"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).


Friday, September 22, 2017

New Works on Irenaeus of Lyons

Irenaeus of Lyons has long remained one of the most interesting and important figures of very early Christian history, and the twentieth century began a return to the study of his thinking. A good bit of this return and renewed study has been led by the Orthodox scholar John Behr, who has previously published a number of studies on Irenaeus of Lyons, including, in 2003, Irenaeus of Lyons: Identifying Christianity as well as the earlier work, a translation of On the Apostolic Preaching (SVS Press, 1997).

Now this year he has brought out Asceticism and Anthropology in Irenaeus and Clement (Oxford UP, 2017), 280pp.

About this new study we are told by the publisher:
Asceticism and Anthropology in Irenaeus and Clement examines the ways in which Irenaeus and Clement understood what it means to be human. By exploring these writings from within their own theological perspectives, John Behr also offers a theological critique of the prevailing approach to the asceticism of Late Antiquity. Writing before monasticism became the dominant paradigm of Christian asceticism, Irenaeus and Clement afford fascinating glimpses of alternative approaches. For Irenaeus, asceticism is the expression of man living the life of God in all dimensions of the body, that which is most characteristically human and in the image of God. Human existence as a physical being includes sexuality as a permanent part of the framework within which males and females grow towards God. In contrast, Clement depicts asceticism as man's attempt at a godlike life to protect the rational element, that which is distinctively human and in the image of God, from any possible disturbance and threat, or from the vulnerability of dependency, especially of a physical or sexual nature. Here human sexuality is strictly limited by the finality of procreation and abandoned in the resurrection. By paying careful attention to these two writers, Behr offers challenging material for the continuing task of understanding ourselves as human beings.
Also released this year is a study by James Bushur, Irenaeus of Lyons and the Mosaic of Christ: Preaching Scripture in the Era of Martyrdom (Routledge, 2017), 220pp.

About this book we are told:
Recent theological scholarship has shown increasing interest in patristic exegesis. The way early Christians read scripture has attracted not only historians, but also systematic and exegetical scholars. However, the Christian reading of scripture before Origen has been neglected or, more often, dominated by Gnostic perspectives. This study uses the writings of Irenaeus to argue that there was a rich Christian engagement with scripture long before Origen and the supposed conflict between Antioch and Alexandria.
This is a focused examination of specific exegetical themes that undergird Irenaeus’ argument against his opponents. However, whereas many works interpret Irenaeus only as he relates to certain Gnostic teachings, this book recognizes the broader context of the second century and explores the profound questions facing early Christians in an era of martyrdom. It shows that Irenaeus is interested, not simply in expounding the original intent of individual texts, but in demonstrating how individual texts fit into the one catholic narrative of salvation. This in turn, he hopes, will cause his audience to see their place as individuals in the same narrative.
Using insightful close reading of Irenaeus, allied with a firm grounding in the context in which he wrote, this book will be vital reading for scholars of the early Church as well as those with interests in patristics and the development of Christian exegesis.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Asceticism in the Twilight of the Romanov Dynasty

Finding the proper place for asceticism has long been a challenge. Applied too harshly it quickly veers into a kind of crypto-gnostic self-loathing and disdain for the flesh; applied via heavy-handed social and political pressure, it quickly becomes a tool of abuse designed to inculcate a kind of escapist eschatology at the expense of pursuing earthly justice and reconciliation; applied too leniently or not at all, and Christians become flabby both physically and spiritually.

That tension is clearly at work in the last century of the Romanov dynasty in Russia, as a new book by Patrick Lally Michelson argues: Beyond the Monastery Walls: The Ascetic Revolution in Russian Orthodox Thought, 1814–1914 (University of Wisconsin Press, 2017), 288pp.

Here is the publisher's blurb:
During Russia's late imperial period, Orthodox churchmen, professionally trained theologians, and an array of social commentators sought to give meaning to Russian history and its supposed backwardness. Many found that meaning in asceticism. For some, ascetic religiosity prevented Russia from achieving its historical destiny. For others, it was the means by which the Russian people would realize the kingdom of God, thereby saving Holy Russia and the world from the satanic forces of the West.
Patrick Lally Michelson's intellectual history of asceticism in Russian Orthodox thought traces the development of these competing arguments from the early nineteenth century to the early months of World War I. He demonstrates that this discourse was an imaginative interpretation of lived Orthodoxy, primarily meant to satisfy the ideological needs of Russian thinkers and Orthodox intellectuals as they responded to the socioeconomic, political, and cultural challenges of modernity.
I noted one of Michelson's earlier works here.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Russian Orthodox Inter-War Revivals

Routledge is bringing out, later this year, a paperback edition of a book published three years ago: Daniela Kalkandjieva, The Russian Orthodox Church, 1917-1948: From Decline to Resurrection (Routledge, 2017),

About this study we are told:
This book tells the remarkable story of the decline and revival of the Russian Orthodox Church in the first half of the twentieth century and the astonishing U-turn in the attitude of the Soviet Union’s leaders towards the church. In the years after 1917 the Bolsheviks’ anti-religious policies, the loss of the former western territories of the Russian Empire, and the Soviet Union’s isolation from the rest of the world and the consequent separation of Russian emigrés from the church were disastrous for the church, which declined very significantly in the 1920s and 1930s. However, when Poland was partitioned in 1939 between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, Stalin allowed the Patriarch of Moscow, Sergei, jurisdiction over orthodox congregations in the conquered territories and went on, later, to encourage the church to promote patriotic activities as part of the resistance to the Nazi invasion. He agreed a Concordat with the church in 1943, and continued to encourage the church, especially its claims to jurisdiction over émigré Russian orthodox churches, in the immediate postwar period. Based on extensive original research, the book puts forward a great deal of new information and overturns established thinking on many key points.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

On the Invention of the True Cross and its Universal Exaltation*

"It is reported (and I, for one, believe it) that some few years ago a lady prominent for her hostility to the Church returned from a visit to Palestine in a state of exultation. 'I got the real low-down at last,' she told her friends. 'The whole story of the crucifixion was made up by a British woman named Ellen. Why, the guide showed me the very place where it happened. Even the priests admit it. They call their chapel "the Invention of the Cross".'"
Attentive readers will recognize this as the uproarious Preface to the hilarious historical novel by Evelyn Waugh, Helena. As a treat--and to avoid tedious editorial work--I decided to re-read it last Saturday knowing that today's feast was coming up. In so doing, I realized I'd forgotten just how much of the novel is given over to ruthless mocking of the pieties and politics of empire.

In Waugh's hands Helena is the key figure who "invents" the true cross and so allows Christians, from her day to our own, to mark September 14th as a festival of the cross's exaltation and triumph. Waugh, a master craftsman of English prose who would have been educated in Latin and who loved using deliberate archaisms, is of course using the verb "invent" here in an older sense of "to come upon, to find"--while also slyly playing on the more common connotation of "creating or producing with the imagination," which of course his novel was itself doing. (The word itself is derived from the Latin verb invenire, to come upon or find.)

Helena was published in 1950 by Waugh as an historical novel and roman à clef devoted to exploring the notion of vocation through the life of the Dowager Empress of Rome, St. Helena, mother of Constantine the great. Her vocation, in Waugh's eyes, was to 'invent' (=find) the true cross that had been thought to be lost forever.

This novel is full of archaic language, buried puns, double entendres, and jokes at the expense of just about everybody--socialist politicians in 1950s Britain, heretical churchmen, tendentious historians (e.g., Gibbon), sclerotic bureaucracies of both church and state, youth "culture" and much else besides, including Eastern Christians. Such mockery holds up strikingly well today--plus ça change....

Waugh's exposure to the Christian East was extremely limited, and he never missed an opportunity to trumpet the supposed superiority of Latin Christianity, rather provincially portraying the East in the worst light possible (cf. his description of Alexandrian liturgies of coronation in Scoop) but I have never held that against him.

Here in this scene Waugh clearly seems to have in his sights the Eastern exaltation of Constantine, whom the Byzantine tradition calls "co-equal to the apostles," a notion Waugh ridicules mercilessly. After a long exile from court, Helena is back in Rome to see her son Constantine, whose court is portrayed as nothing so much as an opéra bouffe, with the emperor himself perhaps the most absurd figure:
From the neck down he was all upholstery. A surcoat of imperial purple, laced with floriations of gold wire and studded with amorphous pearls, hung stiff as a carpet to the carpeted floor. It was sleeveless, and at the arms an undergarment billowed out, peacock-hued, ending in lace ruffles and a pair of coarse, much-jewelled hands. Above the surcoat was a wide collar of gold and enamel, a massive thing suited to the bull-neck; its miniatures told indifferently the stories of the gospel and of Mount Olympus. Above the collar rose the face, pale now as his father's; he was rouged but purely for ornament
But none of this much interests Helena. Instead, she cannot take her eyes off her son's imperial head:
'My dear boy, what on earth have you got on your head?'
The face above the collar assumed an expression of alarm. 'On my head?' He put up a hand as though to dislodge some bird which might inadvertently have perched there. 'Is there anything on my head?'
Two courtiers danced forward. They were shorter than Constantine and made little jumps to see what was amiss.
Without excess of ceremony Constantine inclined to them. 'Well, what is it? Take it off at once, whatever it is.'
The courtiers craned and peered; one raised a finger and touched. They looked at one another. They looked at the Empress Dowager in abject consternation.
"That green wig,' said Helena.
After telling his mother he has a whole collection of such wigs ("some are very pretty") he attempts to rescue his image by barking at his courtiers:
'To work, to work,' said the Thirteenth Apostle.
For those who are interested in more on Waugh: Earlier this year I noted some thoughts on Waugh here, and elaborated on them here at greater length. But for a fun and funny read, a quick read, to celebrate today's feast, read Helena

____________________
* In honour of today's feast, this post is a reprint from 2016. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Popes and Monarchical Marriages

The current debate in the Catholic Church about marriage, made much murkier by that needlessly sprawling and carelessly prolix mess of a document known as Amoris Laetetia (which proves, yet again, that committees should not write documents, and that the writing of short documents and books requires far greater self-discipline than longer ones), could well benefit from a hefty dose of history such as that supplied in David d'Avray's book, first published in 2015, and released earlier this year in paperback: Papacy, Monarchy and Marriage 860-1600 (Cambridge UP, 2017), 370pp.

About this study the publisher tells us:
This analysis of royal marriage cases across seven centuries explains how and how far popes controlled royal entry into and exits from their marriages. In the period between c.860 and 1600, the personal lives of kings became the business of the papacy. d'Avray explores the rationale for papal involvement in royal marriages and uses them to analyse the structure of church-state relations. The marital problems of the Carolingian Lothar II, of English kings - John, Henry III, and Henry VIII - and other monarchs, especially Spanish and French, up to Henri IV of France and La Reine Margot, have their place in this exploration of how canon law came to constrain pragmatic political manoeuvring within a system increasingly rationalised from the mid-thirteenth century on. Using documents presented in the author's Dissolving Royal Marriages, the argument brings out hidden connections between legal formality, annulments, and dispensations, at the highest social level.


Monday, September 11, 2017

The Ghosts of Conciliarisms Past

There are certain books that are easily forgotten, and there are others that are impossible to forget. In this latter category is Francis Oakley's 2003 book The Conciliarist Tradition: Constitutionalism in the Catholic Church 1300-1870Given that the problems of papal and conciliar or synodal authority are very alive and well in both Orthodoxy and Catholicism at the present moment, this is a book that will not go away--nor should it.

For those of us who work, as I do, in the areas of the papacy, ecclesiology, and ecumenism, it is a book whose treatment of conciliarism systematically dismantles all the easy retroactive rubbishing of the Council of Constance and the self-serving claims of centralized papal authority which began at Constance, were dogmatized at Vatican I, and since then have shot through the stratosphere since Vatican II, to the detriment of us all. As I noted here, Oakley has made it impossible for Catholics to do anything other than rest very uneasily when Constance is raised.

And it is raised again in Conciliarism and Heresy in Fifteenth-Century EnglandCollective Authority in the Age of the General Councils by Alexander Russell and published this summer by Cambridge University Press, as Oakley's book was.

About this new study we are told:
The general councils of the fifteenth century constituted a remarkable political experiment, which used collective decision-making to tackle important problems facing the church. Such problems had hitherto received rigid top-down management from Rome. However, at Constance and Basle, they were debated by delegates of different ranks from across Europe and resolved through majority voting. Fusing the history of political thought with the study of institutional practices, this innovative study relates the procedural innovations of the general councils and their anti-heretical activities to wider trends in corporate politics, intellectual culture and pastoral reform. Alexander Russell argues that the acceptance of collective decision-making at the councils was predicated upon the prevalence of group participation and deliberation in small-scale corporate culture. Conciliarism and Heresy in Fifteenth-Century England offers a fundamental reassessment of England's relationship with the general councils, revealing how political thought, heresy, and collective politics were connected.

Friday, September 8, 2017

On the Uses of Historical Memory

As I have often noted on here over the past two years especially, the questions of the uses to which the past is often put are very important ones that often reveal abuse, nostalgia, and romanticism all bound up together, thereby underscoring Adam Phillips' observation that “memories always have a future in mind.”

Three new books will shed further light on all these questions after their publication later this fall:  Judith Pullman, Memory in Early Modern Europe, 1500-1800 (Oxford UP, 2017), 256pp.

About this book we are told:
For early modern Europeans, the past was a measure of most things, good and bad. For that reason it was also hotly contested, manipulated, and far too important to be left to historians alone.
Memory in Early Modern Europe offers a lively and accessible introduction to the many ways in which Europeans engaged with the past and 'practised' memory in the three centuries between 1500 and 1800. From childhood memories and local customs to war traumas and peacekeeping , it analyses how Europeans tried to control, mobilize and reconfigure memories of the past. Challenging the long-standing view that memory cultures transformed around 1800, it argues for the continued relevance of early modern memory practices in modern societies.
The second book is an edited collection: How the Past was Used: Historical cultures, c. 750-2000, eds. Peter Lambert and Bjorn Weiler (OUP, 2017), 450pp. About this collection we are told:

This book explores how societies put the past to use and how, in the process, they represented it: in short, their historical culture. It brings together anthropologists, historians, and literary scholars to address the means by which societies, groups, and individuals have engaged with the past and expressed their understanding of it.
The utility of the past has proven almost as infinitely variable as the modes of its representation. It might be a matter of learning lessons from experience, or about the legitimacy of a cause or regime, or the reputation of an individual. Rival versions and interpretations reflected, but also helped to create and sustain, divergent communities and world views. With so much at stake, manipulations, distortions, and myths proliferated. But given also that evidence of past societies was fragmentary, fragile, and fraught with difficulties for those who sought to make sense of it, imaginative leaps and creativity necessarily came into the equation. Paradoxically, the very idea that the past was indeed useful was generally bound up with an image of history as inherently truthful. But then notions of truth proved malleable, even within one society, culture, or period.
Concerned with what engagements with the past can reveal about the wider intellectual and cultural frameworks they took place within, this book is of relevance to anyone interested in how societies, communities, and individuals have acted on their historical consciousness.
The third will perhaps be the most controversial: Nikolay Koposov, Memory Laws, Memory WarsThe Politics of the Past in Europe and Russia (Cambridge UP, 2017).
About this book the publisher tells us:
Laws against Holocaust denial are perhaps the best-known manifestation of the present-day politics of historical memory. In Memory Laws, Memory Wars, Nikolay Koposov examines the phenomenon of memory laws in Western and Eastern Europe, Ukraine, and Russia and exposes their very different purposes in the East and West. In Western Europe, he shows how memory laws were designed to create a common European memory centred on the memory of the Holocaust as a means of integrating Europe, combating racism, and averting national and ethnic conflicts. In Russia and Eastern Europe, by contrast, legislation on the issues of the past is often used to give the force of law to narratives which serve the narrower interests of nation states and protect the memory of perpetrators rather than victims. This will be essential reading for all those interested in ongoing conflicts over the legacy of the Second World War, Nazism, and communism.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the Twilight of the Ottoman Empire

It is a longstanding frustration of mine that suitable textbooks for my undergrads are hard to come by when studying the history of relations between Muslims and Eastern Christians. Thus I take a special interest in a new book by Heather Sharkey, published this spring, which I'm looking forward to reading: A History of Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the Middle East (Cambridge UP, 2017), 394pp.

About this book we are told:
Across centuries, the Islamic Middle East hosted large populations of Christians and Jews in addition to Muslims. Today, this diversity is mostly absent. In this book, Heather J. Sharkey examines the history that Muslims, Christians, and Jews once shared against the shifting backdrop of state policies. Focusing on the Ottoman Middle East before World War I, Sharkey offers a vivid and lively analysis of everyday social contacts, dress, music, food, bathing, and more, as they brought people together or pushed them apart. Historically, Islamic traditions of statecraft and law, which the Ottoman Empire maintained and adapted, treated Christians and Jews as protected subordinates to Muslims while prescribing limits to social mixing. Sharkey shows how, amid the pivotal changes of the modern era, efforts to simultaneously preserve and dismantle these hierarchies heightened tensions along religious lines and set the stage for the twentieth-century Middle East.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Secularization in the North Atlantic

A certain bourgeois blogger banging on about Benedictine bourbons and beers, whom I have discussed at more length than he probably deserves, has built much of his case, such as it is, on claims to understand the trends towards 'secularization' in the United States. It would perhaps be an interesting exercise to set that blogger's book and its claims alongside a new study released at the end of July: Secularization and Religious Innovation in the North Atlantic World, eds. David N. Hempton and  Hugh McLeod (Oxford UP, 2017), 384pp.

About this scholarly collection we are told:
In the early twenty-first century it had become a cliché that there was a "God Gap" between a more religious United States and a more secular Europe. The apparent religious differences between the United States and western Europe continue to be a focus of intense and sometimes bitter debate between three of the main schools in the sociology of religion. According to the influential "Secularization Thesis," secularization has been an integral part of the processes of modernization in the Western world since around 1800. For proponents of this thesis, the United States appears as an anomaly and they accordingly give considerable attention to explaining why it is different. For other sociologists, however, the apparently high level of religiosity in the USA provides a major argument in their attempts to refute the Thesis.
Secularization and Religious Innovation in the North Atlantic World provides a systematic comparison between the religious histories of the United States and western European countries from the eighteenth to the late twentieth century, noting parallels as well as divergences, examining their causes and especially highlighting change over time. This is achieved by a series of themes which seem especially relevant to this agenda, and in each case the theme is considered by two scholars. The volume examines whether American Christians have been more innovative, and if so how far this explains the apparent "God Gap." It goes beyond the simple American/European binary to ask what is "American" or "European" in the Christianity of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and in what ways national or regional differences outweigh these commonalities.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Byzantine Canopies

Study of all things Byzantine remains steady, and that is no less true for the Byzantine liturgical tradition as well, which certainly commands far more scholarly attention in North America today than, say, the Armenian, Alexandrian, or various Syriac traditions.

Released this summer is another study that adds to other works highly focused on very particular parts and details of the Byzantine liturgical tradition: The Framing of Sacred Space: The Canopy and the Byzantine Church by Jelena Bogdanovic (Oxford UP, 2017), 456 Pages + 141 color and 44 black-and-white illustrations.

About this book we are told:
The Framing of Sacred Space offers the first topical study of canopies as essential spatial and symbolic units in Byzantine-rite churches. Centrally planned columnar structures--typically comprised of four columns and a roof--canopies had a critical role in the modular processes of church design, from actual church furnishings in the shape of a canopy to the church's structural core. As architectonic objects of basic structural and design integrity, canopies integrate an archetypical image of architecture and provide means for an innovative understanding of the materialization of the idea of the Byzantine church and its multi-focal spatial presence.
The Framing of Sacred Space considers both the material and conceptual framing of sacred space and explains how the canopy bridges the physical and transcendental realms. As a crucial element of church design in the Byzantine world, a world that gradually abandoned the basilica as a typical building of Roman imperial secular architecture, the canopy carried tectonic and theological meanings and, through vaulted, canopied bays and recognizable Byzantine domed churches, established organic architectural, symbolic, and sacred ties between the Old and New Covenants. In such an overarching context, the canopy becomes an architectural parti, a vital concept and dynamic design principle that carries the essence of the Byzantine church. The Framing of Sacred Space highlights significant factors in understanding canopies through specific architectural settings and the Byzantine concepts of space, thus also contributing to larger debates about the creation of sacred space and related architectural taxonomy.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

What is the Common Good?

When I teach courses on the social teachings of Orthodox and Catholic Christianity, my students invariably want a more fleshed out answer to the question "What is the common good" than what is supplied in the abstract and often unhelpfully vague treatments of it found in, e.g., the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, published by Rome more than a decade ago.

Perhaps help is now at hand in the form of Daniel K. Finn's new book, Empirical Foundations of the Common Good: What Theology Can Learn from Social Science (Oxford UP, 2017), 272pp.

About this collection we are told:
The idea of the common good was borrowed by the Fathers of the early Catholic Church from the rich philosophical traditions of ancient Greece and Rome. It has been a fundamental part of Catholic thinking about social, political, and economic life throughout the Catholic intellectual tradition, from Augustine and Aquinas to modern Catholic social thought in the encyclicals of popes in recent centuries. Yet this history has been rooted in the traditions of philosophy and theology. With the rise of the social sciences in the nineteenth century as distinct disciplines no longer limited to the methods of their philosophical origins, humanity has learned a great deal more about the human condition. Empirical Foundations of the Common Good asks two questions: what have the social sciences learned about the common good? how might theology alter its understanding of the common good in light of that insight?
In this volume, six social scientists, with backgrounds in economics, political science, sociology, and policy analysis, speak about what their disciplines have to contribute to discussions within Catholic social thought about the common good. Two theologians then respond by examining the insights of social science and exploring how Catholic social thought can integrate social scientific insights into its understanding of the common good. This volume's interplay of social scientific and religious views is a unique contribution to contemporary discussion of what constitutes "the common good."

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

An Earthly Pilgrimage to the Tormented City of Peace

A staple of early Christian history, especially liturgical history, is that famous and fascinating diary kept by Egeria of her pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Both before her trip, and many times after, Christians and others have made the same trip for many of the same reasons.

Such pilgrimages are not just pious activities of a private few, but often have international political ramifications as well. In both Orlando Figes's fascinating and elegantly written The Crimean War: A History as well as the more recent study The Great Powers and Orthodox Christendom: The Crisis over the Eastern Church in the Era of the Crimean War by Jack Fairey, we see the role that pilgrimages played in shaping English Anglican, German Lutheran, and Russian Orthodox (inter alia) imaginations not just of the places in question, but also of their geopolitical significance, and the need for each of those imperial powers, and others, to "protect" the holy places.

People travel, then, to Jerusalem and environs with a variety of motives and such trips can have a diversity of outcomes, some clearly favoured by capitalist and imperialist powers for their own mundane self-interest.

Many of those who do go to Jerusalem make it a point, as Egeria did, to write about the experience afterwards. Later this year we will see the publication of an anthology gathering together some of those writings: A Jerusalem Anthology: Travel Writing through the Centuries Hardcover, eds. T.J. Gorton and Andree Feghali Gorton (Oxford UP, 2017), 160pp.

About this book we are told:
Jerusalem has a special status as a city that is both terrestrial and celestial. The name includes a cognate for 'peace,' but the old stones of the city have witnessed epic bloodshed and destruction over the centuries. The three great monotheistic religions all regard it with especial fervor, and it has for at least two millennia attracted pilgrims intent on seeing it before they die. This rich and compelling anthology of travelers' writings attempts to convey something of the diverse experiences of visitors to this most complex and enigmatic of cities. A Jerusalem Anthology takes us on a journey through a city, not just of illusion and powerful accumulated religious emotion, but of colors, lights, smells, and sounds, an inhabited city as it was directly experienced and lived in through the ages. Memoirs of visitors such as as sixth-century AD pilgrim Saint Silvia of Bordeaux, medieval Jerusalemite al-Muqaddasi, Grand Tour voyagers Gustave Flaubert and Alexander Kinglake, the humorous Mark Twain, or the cynical T.E. Lawrence provide vivid and sometimes disturbing vignettes of the Holy City at very different times in its tumultuous history.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Early Coptic Papacy

I first read this book more than a decade ago as it began to emerge as the first of a trilogy, originally published in hardback editions. Next month, it will finally appear in paperback, and it is the sort of series that any library serious about Coptic realities, ecclesiology, and ecumenism must have: Stephen J. Davis, The Early Coptic Papacy: The Egyptian Church and Its Leadership in Late Antiquity: The Popes of Egypt, Volume 1 (American University of Cairo Press, 2017), 280pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
The Copts, adherents of the Egyptian Orthodox Church, today represent the largest Christian community in the Middle East, and their presiding bishops have been accorded the title of pope since the third century AD. This study analyzes the development of the Egyptian papacy from its origins to the rise of Islam. How did the papal office in Egypt evolve as a social and religious institution during the first six and a half centuries AD? How do the developments in the Alexandrian patriarchate reflect larger developments in the Egyptian church as a whole-in its structures of authority and lines of communication, as well as in its social and religious practices? In addressing such questions, Stephen J. Davis examines a wide range of evidence-letters, sermons, theological treatises, and church histories, as well as art, artifacts, and archaeological remains-to discover what the patriarchs did as leaders, how their leadership was represented in public discourses, and how those representations definitively shaped Egyptian Christian identity in late antiquity.
I don't know whether volumes II  (The Coptic Papacy in Islamic Egypt, 641-1517 by Mark N. Swanson) and III (The Emergence of the Modern Coptic Papacy by Magdi Girgis and Nelly van Doorn-Harder) will also appear in paperback, though one would suppose so. Still, the hardbacks of both are available and are not expensive.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Iconoclasm Then and Now

What ought we to do about statues--whether in the American South or elsewhere--we do not like, or with whose politics we disagree? I do not have any definite answers to these questions, but I would note that those demanding the removal of the statues have given little evidence of  having carefully and calmly considered just a few of the necessary and important questions, not least among which is the demand for moral perfection in those commemorated. All great men and women who change history in dramatic ways are flawed, as indeed are all human beings. Who may be found worthy and on the basis of what criteria? Who has the power to decide?

Who, moreover--and, again, on what basis--may decide when remembering must give way to forgetting? As I noted on here last summer in several installments, recent works of David Rieff and Manuel Cruz on the importance of forgetting may have things to tell us in these debates today.

Another necessary set of questions concerns the politics of the future. For one thing that has become clear in the study of iconoclasm, which has really taken off in the academic world as dozens of new books on the topic have appeared in the last decade or so (see, e.g., here, here, here [treating iconoclasm in the Latin Church after Vatican II], and especially here) is that iconoclasm is always the prelude to a new politics. So let us say we pull down every statue we object to. What comes next? Once again mobs braying and rampaging seem scarcely to recognize these as questions, never mind to have coherent and satisfactory answers to them.

The politics of iconoclasm has been well treated in a book I have mentioned and discussed on here before: James Noyes, The Politics of Iconoclasm: Religion, Violence and the Culture of Image-Breaking in Christianity and Islam, which was released last year in a paperback edition.

Other recent studies are also very useful. Routledge, just last month, released Kindle editions of books first published several years ago, including Jeffrey Johnson and Anne McClanan, eds., Negating the Image: Case Studies in Iconoclasm.

Stacy Boldrick's fascinating and useful book, Striking Images, Iconoclasms Past and Present, was also just released in a Kindle edition.

What is clear in these and other works is that "iconoclasm" has moved well beyond its Byzantine provenance, where it has been extremely well covered by such as Leslie Brubaker in Inventing Byzantine Iconoclasm (a good basic introductory text for those with no background) and then at lavish length, with John Haldon, in Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era, c. 680-850: A History.

Finally, one of the best general works that begins in Byzantium but works its way outward, treating ancient Greek philosophy, Jewish and Muslim arguments, and much else besides in the ancient and modern worlds, remains Alain Besançon, The Forbidden Image: An Intellectual History of Iconoclasm.

Once More on Vatican II

When, in the fall of 2012, the commemorative events on the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II began in such profusion, continuing through each of the three successive years marking the half-century of each session, I very quickly grew very weary of all this anniversary-making, not least because it was of course bound up with myth-making of the most dubious sort.

After a bit of a respite, however, I could again contemplate the council without suffering uncontrollably from the desire to rush into the nearest sea and be carried off, never to have to hear of it again. So I was able happily to accept Matthew Levering's commission in the summer of 2015 to write a chapter for the collection he edited with Matthew Lamb, The Reception of Vatican II.  That welcome collection appeared in print earlier this year. My chapter is on Orientalium Ecclesiarum.

I saw Matthew just over a month ago, and he told me sales were a bit slow, so if you have held off on ordering the book, now is as good a time as any to do so! Or if you want to ensure you get a copy in time to leave under the Christmas tree four months from today for your favourite Catholic family member, by all means follow this link to do so!

By the way, I saw Matthew at a splendid conference at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, organized so superbly by Paul Gavrilyuk, author of, inter alia, the very widely praised Georges Florovsky and the Russian Religious Renaissance, and co-editor with Sarah Coakley, of The Spiritual Senses: Perceiving God in Western Christianity. Paul had invited Sarah to be respondent to my paper, and I am very glad of her gracious and useful comments, which I have taken to heart in continuing to revise the paper for publication, I hope, sometime late next year.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Ecclesiology of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel

Nearly four years ago now, I interviewed Sarah Hinlicky Wilson about her book Woman, Women, and the Priesthood in the Trinitarian Theology of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel.

Behr-Sigel, for those who do not know of her fascinatingly complex life, has been told in a wonderful biography I discussed here.

Sarah wrote to me recently to draw my attention to a fascinating new collection I'm looking forward to reviewing: A Communion in Faith and Love: Elisabeth Behr-Sigel's Ecclesiology (2017, 176pp).

About this book we are told:
The life and work of Orthodox theologian and ecumenical pioneer Elisabeth Behr-Sigel (1907-2005) still holds radical implications for how we understand authentic Christian life. Born into a Lutheran and Jewish family and ordained in the Reformed tradition, Behr-Sigel converted to Orthodox Christianity and continued a lifetime of theological wrestling with the major questions and leading thinkers of her time. Immersed in the religious and social struggles of twentieth-century Europe, she dove deep into the tradition and saw clearly the relevance of Orthodox spirituality and theology for our turbulent age and Christian communion in the church. Here are featured the latest and best scholarship on the theological legacy of Behr-Sigel, her restless and searching spirit, her deep appreciation of the early church writers, her creative endurance of the assaults of wartime Europe, and her grappling with and championing of the ordination of women--all point to her relevance for today.
I look forward to reading this and having more to say about it in due course.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Northern Egyptian Christianity

So much of Christian monastic history is indebted to late antique Egypt, which continues justly to be the object of regular study, especially by Coptic scholars. A very impressive and wide-ranging group of them has collaborated to produce a substantial collection due out at the end of this month: Christianity and Monasticism in Northern Egypt: Beni Suef, Giza, and the Nile Delta, eds. Gawdat Gabra and Hany Takla (American University of Cairo Press, 2017), 384pp.

About this book we are told:
Christianity and monasticism have long flourished in the northern part of Upper Egypt and in the Nile Delta, from Beni Suef to the Mediterranean coast. The contributors to this volume, international specialists in Coptology from around the world, examine various aspects of Coptic civilization in northern Egypt over the past two millennia. The studies explore Coptic art and archaeology, architecture, language, and literature. The artistic heritage of monastic sites in the region is highlighted, attesting to their important legacies.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Note on Trotsky's Life on the Day of His Death

I claim no great expertise in Russian revolutionary history, and even less in the life of Trotsky. So take this for what it's worth: just a very simple note to say that, in this centenary year of the revolution, my bedtime reading has included Robert Service's fascinating Trotsky: A Biography (Belknap Press, 2011), 648pp. One of the virtues of this book is to disabuse people of the line one sometimes hears that Trotsky would have been far kinder than Stalin was, and was far less inclined to the use of mass violence. Conquest pours considerable doubt on this claim, and I am in no position to say otherwise.

It is interesting to see how, almost until the end, Trotsky seemed to expect that people would finally come around again to his views and welcome him back from, first, internal exile in Russia, and then in Turkey, France, and finally Mexico. For someone as clever as Trotsky was, and as ruthless as he could be in some circumstances, he seems in the end to be been done in repeatedly by--call it what you will--a naivete or an intellectual's overconfidence in the power of ideas combined with an over-great trust of people to put ideas before themselves, as Trotsky sometimes seems to have done. How else to explain how wantonly he would talk to just about anybody and everybody (not a few of whom were Soviet agents, as one must surely have expected), and how utterly careless he seems to have been about personal security, even after a very near-miss by assassins in Mexico before finally being done in by Ramón Mercader and his infamous ice ax in August 1940.

Robert Service has also authored biographies of the other two big men of the Russian triumvirate: Stalin: A Biography (2006); and Lenin: A Biography (2000).

I have not (yet) read either of those, and perhaps never will. Having read, about a decade ago, Simon Sebag Montefiore's Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar I am not sure I have the desire to enter again into the catalogue of horrors which Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky did so much to usher in.

They ushered Soviet communism in at The End of Tsarist Russia: The March to World War I and Revolution, a book by Dominic Lieven I have just begun. It is very well done so far, linking the socioeconomic problems of the Romanov dynasty, the war, and the revolution together to show what a sprawling complex scene was to be found in the Russia of the first two decades of the twentieth century.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Orthodox Architecture in North America: An Interview with Nicholas Denysenko

I count it a great gift to have Nick Denysenko among my friends. I have happily interviewed him on here over the years about his many books, and 2017 must be something of a record for him insofar as he has two coming out this year.

He has recently moved from the so-called city of angels (who are, after all, the lowest-ranked in the celestial hierarchy) to the state of Indiana where, it is reported, the dominions and thrones, if not exactly the cherubim and seraphim, are sometimes inclined to take their annual holidays. So he's moved up in the world, or at least to the Mid-West, and that allows me to bring him to town next year to lecture on his book Christmation: A Primer for Catholics. I interviewed him about that book here. You can read other interviews here and here.

So now to the first of two books coming out this year: Theology and Form: Contemporary Orthodox Architecture in America. It is a fascinating study, and just the sort of scholarship that makes this academic life all worthwhile: a serious, sustained look across a number of disciplines to see what stories they tell. Since studying Jane Jacobs more than twenty years ago, I have had an amateur's fascination with buildings and street-scapes, and the messages they convey, the agendas they have, and the stories they try, sometimes badly and sometimes well, to tell. So Nick's newest book is especially interesting as he ranges quite literally across the country to many and very diverse buildings and communities, looking at their architectural design, iconography, and underlying theology, seeking to analyze the stories those buildings tell, and the communities of which they are a part.

Following my usual practice, I e-mailed him some questions, and here are his thoughts.

AD: What led you from books on Theophany, Chrismation, and liturgical reform to now architecture? Are there links between all these works?


ND: In the earlier studies, I encountered several references to seminal studies on the Byzantine liturgy and architecture. I was particularly intrigued by the evolution of Byzantine liturgy and the relationship between the 'cathedral' and 'monastic' liturgical types. As I examined the literature, there seemed to be a consensus that the received tradition of the Byzantine rite could--and should--be celebrated in any given space.

To be honest, it was a series of personal experiences that inspired this study. In 1997, I participated in the consecration of St. Katherine's Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Arden Hills, Minnesota. Again, in 2008, I served at the consecration of the Orthodox Church of St. Matthew in Columbia, Maryland. The time I spent in these parish communities permitted me to experience the process of planning the building of Church complexes. There were so many factors contributing to the desired edifices that were outside of liturgy. Certainly, raising the needed funds was a major factor in both cases, but there were also questions of parish history, architectural models of the past, and the unique mission of the individual parishes in comparison with other Orthodox parishes in the area. These factors came to be inscribed on the actual architecture, and it occurred to me that Orthodox architecture in America just did not conform to the principle of form following function. So, I decided to look at a sample size of parishes to learn more. The outcome taught me a lot about liturgy, but even more about the mosaic of Orthodoxy in America.  

AD: Your introduction notes the common assumption that "architectural form follows liturgical function" but a little later suggests that your research has uncovered other "factors contributing to the architectural design besides liturgy." Were you expecting to find this when you set out on this project, or was it a surprise? And of those other factors besides architectural design, is there one that stands out as the most important? 

I was expecting to find other factors contributing to architectural form. In my study, I identified a handful that stood out: cultural memory, liturgical renewal, and mission in an American context. I think one could synthesize these into a more general factor that contributes to architectural form: the local community's core values.

AD: You've got six chapters focusing on seven different buildings and communities across the country. How did you choose these? 

I was familiar with most of the communities in one way or another. I decided to examine Annunciation Church in Milwaukee because of its unique history, and the story of the building of the Church really pushed my imagination, because it was clear to me that the architect was considering elements that weren't really a part of the community's vision.

In my reading, it was apparent that including Holy Virgin Cathedral (ROCOR) in San Francisco was absolutely necessary. The community has a longstanding reputation for fidelity to liturgical tradition, the iconographic program is truly extraordinary, and the community's new identity as the home of St. John Maximovich added a new dimension, because so many pilgrims come to the Church for veneration of his relics and prayer.

I added Three Hierarchs Chapel at St. Vladimir's Seminary because it was a good opportunity to consider liturgy and architecture in light of Alexander Schmemann as the preeminent father of liturgical renewal in America, and Fr. Alexis Vinogradov as a practicing architect who designed spaces for multiple communities with a vision for Orthodox mission to America in the background.

The Church of the Holy Wisdom at New Skete Monastery was a special opportunity to see how an Orthodox monastery used liturgical scholarship to construct a building hosting a liturgy founded upon the cathedral tradition. I had also served in a handful of Orthodox missions, and had reflected at length on the significance of mission communities worshiping in non-traditional spaces.

Finally, Joy of All Who Sorrow mission in Culver City was a wonderful way to examine all of these issues in a mission context. I'm particularly pleased with the outcomes of the study, because some of them were surprising.

AD: All seven are Byzantine Orthodox temples. Was that deliberate? Were you tempted at all to look at the theology and form of, say, Armenian or Coptic churches--or even Byzantine Catholic ones? 

Yes - I had planned on an ecumenical volume to enhance the dialogue and make comparisons across traditions. My interest in ecumenical dialogue prodded me to include Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant traditions. Practical considerations led me to limit the study to Orthodox churches, and in this sense, the comparisons were somewhat "apple-to-apple." It certainly would have been fine to include Byzantine Catholic congregations as well, or Oriental Orthodox communities. I see no reason to exclude the possibility of a follow-up article that might examine a variety of Churches in a particular urban, suburban, or rural region. One could learn a great deal about the way diverse congregations in the same region negotiate the economy, politics, environment, and demographic patterns.

AD: You note repeatedly the role that immigrants and immigration played in shaping Orthodox architecture and communities in the US. Among those diverse groups--Ukrainians, Greeks, Serbs, Russians and others--are there commonalities in their experience and in their shaping of their churches? 

Yes, absolutely. I think the most important commonality--or to return, again, to the notion of a "core value"--is continuity. The outcomes are not alike, but the rationale is the same. For example, Holy Virgin Cathedral values continuity of liturgical tradition and fidelity to the ordo established by its founders and primary figures.

St. Katherine's values continuity in establishing programs and spaces devoted to sustaining cultural identity. The core value of passing on beloved traditions that symbolize identity features is a hallmark of immigrant groups, which is one reason the secondary and tertiary spaces of the properties are so important. These spaces are devoted to the non-liturgical and they exist because they're important to the people. For example, the bandura showcased in the museum at St. Katherine's is placed prominently to promote the connection between life here and in the Ukrainian homeland. The same is true of the original iconostasis at Annunciation Church in Milwaukee, in a different way: the iconostasis marks the progression of the community through its generational history.

AD: In addition to the immigrant experience, you also repeatedly note another significant factor shaping architectural decisions: extra-liturgical usages, such as food fests or community events. Tell us a bit more about this factor. 

It is so convenient to put this topic aside and focus only on the liturgical space. It's irresponsible to ignore it, though, because the community also gathers in these non-liturgical spaces, and the people's use of the space discloses the vitality of the community. In Byzantine circles, we tend to refer to such gatherings as 'liturgy after the liturgy'. For some people, this 'liturgy after the liturgy' is coffee hour. For others, it is the liturgy of daily life. I think there is an important point to explore here, and that is the matter of strong, poignant life experiences that occur in non-liturgical spaces.

For example, I recall several community gatherings that contributed to my formation that occurred outside of Church and worship. Liturgy was never the only part of the community's gathering. There were lectures, meetings, sporting events, concerts, picnics, and classes that took place in the other spaces of the Church community, and these encounters were real, meaningful, and formative.

Our mutual friend Michael Plekon, in his book Uncommon Prayer, demonstrates the power of encounter and engagement in his narrative about making pierogies at St. Gregory the Theologian Orthodox Church in Wappingers Falls. These experiences are formative and we need them: there is a certain vitality to meaningful exchange with people outside of the liturgy that is fed by liturgy, and also contributes to it. I'm not trying to undermine liturgy here, but to show that the non-liturgical spaces of a community tell us a lot about the parish profile, if we would just pay attention to it. When we learn that the parish hall is occasionally larger than the church building, we re-examine our assessment of parish life.

The same principle can apply to a parish that is in the process of planning its property. Let's say that parish devotes an ample amount of space to something non-liturgical, like a food shelf, or for more ambitious communities, a retreat center. Those spaces would have the potential to become fixtures of the local neighborhood and create relationships with the surrounding community that make the parish a true neighbor to the people who live there. Parishes that have the courage to think like this have a strong sense of a pulse for contemporary Christian mission.

AD: Popular discussions of church architecture and design almost invariably include a comment about pews. In the communities you surveyed, was the question of pews ever a question for them, or were they just assumed to be part of the American ecclesial landscape? 

The question did not come up, although I have heard it in mentioned in casual conversation about interior Church space. I do think that pews give us an insight into the arrival and establishment of Orthodox communities in America. On one hand, parishes that adopted pews adapted to the larger local liturgical culture. You could think of an Orthodox Church with pews as conforming to organic development, Orthodoxy acclimating to the local cultural conditions.

On the other hand, pews are foreign to Byzantine liturgy: they constrict space for ritual movement. And they're uncomfortable, at least in my opinion. When the discussion about pews becomes a liturgy war, we need to step back and consider the practical issue at hand. We're talking about seating. An appropriate seating arrangement should be part of every interior church space, and that arrangement needs to honor the need for ritual and devotional movement, and provide an opportunity for people to sit. As for the parishes in my study, the seating arrangements varied. Some have pews, others have chairs, and others have open spaces in the nave with no seating for ritual movement with chairs or benches in the rear for those who need or choose to sit in church. There is no resolution to this debate: on this matter, liturgical pluralism will continue to prevail in America.

AD: Of the seven churches you focus on, do you have a favorite? If so, why?

I have a sentimental attachment to St. Katherine's in Arden Hills because my grandfather was the pastor of the community for eighteen years, and I spent my childhood there. I also sense that St. Katherine's captures the journey of Orthodox people in America: a parish established by immigrants moves to the suburbs and builds a temple based on the model of Kyivan baroque. When I'm inside the church at St. Katherine's, I see room for new icons on the walls of the temple. Will thee future icons continue to honor the heritage of the Kyivan Church? Or will the new icons join the living in prayer with North American saints? So for me, St. Katherine's illuminates the opportunity to understand the unique challenges of immigrant communities to cultivate parish life for several generations to come.

All of the parishes in my study inspire me in some way. Holy Virgin Cathedral is an iconographic wonder and a true liturgical center. St. Matthew gives us a sense of how the Orthodox Church might adapt to contemporary conditions. New Skete sheds light on liturgical creativity. I could go on, the point being that each parish has something to offer.

AD: If a community currently renting a school or community hall were to hire you as a consultant on the design of a new church building complex, is there one piece of advice you'd give them as the most important thing to keep in mind? 

I don't think I can reduce this list to one item, so I'll try to prioritize. The first item is probably the most obvious, but it's worth repeating: sustainability over a long period of time. Communities need to be honest with themselves about what they CAN do, and this requires avoiding the temptation to build a massive edifice because "if we build it, then they will come." Communities have to face the realities of our current world: people are more mobile than ever, and children will move for employment, so no parish can simply count on the next generation continuing parish life apace. Plan a realistic structure the community can actually sustain over the course of multiple generations. It's not necessary for the founders of the structure to run into the courtyard shouting "I have outdone Solomon and Justinian!" Don't build an edifice emphasizing verticality for the glory of God; design a church that inspires the people to glorify God. If your community is fortunate enough to outgrow its space, don't fret--just encourage people to build a new church in a neighborhood that has space.

The second item I'll mention here is mission. How will your community carry out its mission? Larger communities with generous benefactors might consider how they can witness to the people in the neighborhood. We need more parish communities that offer education, service to the community, food shelves, and a space in which the parish interacts with the neighborhood in normal fashion. Perhaps a larger community might have a retreat center with rooms or even a restaurant that invites the public into the space hosted by the Church. Smaller communities can take on humbler approaches that are equally powerful: the point is to build a space that makes contemporary mission in America possible. And that mission is to be a good neighbor to all in our local neighborhoods.  

One bonus item for consideration: how can a community modify a space to make it truly appropriate for worship when options are limited? Orthodox missions in America are constantly confronting this issue, and the textbook answer is to simply take the received Byzantine rite and fit it into that space. But I wonder if there is room for a new creativity, especially when some communities accept the fact that they're never going to purchase land and build, and that a parish community can be vibrant without owning property? We don't know what is coming to us over the horizon.

Two years ago, I heard a fascinating presentation by Stephanie N. Gilles, who is working closely with the Catholic Church in the Philippines to design quality worship spaces in shopping malls. Her work is not a gimmick or a fad: it is a reality driven by limited real estate and the need for the Church to find a suitable place for liturgy. In our context, some people might grumble about the lack of financial support to buy property and build a Church. It could be that the lack of finances for building is offering a more meaningful opportunity: for the Church to gather and worship in non-traditional spaces, and to learn how to witness through those spaces.

AD: Having finished Theology and Form: Contemporary Orthodox Architecture in America, and undertaken some significant changes in your life recently, what comes next? What projects are you at work on now? 

I am currently in transition. This Fall semester, I am taking on a research fellowship at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota, where I will be examining Greek and Slavonic liturgical manuscripts. I hope to learn something new about the blessing of waters on Theophany and to focus on the history of liturgical offices appointed to the fifth week of Lent in the Byzantine tradition.

Additionally, I'm finishing a book on the religious identity of the Orthodox Churches in Ukraine and am writing a new book titled "The People's Faith," a close look at how Orthodox laity in America understand and experience the liturgy. I'm also preparing for a new position: I have been appointed as the Jochum Professor and Chair at Valparaiso University in Indiana, effective January 2018.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Psychoanalyzing the World's Conflicts (II)

As I began by noting, the history of psychoanalysis has been one not just of great clinical insights but also of wider cultural applications as well. That is clearly evident in the later Freud and in many of his successors, as Eli Zaretsky, inter alia, has demonstrated.

One contemporary American scholar who has applied analytic theory to socioeconomic and political issues in a number of books is David Levine, retired from the University of Colorado where he taught economics and political economy. He has also trained at the Colorado Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies, and has applied such insights in a variety of books on economic, political, and social topics, including his most recent, Psychoanalysis, Society, and the Inner World: Embedded Meaning in Politics and Social Conflict (Routledge, 2017), 144pp. (Levine is also co-author of a book forthcoming next year that looks fascinating in light of contemporary conflicts on university campuses.)

This is a slender, subtle, and suggestive book that raises a number of psychoanalytic ideas, primarily drawn from the well-known analyst D.W. Winnicott and the larger British and object relations schools, and then seeks to apply them to contemporary sociopolitical problems, including "fake news." The justification for doing so comes relatively late in the book when Levine argues that "psychoanalytic ideas and methods become important to the extent that it becomes important to understand the special suffering that people inflict on themselves and their special attachment to it" (93). Commendably, however, Levine recognizes the limitations of this approach, knowing that merely gaining insight into why someone does something is not, in itself, usually going to be a significant force for broader social change.

The merit of this book is that Levine writes with a light touch, and commendably refuses to turn psychoanalysis into an ideological club with which to attack problems, or to force all issues to fit a pre-existing frame. At the same time, though, his arguments are sometimes attenuated by an unhelpful degree of abstraction, though some of this is remedied in the last few chapters of the book in particular, the usefulness of which quickly becomes very obvious in an age of rising nationalism, "fake news," Donald Trump, and constant protest and outrage at perceived slights to people grouped together via "identity politics."

Levine begins from the insight that "training in and development of psychoanalytic habits of mind...offers a measure of protection against the impulse to externalize responsibility for what originates inside and enhances sensitivity to the presence of that impulse in others" (10). In other words part of the value of psychoanalytic training (as Fred Busch has also argued) is that it offers not just a 'what,' that is, access to the 'contents' of something called the 'unconscious mind,' but that it offers insights into the 'how' of the mind, how it works.


Too often our minds work by concealing certain operative assumptions that may in fact be imprisoning us without our realizing it, forcing us to continue thinking and acting in ways based on unexamined habit. Levine thus rightly argues that what we may well need to give up is a certain history, a certain view of our history that doesn't merely narrate the past, but do so in a way that prevents new options from being brought to the fore in the present: "psychic change only has meaning, then, where our history is not also our destiny" (16). Adding to this, a little later on he notes that the only kind of change that will last and prove to be valuable is "change that moves us from a closed to an open system" (30). Both Eastern Christians viewing our history, and many Muslims theirs (and both viewing the Crusades), will surely find this an important challenge to undertake.

Levine's second chapter unpacks some of the central insights of the object relations school including the mind's rather "primitive" inclination to see everything as having a cause for which someone can be held responsible: "nothing is an accident; nothing simply happens" (20). He also draws on the widely discussed experience we all have, which was given a name by Christopher Bollas: the "unthought known" as developed by him in such works as The Shadow of the Object: Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known (Columbia UP, 1989), recently re-released in a 30th-anniversary edition.

From Winnicott in particular Levine draws the important insight that many people find their identities in groups--whether political parties, churches, nationalist or racist movements, or many other such clubs--but that in doing so they sacrifice part of, and sometimes all of, their true self for a false one. They may well be doing so precisely to avoid contact with parts of their true self that are disturbed and disturbing. The group identity is clean, idealized, and often totalized, whereas their own personal identity may be rough, disorderly, and fragmentary. These latter aspects result in what Levine calls "ambivalence about the self," a good deal of which may be founded on early childhood experiences of guilt and shame.

Levine's eighth ("Hate in Groups and the Struggle for Individual Identity") and tenth ("Truth in Politics") chapters are perhaps the most pertinent in 2017. The insights driving both are derived in part from Freud's insights into the connection between "Mourning and Melancholia," noting that an unwillingness or inability to complete the former is almost always bound up with outbreaks of the latter, which are in turn often bound up with anger, lashing out, and blaming others. (In my estimation, as I've argued elsewhere, this is very much what we see in ISIS propaganda--anger based on incomplete mourning of a lost empire.) The capacity to mourn adequately carries with it the promise of being able to renew one's separate identity afterwards instead of becoming fused with and stuck on the dead or lost object. There is, as I just suggested, much wisdom here in thinking of those who have not mourned for past losses, whether in the Crusades or elsewhere.

The tenth chapter notes that a key problem with much current political rhetoric is that it makes sweeping and unsubstantiated claims alleging that "survival is at stake" (cf. in this regard Rod Dreher) and does so via expansive and abstract "apocalyptic rhetoric." Such tactics project onto others "an extreme form of the bad object that must be controlled or destroyed rather than treated as a partner in the reasoning process" (130). The chapter very briefly mentions a few examples in connection with the 2016 elections in these United States, but overall it is far too short and under-developed, missing a very considerable opportunity here.

Levine's book could, in fact, have been strengthened, in my view, by greater engagement with the British psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, especially his two books Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life, discussed here, and Unforbidden Pleasures: Rethinking Authority, Power, and Vitality, which I discussed at some length here.

Overall, the merit of Levine's newest work, Psychoanalysis, Society, and the Inner World: Embedded Meaning in Politics and Social Conflict comes in raising issues and suggesting useful lines of analytic theory for further exploration without heavy-handedly bludgeoning his point, and readers, to death. That is no small thing. It does, after all, take greater self-discipline to write a short book of useful questions than a very long book of useless answers.

Concluded. 
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