of the others like Dadisho of Qatar, Gabriel bar Lipeh of Qatar, Abraham bar Lipeh of Qatar, Gabriel Arya of Qatar, and Ahob of Qatar were important Syriac writers on spirituality and commentators or exegetes within the Church of the East tradition. These writers, who all originated from the Qatar region and were educated there, reveal the presence of an important school of education that rivaled in its sophistication the other more well-known schools such as the School of Nisibis or the School of Edessa. The Syriac writers of Qatar themselves produced some of the best and most sophisticated writing to be found in all Syriac literature of the seventh century. The Syriac writers of Qatar have not received the scholarly attention that they deserve in the last half century. This volume seeks to redress this underdevelopment by setting the standard for further research in the sub-field of Beth Qatraye studies. This volume includes papers presented at an international conference held at Qatar University in collaboration with the American University of Beirut entitled "The Syriac Writers of Qatar in the Seventh Century." The conference took place on 26-27 February, 2014. It was the first of its kind in the Gulf Region, and it brought together some of the most prominent scholars in Syriac Studies. The conference was part of a three year research project funded by the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) under its National Priorities Research Program (NPRP).

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Moscow Council

It often happens in the world of academic publishing that deadlines get changed. And so even though I drew attention to this book nearly a year ago, in anticipation of a Fall 2014 publication, it seems that it will finally be in print at the end of next month. And it is a hefty tome well worth waiting for, not least for all those interested in recent Christian, especially Russian Orthodox, history, as well as those with interests in ecclesiology.

Hyacinthe Destivelle, The Moscow Council (1917-1918): The Creation of the Conciliar Institutions of the Russian Orthodox Church, trans. Jerry Ryan and eds. Michael Plekon and Vitaly Permiakov (University of Notre Dame Press, 2015), 488.
About this book we are told:
By the early twentieth century, a genuine renaissance of religious thought and a desire for ecclesial reform were emerging in the Russian Orthodox Church. With the end of tsarist rule and widespread dissatisfaction with government control of all aspects of church life, conditions were ripe for the Moscow Council of 1917-1918 to come into being.  The council was a major event in the history of the Orthodox Church. After years of struggle for reform against political and ecclesiastical resistance, the bishops, clergy, monastics, and laity who formed the Moscow Council were able to listen to one other and make sweeping decisions intended to renew the Russian Orthodox Church. Council members sought change in every imaginable area—from seminaries and monasteries, to parishes and schools, to the place of women in church life and governance. Like Vatican II, the Moscow Council emphasized the mission of the church in and to the world.

Destivelle’s study not only discusses the council and its resolutions but also provides the historical, political, social, and cultural context that preceded the council. In the only comprehensive and probing account of the council, he discusses its procedures and achievements, augmented by substantial appendices of translated conciliar documents.  Tragically, due to the Revolution, the council's decisions could not be implemented to the extent its members hoped. Despite current trends in the Russian church away from the Moscow Council’s vision, the council’s accomplishments remain as models for renewal in the Eastern churches.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Out of Silence

I just received in the mail a new book whose author I know somewhat and whom I have arranged to interview in the coming days: Peter C. Bouteneff, Arvo Pärt: Out of Silence (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2015), 231pp. I'm excited to read this book and even more to hear from Peter, not least because I know nothing about music and have long admired people who not only understand music but can also play it, a skill I still hope to develop some day. (I take consolation from the fact that my late paternal grandmother had a cousin who, at the age of 80, decided one day she too wanted to learn how to play piano, and set about doing precisely that. She then spent most of the next decade or so of her life driving around southern Ontario to play music "for the old folks" in nursing homes!)

About this book the publisher tells us:
Listeners often speak of a certain mystery in the way that Arvo Pärt evokes spirituality through his music, but no one has taken a sustained, close look at how he achieves this. Arvo Pärt: Out of Silence examines the powerful interplay between Pärt s music and the composer s own deep roots in the Orthodox Christian faith a relationship that has born much creative fruit and won the hearts of countless listeners across the globe.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Liturgical Subjects

Among both students and scholars of early Christianity, especially in the East, Derek Kruger's name and work will be well known. Editor, e.g., of the 2006 book Byzantine Christianity, he has more recently written a book that focuses on the liturgical and spiritual worlds of the Eastern Empire: Liturgical Subjects: Christian Ritual, Biblical Narrative, and the Formation of the Self in Byzantium (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), 328pp.

About this book we are told:
Liturgical Subjects examines the history of the self in the Byzantine Empire, challenging narratives of Christian subjectivity that focus only on classical antiquity and the Western Middle Ages. As Derek Krueger demonstrates, Orthodox Christian interior life was profoundly shaped by patterns of worship introduced and disseminated by Byzantine clergy. Hymns, prayers, and sermons transmitted complex emotional responses to biblical stories, particularly during Lent. Religious services and religious art taught congregants who they were in relation to God and each other.
Focusing on Christian practice in Constantinople from the sixth to eleventh centuries, Krueger charts the impact of the liturgical calendar, the eucharistic rite, hymns for vigils and festivals, and scenes from the life of Christ on the making of Christian selves. Exploring the verse of great Byzantine liturgical poets, including Romanos the Melodist, Andrew of Crete, Theodore the Stoudite, and Symeon the New Theologian, he demonstrates how their compositions offered templates for Christian self-regard and self-criticism, defining the Christian "I." Cantors, choirs, and congregations sang in the first person singular expressing guilt and repentence, while prayers and sermons defined the collective identity of the Christian community as sinners in need of salvation. By examining the way models of selfhood were formed, performed, and transmitted in the Byzantine Empire, Liturgical Subjects adds a vital dimension to the history of the self in Western culture.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Centenary of Armenian Tears (Updated)

I recently discussed the Armenian Genocide in my class on Eastern Christian encounters with Islam. And lo and behold the very next week Pope Francis acknowledged what every other sane and serious person on the planet knows, viz., that it was an organized, systematic slaughter of the Armenians both qua Armenians and also as Christians: thus a genocide. The Turkish government, of course, did not cover themselves in glory in their response to the pope, a response as risible as that given by the Turkish MP interviewed in this documentary (at 16:31), which I showed to my students:


As I have noted on here several times over the last two years, 2014 marked the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, and now in April 2015 we are marking the centenary of the Armenian Genocide. (The New Yorker has a long and fascinating article on the genocide, which you may read here.)

Numerous books have recently been published--discussed below--and several more are set for release later this year, including Alan Whitehorn's The Armenian Genocide: A Century of Remembrance and Denial (Praeger, 2015), 325pp. About this book we are told by the publisher:
A century after the devastating mass killing of the Ottoman Armenians during the Armenian Genocide—considered one of the first genocides of the 20th century—this catastrophe continues to raise important and troubling issues, particularly given the Turkish state's ongoing denial. Indeed, much of the continuing instability and conflict in the Caucasus is rooted in the Armenian Genocide. Drawing upon diverse academic disciplines and written by a single author who is a leading expert on the subject, The Armenian Genocide: A Century of Remembrance and Denial explores the profound short- and long-term impacts of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. The chapters document how this genocide created a scattered and traumatized Armenian Diaspora and imposed major stresses upon the tiny and vulnerable landlocked Armenian state. The book addresses difficult topics such as the challenge of the "double death" of the victims as a result of the ongoing Turkish state denial. This volume provides an analysis of the Armenian Genocide from several analytical perspectives, thereby giving readers a more comprehensive understanding of this enormously important subject.

About the Armenian genocide--accompanied by an equally devastating, though far less well known, simultaneous slaughter of Pontic Greeks and Assyrian Christians, and later Aegean Greek Christians also--we have seen a number of recent books, and later in 2015 will see several more. (For those desirous of some background at the conceptual and biographical level of "genocide" and the terms origins in the work of Raphael Lemkin, see here.) 

Thus, starting off in October last we saw published Geoffrey Robertson, An Inconvenient Genocide: Who Now Remembers the Armenians? (Biteback, 2014), 304pp. About this book we are told:

The most controversial question that is still being asked about the First World War - was there an Armenian genocide? - will come to a head on 24 April 2015, when Armenians worldwide will commemorate its centenary and Turkey will deny that it took place, claiming that the deaths of over half of the Armenian race were justified. This has become a vital international issue. Twenty national parliaments in democratic countries have voted to recognise the genocide, but Britain and the USA continue to equivocate for fear of alienating their NATO ally. Geoffrey Robertson QC condemns this hypocrisy, and in An Inconvenient Genocide he proves beyond reasonable doubt that the horrific events in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 constitute the crime against humanity that is today known as genocide. He explains how democracies can deal with genocide denial without infringing free speech, and makes a major contribution to understanding and preventing this worst of all crimes. His renowned powers of advocacy are on full display as he condemns all those - from Sri Lanka to the Sudan, from Old Anatolia to modern Syria and Iraq - who try to justify the mass murder of children and civilians in the name of military necessity or religious fervour.
In November was a hefty tome by Fatma Muge Gocek, Denial of Violence: Ottoman Past, Turkish Present, and Collective Violence against the Armenians, 1789-2009 (Oxford UP, 2014), 680pp. About this book we are told:
While much of the international community regards the forced deportation of Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire in 1915, where approximately 800,000 to 1.5 million Armenians perished, as genocide, the Turkish state still officially denies it.

In Denial of Violence, Fatma Müge Göçek seeks to decipher the roots of this disavowal. To capture the negotiation of meaning that leads to denial, Göçek undertook a qualitative analysis of 315 memoirs published in Turkey from 1789 to 2009 in addition to numerous secondary sources, journals, and newspapers. She argues that denial is a multi-layered, historical process with four distinct yet overlapping components: the structural elements of collective violence and situated modernity on one side, and the emotional elements of collective emotions and legitimating events on the other. In the Turkish case, denial emerged through four stages: (i) the initial imperial denial of the origins of the collective violence committed against the Armenians commenced in 1789 and continued until 1907; (ii) the Young Turk denial of the act of violence lasted for a decade from 1908 to 1918; (iii) early republican denial of the actors of violence took place from 1919 to 1973; and (iv) the late republican denial of the responsibility for the collective violence started in 1974 and continues today.

Denial of Violence develops a novel theoretical, historical and methodological framework to understanding what happened and why the denial of collective violence against Armenians still persists within Turkish state and society.

Then in December we saw published a work by Thomas de Waal, Great Catastrophe: Armenians and Turks in the Shadow of Genocide (Oxford UP, 2014), 312pp. (This links to the Kindle version. The hardback is forthcoming in February.) About this book we are told:
The destruction of the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire in 1915-16 was the greatest atrocity of World War I. Around one million Armenians were killed, and the survivors were scattered across the world. Although it is now a century old, the issue of what most of the world calls the Armenian Genocide of 1915 is still a live and divisive issue that mobilizes Armenians across the world, shapes the identity and politics of modern Turkey, and has consumed the attention of U.S. politicians for years.
In Great Catastrophe, the eminent scholar and reporter Thomas de Waal looks at the aftermath and politics of the Armenian Genocide and tells the story of recent efforts by courageous Armenians, Kurds, and Turks to come to terms with the disaster as Turkey enters a new post-Kemalist era. The story of what happened to the Armenians in 1915-16 is well-known. Here we are told the "history of the history" and the lesser-known story of what happened to Armenians, Kurds, and Turks in the century that followed. De Waal relates how different generations tackled the issue of the "Great Catastrophe" from the 1920s until the failure of the Protocols signed by independent Armenia and Turkey in 2010. Quarrels between diaspora Armenians supporting and opposing the Soviet Union broke into violence and culminated with the murder of an archbishop in 1933. The devising of the word "genocide," the growth of modern identity politics, and the 50th anniversary of the massacres re-energized a new generation of Armenians. In Turkey the issue was initially forgotten, only to return to the political agenda in the context of the Cold War and an outbreak of Armenian terrorism. More recently, Turkey has started to confront its taboos. In an astonishing revival of oral history, the descendants of tens of thousands of "Islamized Armenians," who have been in the shadows since 1915, have begun to reemerge and reclaim their identities.

Drawing on archival sources, reportage and moving personal stories, de Waal tells the full story of Armenian-Turkish relations since the Genocide in all its extraordinary twists and turns. He looks behind the propaganda to examine the realities of a terrible historical crime and the divisive "politics of genocide" it produced. The book throws light not only on our understanding of Armenian-Turkish relations but also of how mass atrocities and historical tragedies shape contemporary politics.

In late February a Kindle version of a hardcover set for January release will be out: Marian Mesrobian MacCurdy, Sacred Justice: The Voices and Legacy of the Armenian Operation Nemesis (Transaction Publishers, 2015), 363pp. About this book we are told:
Sacred Justice is a cross-genre book that uses narrative, memoir, unpublished letters, and other primary and secondary sources to tell the story of a group of Armenian men who organized Operation Nemesis, a covert operation created to assassinate the Turkish architects of the Armenian Genocide. The leaders of Operation Nemesis took it upon themselves to seek justice for their murdered families, friends, and compatriots.
This book includes a large collection of previously unpublished letters that show the strategies, personalities, plans, and dedication of Soghomon Tehlirian, who killed Talaat Pasha, a genocide leader; Shahan Natalie, the agent on the ground in Europe; Armen Garo, the center of Operation Nemesis; Aaron Sachaklian, the logistics and finance officer; and others involved with Nemesis.
The author tells a story that has been either hidden by the necessity of silence or ignored in spite of victims’ narratives. This is the story of those who attempted to seek justice for the victims and the effect this effort had on them and on their families. The book shows how the narratives of resistance and trauma can play out in the next generation and how resistance can promote resilience. Little has been written about Operation Nemesis. As we approach the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, it is time.

Timed for release at the end of March is Alan Whitehorn's The Armenian Genocide: The Essential Reference Guide (ABC-CLIO), 320pp. About this forthcoming work we are told:
The Armenian Genocide has often been considered a template for subsequent genocides and is one of the first genocides of the 20th century. As such, it holds crucial historical significance, and it is critically important that today's students understand this case study of inhumanity. This book provides a much-needed, long-overdue reference volume on the Armenian Genocide. It begins with seven introductory analytical essays that provide a broad overview of the Armenian Genocide and then presents individual entries, a historical timeline, and a selection of documents.
This essential reference work covers all aspects of the Armenian Genocide, including the causes, phases, and consequences. It explores political and historical perspectives as well as the cultural aspects. The carefully selected collection of perspective essays will inspire critical thinking and provide readers with insight into some of the most controversial and significant issues of the Armenian Genocide. Similarly, the primary source documents are prefaced by thoughtful introductions that will provide the necessary context to help students understand the significance of the material.
Also in March will be a book on the same topic but of a quite different genre. Instead of scholarly study, we have Four Years in the Mountains of Kurdistan: An Armenian Boy's Memoir of Survival written by Aram Haigaz and translated by Iris Haigaz Chekenian (Maiden Lane Press, 2015), 396pp.

About this memoir we are told:
Armenian Aram Haigaz was only 15 when he lost his father, brothers, many relatives and neighbors, all killed or dead of starvation when enemy soldiers surrounded their village. He and his mother were put into a forced march and deportation of Armenians into the Turkish desert, part of the systematic destruction of the largely Christian Armenian population in 1915 by the Ottoman Empire. His mother urged Aram to convert to Islam in order to survive, and on the fourth day of the march, a Turk agreed to take this young convert into his household. Aram spent four long years living as a slave, servant and shepherd among Kurdish tribes, slowly gaining his captors’ trust. He grew from a boy to a man in these years and his narrative offers readers a remarkable coming of age story as well as a valuable eyewitness to history. Haigaz was able to escape to the United States in 1921.
There are, I know, further books in the works so stay tuned on here for details of some of them.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Turns of Soviet Faith

The Russian Church and its relationship to the Putin regime continue to attract considerable attention in this time of on-going war against Ukraine and geopolitical machinations by Russia in Syria, and now Iran. A recent collection sheds light on the nature of Orthodoxy in Russia in the post-Soviet world: Alexander Agadjanian, Turns of Faith, Search for Meaning: Orthodox Christianity and Post-Soviet Experience (Peter Lang, 2014), 321pp.

About this book we are told:
The book examines deep shifts in the religious life of Russia and the post-Soviet world as a whole. The author uses combined methods of history, sociology and anthropology to grasp transformations in various aspects of the religious field, such as changes in ritual practices, the emergence of a hierarchical pluralism of religions, and a new prominence of religion in national identity discourse. He deals with the Russian Church’s new internal diversity in reinventing its ancient tradition and Eastern Orthodoxy’s dense and tense negotiation with the State, secular society and Western liberal globalism. The volume contains academic papers, some of them co-authored with other scholars, published by the author elsewhere within the last fifteen years.

Contents: Russian Orthodox Church – Eastern Christianity – National identity – Religious practices – Religion and human rights – Church-State relations – Post-Soviet religiosity – Globalization, religious pluralism – Traditional and liberal values. Further details may be had here

Monday, April 13, 2015

There Are Many Mansions in the House of my Father, the Tsar

In my survey class on Eastern Christian encounters with Islam, I make a point of looking at Russia in some depth--though usually only from 1917 onward--because the encounters between Orthodox Christians and Muslims throughout the former USSR and in the current Russian Federation are of course very different from the encounters in such places as Armenia, Turkey, Syria, and Egypt. Now we have a new book to look at the pre-Soviet imperial period and the fate of non-Orthodox within the tsarist empire: Paul Werth, The Tsar's Foreign Faiths: Toleration and the Fate of Religious Freedom in Imperial Russia (Oxford UP, 2014), 304pp.

About this book we are told:
The Russian Empire presented itself to its subjects and the world as an Orthodox state, a patron and defender of Eastern Christianity. Yet the tsarist regime also lauded itself for granting religious freedoms to its many heterodox subjects, making 'religious toleration' a core attribute of the state's identity. The Tsar's Foreign Faiths shows that the resulting tensions between the autocracy's commitments to Orthodoxy and its claims to toleration became a defining feature of the empire's religious order.
In this panoramic account, Paul W. Werth explores the scope and character of religious freedom for Russia's diverse non-Orthodox religions, from Lutheranism and Catholicism to Islam and Buddhism. Considering both rhetoric and practice, he examines discourses of religious toleration and the role of confessional institutions in the empire's governance. He reveals the paradoxical status of Russia's heterodox faiths as both established and 'foreign', and explains the dynamics that shaped the fate of newer conceptions of religious liberty after the mid-nineteenth century. If intellectual change and the shifting character of religious life in Russia gradually pushed the regime towards the acceptance of freedom of conscience, then statesmen's nationalist sentiments and their fears of 'politicized' religion impeded this development. Russia's religious order thus remained beset by contradiction on the eve of the Great War. Based on archival research in five countries and a vast scholarly literature, The Tsar's Foreign Faiths represents a major contribution to the history of empire and religion in Russia, and to the study of toleration and religious diversity in Europe.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Christians Reading and Criticizing the Quran

One of the interesting developments in the last three decades has been that of evangelicals "discovering" the Christian East. There are a number of books--of varying quality, accuracy, and therefore reliability--from evangelicals documenting these discoveries, including James R. Payton's Light from the Christian East: An Introduction to the Orthodox Tradition, which I reviewed elsewhere (largely favorably) several years ago.

Daniel Clendenin has also written several books along these lines, including Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective. Peter Gilquist, of course, was a part of one of the first large groups of evangelicals to move en masse into Orthodoxy, as he recounts in his Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith. Gilquist's book really needs to be read alongside the recent book of my friend, Oliver Herbel, as I noted in my review of it and interview with him: Turning to Tradition: Converts and the Making of an American Orthodox Church.

Now a new book comes along, asking how "Bible-believing" Christians are to read and understand competing truth-claims in the Quran. And the author, quite sensibly, realizes that in a book being published in 2015, evangelical Christians should not be beginning from scratch when it comes to Quaranic exegesis and dealing with competing claims. Rather, there is a 1400-year history of Eastern Christians engaging Islam, and that history and those engagements remain hugely valuable today: J. Scott Bridger, Christian Exegesis of the Qur'an: A Critical Analysis of the Apologetic Use of the Qur'an in Select Medieval and Contemporary Arabic Texts (Pickwick, 2015), 200pp.

About this book we are told:
Can Christians read biblical meaning into quranic texts? Does this violate the intent of those passages? What about making positive reference to the Quran in the context of an evangelistic presentation or defense of biblical doctrines? Does this imply that Christians accept the Muslim scripture as inspired? What about Christians who reside in the world of Islam and write their theology in the language of the Quran-Arabic? Is it legitimate for them to use the Quran in their explanations of the Christian faith? This book explores these questions and offers a biblically, theologically, and historically informed response. For years evangelical Christians seeking answers to questions like these have turned to the history of Protestant Christian interaction with Muslim peoples. Few are aware of the cultural, intellectual, and theological achievements of Middle Eastern Christians who have resided in the world of Islam for fourteen centuries. Their works are a treasure-trove of riches for those investigating contemporary theological and missiological questions such as the apologetic use of the Quran.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Medieval Muslims and Christians in Anatolia

Two years ago now I reviewed an utterly fascinating book about Christians and Muslims in Anatolia. I am thus looking forward to another book on the topic to be released later this month: A.C.S. Peacock et al, eds., Islam and Christianity in Medieval Anatolia (Ashgate, 2015), 444pp.


About this book we are told:
Islam and Christianity in Medieval Anatolia offers a comparative approach to understanding the spread of Islam and Muslim culture in medieval Anatolia. It aims to reassess work in the field since the 1971 classic by Speros Vryonis, The Decline of Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization which treats the process of transformation from a Byzantinist perspective. Since then, research has offered insights into individual aspects of Christian-Muslim relations, but no overview has appeared. Moreover, very few scholars of Islamic studies have examined the problem, meaning evidence in Arabic, Persian and Turkish has been somewhat neglected at the expense of Christian sources, and too little attention has been given to material culture. The essays in this volume examine the interaction between Christianity and Islam in medieval Anatolia through three distinct angles, opening with a substantial introduction by the editors to explain both the research background and the historical problem, making the work accessible to scholars from other fields. The first group of essays examines the Christian experience of living under Muslim rule, comparing their experiences in several of the major Islamic states of Anatolia between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries, especially the Seljuks and the Ottomans. The second set of essays examines encounters between Christianity and Islam in art and intellectual life. They highlight the ways in which some traditions were shared across confessional divides, suggesting the existence of a common artistic and hence cultural vocabulary. The final section focusses on the process of Islamisation, above all as seen from the Arabic, Persian and Turkish textual evidence with special attention to the role of Sufism.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Renaissance in Assyrian Studies

As I have noted on here several times, we are seeing a burgeoning interest today in the plight of all Eastern Christians in the Middle East, including in particular the Assyrians, about whom a new book has just been published: Sargon Donabed, Reforging a Forgotten History: Iraq and the Assyrians in the 20th Century (Edinburgh University Press, 2015), 384pp.

About this book we are told:
Who are the Assyrians and what role did they play in shaping modern Iraq? Were they simply bystanders, victims of collateral damage who played a passive role in the history of Iraq? Furthermore, how have they negotiated their position throughout various periods of Iraq's state-building processes? This book details a narrative of Iraq in the twentieth century and refashions the Assyrian experience as an integral part of Iraq's broader contemporary historiography. It is the first comprehensive account to contextualise a native experience alongside the emerging state. Using primary and secondary data, this book offers a nuanced exploration of the dynamics that have affected and determined the trajectory of the Assyrians' experience in twentieth century Iraq.
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