"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).


Thursday, June 30, 2016

Zion, Mother of the Churches of Christ

Just before Christmas I noted here the receipt of two new books in an on-going series, "Semaines d'études liturgiques Saint-Serge." I have just received the latest volume, edited in part by my good friend Daniel Galadza of the University of Vienna: Michael Daniel Findikyan, Daniel Galadza, and André Lossky, eds., Sion, mère des Églises: Mélanges liturgiques offerts au Père Charles Athanase Renoux (Aschendorff Verlag, 2016), 314pp.

Here is the publisher's description of the book, but for those who do not understand French I will give a summary of the contents below:

L’éminent chercheur Charles-Athanase Renoux travaille depuis de longues années à mettre au jour des documents dont la valeur est inestimable pour la connaissance des usages liturgiques anciens de Jérusalem. Sa générosité et son rayonnement ont suscité beaucoup de publications dans des domaines liturgiques dont l’étendue reflète la richesse de leur initiateur.
En reconnaissance au Père Renoux pour le service ainsi rendu, ses collègues et ses disciples ont pris l’initiative d’offrir ce volume rassemblant des études dans des domaines diversifiés, mais dont la source et le point commun reste la région des lieux saints, terrain d’élaboration d’une liturgie riche dont se réclament la plupart des traditions locales postérieures. Puissent ces pages susciter la poursuite de travaux scientifiques en faveur d’une connaissance accrue de traditions inspirées qu’il est indispensable d’arracher à l’oubli.
Notwithstanding the French title and description, much of the book--which is a Festschrift dedicated to the Benedictine and liturgical scholar Charles Athanase Renoux--is in English. Of the 16 articles included here by some of the leading liturgical scholars of our time, nine are in English, six are in French, and one in German.

At least three treat aspects of Armenian liturgical history and theology, including the German article by the well-known scholar Gabrielle Winkler. The majority of articles treat various aspects of the Jerusalem liturgical tradition and its influence on other traditions, or the influence of other traditions on it.

In sum, this is just the sort of diverse, interesting, smartly edited collection that everyone interested in liturgical history and theology will want to have in their library.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Recovering Post-War Armenia

Pope Francis was recently in Armenia, and as John Allen's article argues, the "politics of memory," on which I have been commenting rather a lot around here lately, was a significant part of the visit. Memory shapes identity, which in turn shapes present politics, albeit often in an unstable way as memory is itself not stable but subject to all kinds of uses and abuses.

What happened to Armenian memory and identity, and so to its politics, as it struggled to recover from the genocide of 1915? Such is the question at the heart of a new book: Lerna Ekmekcioglu, Recovering Armenia: The Limits of Belonging in Post-Genocide Turkey (Stamford UP, 2016), 240pp.

About this book we are told:
Recovering Armenia offers the first in-depth study of the aftermath of the 1915 Armenian Genocide and the Armenians who remained in Turkey. Following World War I, as the victorious Allied powers occupied Ottoman territories, Armenian survivors returned to their hometowns optimistic that they might establish an independent Armenia. But Turkish resistance prevailed, and by 1923 the Allies withdrew, the Turkish Republic was established, and Armenians were left again to reconstruct their communities within a country that still considered them traitors. Lerna Ekmekcioglu investigates how Armenians recovered their identity within these drastically changing political conditions.
Reading Armenian texts and images produced in Istanbul from the close of WWI through the early 1930s, Ekmekcioglu gives voice to the community's most prominent public figures, notably Hayganush Mark, a renowned activist, feminist, and editor of the influential journal Hay Gin. These public figures articulated an Armenianess sustained through gendered differences, and women came to play a central role preserving traditions, memory, and the mother tongue within the home. But even as women were being celebrated for their traditional roles, a strong feminist movement found opportunity for leadership within the community. Ultimately, the book explores this paradox: how someone could be an Armenian and a feminist in post-genocide Turkey when, through its various laws and regulations, the key path for Armenians to maintain their identity was through traditionally gendered roles.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

From 1596 to 1946 to 2016 and Back Again

At the beginning of June, I was invited to a private conference in Vienna hosted by the Pro Oriente Foundation, which has for more than a half-century been devoted to Orthodox-Catholic rapprochement. This particular conference was on the pseudo-sobor of Lviv of 1946, that bogus action by which the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church was forced "freely" to vote to "rejoin" the "mother church" of Russia, thereby leading to the official disappearance of the UGCC for nearly half a century. All this was undertaken on Stalin's orders and with the collusion and support of the Russian Church.

The hope of the conference was expressed in the title: “Arriving at a Common Narrative: The ‘Lviv Sobor’ of 1946 and Its Aftermath to the Present.” The original vision was to have Russian Orthodox scholars and official representatives there to discuss their perspective on 1946, and to enter into dialogue with UGCC scholars and hierarchs in the hopes that some common groundwork might be found leading to an eventual healing of memories of an extremely painful episode that is still cited constantly by the Russian Church even as recently as this year in the background of the Havana declaration between the pope of Rome and patriarch of Moscow.

The Russians didn't have the courage to come to Vienna, which was disappointing but entirely unsurprising. They sent a paper that said nothing but the same talking points one has heard for decades. No dialogue is possible when one party is too scared to show up; and no "common narrative" can be discovered when one side is ideologically committed to its own narrative and admits of no alternative interpretations, let alone challenging facts and evidence that put that narrative in question.

The chain of logic in that canned presentation in Vienna, and in ongoing Russian position, is this: the Union of Brest of 1596/6 was an historical injustice (committed by, inter alia, perfidious Jesuits and other proselytizing papists preying on innocent and helpless Orthodox) rectified by the Lviv "synod" of 1946, which the Russians then and since have celebrated publicly as an act of reunion. In this line of logic, 2016, the 70th anniversary of the synod was not an occasion for mourning or repentance, but of repeated, ham-fisted insistence that it was a good thing.

The fact that Brest has been subject to scholarly examination--including at earlier Pro Oriente conferences and in the two superlative books linked above--and the fact that the historical record does not bear out the usual version of helpless Orthodox being picked off by clever Catholics, does not seem to have altered Russian narratives at all. In this regard, I found the paper in Vienna a clear illustration of something Donald Spence argued, as I noted here: there is "narrative truth" and then "historical truth" and they do not always agree. It is sad that the Russians have chosen the former over the latter, and sadder still that their preference continues to cause a lot of pain to people in Ukraine.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Gateway of Life

I have, shamefully, had this book on my shelf for the better part of a year now, but not gotten around to mentioning it yet. As June slips into July, and then to August, we will soon be upon the Dormition Fast and preparation for the translation of the Mother of Life to eternal life, and so this recent publication by Mary B. Cunningham seems especially appropriate: Gateway of Life: Orthodox Thinking on the Mother of God (SVS Press, 2015), 197pp.

About this book we are told:
The Bible, taken on its own, gives us little information about Mary, the virgin who bore and gave birth to Jesus Christ. Yet throughout the history of the Christian Church she has been the focus of unparalleled love and devotion, the subject of fervent prayer. For countless people she is the heavenly mother, the first one to turn to with their urgent hopes and desperate needs. To add to this, she has been the subject of significant debate over the centuries, concerning theology as well as devotion. Theologically, there were ancient questions centered on the person of Christ, whom she bore in her womb. More recently, many Christians as well as non-Christians are puzzled: What in the Bible gives us the foundation for this degree of attention to Mary? Is not her veneration a potentially dangerous exaggeration, akin to goddess-worship? Is it not God, and His Christ and His Spirit, that are our proper focuses?
Such questions arise especially in the churches born of the Reformation, although they can emanate also from people within churches where she is deeply venerated. It is not always easy to answer such queries, as the heartfelt love surrounding our experience of Mary makes it impossible fully to explain and still less feasible to convince someone of it. Yet we can learn a great deal from an informed and engaged exploration of the ways Mary, the Mother of God, has been understood in the Church. This book, by a scholar and person of faith, provides exactly that.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Eternal Memory?

Eastern Christians, especially those of the Byzantine tradition, very commonly remember their dead, both personally and liturgically, by singing "Eternal Memory!"

That prayerful phrase admits of wider usage than we may perhaps consider, especially when weighed down by the crushing weight of personal grief. What of, e.g., the memories of the destruction of an entire people, as in the Armenian genocide, the Nazi-orchestrated Holocaust, the Soviet destruction of many Christians--especially Catholics--or the Holodomor? What are the risks of forgetting those? Do we need to be reminded not to forget? Must we pray that all memories are eternal, never forgotten in order never to be repeated?

Two recent essays suggest we need such a reminder. Anne Applebaum, author of such important books as, Gulag: A History and Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956, has an essay in Commentary, "Russia and the Great Forgetting," which I commend to your attention.

And Daniel Gross has an essay in The New Yorker, "A Historian Who Fled the Nazis and Still Wants Us to Read Hitler." Both Gross and Applebaum, in their ways, remind us of the potentially great socio-political costs to the forgetting of recent totalitarian pasts in Russia and Germany.

The questions of memory and forgetting have come to preoccupy my thinking a great deal over the last year and more, especially in the contexts of Orthodox-Catholic relations, and Orthodox-Muslim relations. In such contexts as those, one often finds the same issue raised against the West by both: the Crusades. If you read the regular public utterances of ISIS, e.g., you see language of "the Crusaders" invoked with some regularity.

Such invocations, of course, are not brought about by people with actual personal recollections of living through the Crusades 800 to 1000 years ago and more now. These are culturally and religiously traduced "memories" designed and used for present political purposes on a broad level and, at the same time, often used on a more individual level for certain psychological reasons. This is the question that especially interests me: what is going on--at both an individual, and often unconscious, level and at a broad cultural level--when people make such invocations? What does that process tell us about them and about their psychological state, and about their political agendas?

One person who has done fascinating work in this regard is the sociologist and psychoanalyst Jeffrey Prager, whose 1998 book Presenting the Past: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Misremembering I have briefly discussed previously on here. It is a deeply suggestive one that carefully explores some of these questions by means of a case-study of one of his early analysands. The work he has been doing in this book and elsewhere has opened up vast and rich terrain for scholars of, say, Orthodox-Catholic and Orthodox-Muslim relations (to say nothing of the Crusades) as well as the phenomenon of modern ethno-nationalism and the various founding myths of nation-states.

Prager cites recent psychological research that has shown the alarmingly malleable quality of memory and the fact that it can be, and often is, manipulated to serve our agendas both individual and cultural. He cites the psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, whose emerging research in the early 1990s I remember (!) reading as an undergraduate in psychology then. In works such as Witness for the Defense: The Accused, the Eyewitness and the Expert Who Puts Memory on Trial, she has shown repeatedly that even so-called eye-witness recollections are often far from reliable. Her work should give us all pause and force a great deal more humility and circumspection in those who insist that their recollected version is the only correct one.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Ecumenical Councils: An Interview with Sergey Trostyanskiy

From the first moments of its inception, this blog has sung the praises of Gorgias Press for its devotion to Eastern Christian publications in a collection unrivaled by anyone for its vastness. Here is but the latest of many offerings, a book I previously notedSeven Icons of Christ: An Introduction to the Oikoumenical Councils (Gorgias Press, 2016). It will be a welcome addition to any classroom covering these most important gatherings in church history. The book follows a helpful standard format and will make not only primary documents, but up-to-date scholarship on the seven councils, accessible to students of our day.

The timing of this book is significant insofar as the topic of councils, and their status, has of course been greatly debated in these last days as most of the Orthodox churches have assembled on Crete for the long-expected council that has been in preparation for most of the last century. I asked the editor, Sergey Trostyanskiy, for an interview about this collection, and here are his thoughts.

AD:  Tell us about your background

ST: I am currently a Research Fellow of the Sophia Institute of Byzantine and Eastern Orthodox studies, New York and Union Theological Seminary, New York. I hold a PhD from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. My research interests include Byzantine history and philosophy.

AD: What led you to put together this collection?

ST: The idea of this volume was introduced to me by John A. McGuckin who is my mentor and also, at the time, supervised by doctoral thesis on St. Cyril of Alexandria. Whatever this giant communicated to me was indeed some sort of categorical imperative. The rational behind the volume was to come up with a more up-to-date volume on the Councils that can be used by graduate and undergraduate students of Patristic thought possibly extending its readership to all interested in the subject.


AD: How do you see your book as different from other treatments of the Seven Ecumenical Councils (e.g., Leo Davis’s book from 1988; or more recently Stephen Need)?

We thought that the degree of discernment and theological import of those studies did not fully exhaust the subject. Leo David’s book, despite its merits, used certain conceptual tools that at this point appear quite antiquated, so to say. Stephen Need’s recent account has many merits as well. But again, this book did not exhaust the subject at stake (which is indeed inexhaustible). Our particular emphasis was on explicating the philosophical foundations of the Councils. Moreover, we aimed to provide more up-to-date reference sources for the subject matter.

AD: How has recent scholarship on the councils held up vis-à-vis earlier studies? Has there been a lot of historical revision, or is there greater continuity?

The science of Christ was set in motion a few millennia ago. Since then it keeps rethinking its own foundational sources. We can think of modern scholarship as a midrash on patristic literature. Indeed, it revolves around certain themes. Thus, there is a certain thematic and semantic continuity between any scholarly efforts (more or less modern) to make sense of this very aporetic subject (i.e. the nature of God, of Christ, etc.). In general, the science of Christ remains vibrant and moves alone swiftly, constantly reevaluating and reassessing its own historical and speculative accounts.

At this moment the question should be confined within the boundaries of the late-eighteenth to early twentieth-century scholarship. We can thus speak of “modern scholarship” within this time-frame. My opinion is that, in general, “modern scholarship” aimed to make sense of Patristic literature so as to properly elucidate its contents by rediscovering its historical horizons and philosophical underpinnings. In other words, the right exegesis of Patristic literature was the final end of Patristic studies during that time. This is indeed not to say that in many instances the studies of Patristic literature were ideologically leveraged, thus reading modern concerns into ancient sources and approaching the subject apologetically. This pattern indeed aimed at subverting the original intention of exegetical studies, practicing rather an eisegesis of Patristic literature. Even so, the idea of being faithful to the source marked off that period. The studies of the councils in general followed the same path.

I should say that there has been a major shift in Patristic studies in the second half of the twentieth century (since c. the 1970s). The subject area nowadays no longer appears simple but rather over-complex. Various clichés of the previous centuries and decades had being reevaluated and an increasing number of studies published. This ascent of interest in Patristic literature was also accompanied by an oikoumenical movement which sought to find common grounds between Chalcedonian and Non-Chalcedonian Orthodoxy. As a result, a more sympathetic hearing was given to certain great miaphysite scholars of Patristic time.

The same can be said of various heterodox figures and movements of the same era. The agenda of restoring the reputation of the “heretics” found its implementation in the restoration of certain great figures of the time as Orthodox. Their theology was reset as reflecting diverging “theologumena” rather than subverting the purity of faith as reflected in doctrine. Hence, a certain “relativist” trend became fashionable among the scholars, one that tried to wash away oikoumenically established demarcation lines between Orthodoxy and heresy. Even so, more recent scholarly endeavors were not bound by the necessity of framing research within an oikoumenically correct rhetoric.

As far as the studies of the councils are concerned, all these aspects should be taken into account. Here we have more or less the same patterns of thought operative. Moreover, in the last few decades there was an attempt to translate the proceedings of the councils into modern languages. Richard Price’s translation of Chalcedon and Constantinople II, for instance, gave scholars and the general audience an opportunity to read ancient documents in English for the first time in history.

To conclude: the science of Christ and of its foundational oikoumenical pillars (i.e. Councils) is as vibrant as it has ever been. Its development can be described as discontinuous continuity or as a continuous revision of its own method and sources, one that remains faithful to the sources through the constant critical reassessment of its own feeble methodological and ideological roots.

AD: In the lead-up to the Orthodox great and holy council on Crete this week, there has been some discussion of two issues. First, some called for recognizing an 8th, and perhaps even 9th, council as “ecumenical” by the Orthodox East. Did you have any thoughts on that? Is the number seven somehow “sacred” for some, so that no additions to the list of “ecumenical” councils could be entertained?

Indeed, there is a certain numerological or, rather, arithmological significance attached to the numbers. If we apply Iamblichus’ arithmology to the subject at stake we may perhaps say that, in a sense, the non-Chalcedonian triad in this volume is completed by the Chalcedonian hebdomad. Even so, we may perhaps ascend to a composite number 21 (according to the Roman Catholic count) which is divisible not only by itself and unity but also by 3 and 7 (thus having 3 and 7 as its elements). At any rate, seven seems preferable for various reasons, firstly, because it represents the golden mean between the two extremes (Miaphysite and Roman Catholic), and secondly because it has a structural affinity to the Incarnate Christ. As we learn from Nicomachus of Gerasa: “its structure has been collected and gathered together in a manner resembling unity since it is altogether indissoluble, except into something which has the same denominator as itself; or because all things have brought their natural results to completion by its agency.” Thus, this volume comes to rest at number seven. We can indeed supply a speculative numerological account for the subject matter. However, I bet, not many bishops will endorse it. So, we shall better set it aside and say that, even if the number seven has a certain sacred dimension, nothing prevents Orthodoxy from extending the number of councils to 8 or 9 or 21, etc. for the sake of reinforcing unity and attaining other good things that would benefit the Orthodox Churches and their people.

AD: The second question is over the status of the Crete gathering, which remains much in dispute. Normally, of course, a council is accounted “ecumenical” in retrospect. But are there clear criteria consistently applied from 325-787 that might guide future discussions of whether the 2016 gathering is “ecumenical” or not? 

There was indeed a set of criteria for a council to be accounted oikoumenical (I briefly delineated some criteria in the volume). Even so, in some cases not all criteria were fulfilled and not all conditions satisfied by particular councils. However, the following generations of bishops endorsed such “formally impure” councils as oikoumenical. More important was the fact that for the collective phronema of the time these councils were marked off by the work of the Spirit made manifest through the gathering of the bishops. I think the formal criteria represent sufficient but not necessary conditions for a council to acquire the status of oikoumenical. It is the combination of formalities and the work of the Spirit that are thought of as both necessary and sufficient conditions for oikoumenisity.

In a sense there is a diminished degree of ecumenicity that we could already contemplate in the Seven Councils (based on their diminished representational quality after the Non-Chalcedonian fraction of Christendom was alienated from mainstream Orthodoxy and later on when the Latin Church suspended its participation in the last Council). The degree of ecumenicity of the newly proposed 8th council is indeed even more diminished as it includes only Orthodox (Chalcedonian) Churches. Hence, it is rather Pan-Orthodox (i.e. Chalcedonian Orthodoxy) or quasi-oikoumenical.

AD: Your own five-fold definition of “ecumenical” (p.1) notes in the third point the presence of the emperor to convoke a council. In the absence of an emperor today, is it impossible to have any council attain the status of “ecumenical”?

It the context of the modern world characterized by the fractured political units (mainly national states) and by the policy of separation between Church and State (adapted according to certain precepts of the Enlightenment that disjoined religion and politics), the absence of the emperor combining both political and ecclesiastical functions is indeed an obstacle for convening a council that can overcome “national interests” and rivalry between ecclesiastical groups so as to attain to the level of oikoumenisity.

AD: If, say, an aspiring graduate student were looking for a thesis topic in the area of the ecumenical councils, what areas, if any, remain unexplored or underexplored? What avenues of conciliar scholarship still need attention?

In my opinion, philosophical underpinnings of Patristic thought is the area of studies that was most neglected by “modern scholarship” because in its quest for “purity” of Patristic thought it incidentally purged it of its proper conceptual foundation. Thus, the link between late antique and early Christian thought was de-emphasized purposely. However, at this point, this policy seems to fall out of favor. Hence, the study of the philosophical horizons of Patristic and conciliar thought is a great avenue of scholarship that needs further attention.

AD: Sum up your hopes for this book, and who in particular will benefit from reading it

This book is designed to present to a wide Christian audience interested in Christian doctrinal development, these seven key iconic moments of intellectual history that formulate the classical profession of Jesus Christ as the Word of God Incarnate. The critical essays in this book, specially commissioned for this project by the Sophia Institute of Byzantine Studies and prepared by advanced scholars of the Early Church, set out an exposition of the proceedings of the Seven Ecumenical Councils; a review of the chief works of the major protagonists associated with the councils; the immediate intellectual aftermath; as well as a considered reflection or commentary on the theological ekthesis (theological profession) of each council. The end result is a book whose critical value should make it required reading by specialists, but also will allow it to serve as a solid and scholarly introduction to the subject for both undergraduate and graduate level students.

AD: If you were invited to give a presentation to the bishops assembled this month in Crete, offering them any advice or warnings or suggestions from the seven ecumenical councils, what would you say?

Well, the proposed council is not a typical one since no issues relating to doctrine are at stake at the moment, all concerns being centered on canon law and ecclesiastical discipline and issues associated with them. In a sense this reduced agenda is easier to deal with. Even so, taking into account the presence of significant disagreements on the issues of canonical territories, those of leadership and rank, etc., and the absence of imperial power capable of resolving any issues by arguments or by cutting the Gordian knot and thus appeasing the rival fractions and overriding their squabbles, I see that the only means of persuasion available for the resolution of contentious issues is discussion and argument. But that can go on and on. As the history of the Councils clearly demonstrated, the work of the Spirit and that of the Imperial power used to go hand in hand. If one element is absent, the means of persuasion by force is removed from the scene; the management of affairs by argument led by the Spirit is the only available option. I have no expertise on the subject of the proposed council, but I think that the council should move on under the guidance of the Spirit, who is the sole choir master in this case that can conduct the bishops and orchestrate any conciliar gatherings. Hence, the collective phronema of the Church leaders should reflect on or be the work of the Spirit.

AD: Having finished this collection, Seven Icons of Christ: An Introduction to the Oikoumenical Councils, what are you at work on now in your research?

I am finalizing a monograph entitled St. Cyril of Alexandria’s Metaphysics of the Incarnation (forthcoming, Peter Lang, 2016) and editing (with Theodore Dedon) a collected volume of essays entitled Love, Marriage and Family in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition, also with Theodore Dedon (forthcoming: Gorgias Press, 2016).


Monday, June 20, 2016

Museums and Memories: Notes on Freud's House in Vienna

As part of my renewed and ongoing interest in the usefulness of psychoanalytic thought for understanding the problems of historical memory, especially memories of religious divisions, I made a point of visiting Bergasse 19 when I was in Vienna earlier this month.

That address, a scant kilometer from the University of Vienna where my conference was held, is of course the famous home, until 1938, of Sigmund Freud. After the Anschluss, and the temporary arrest of his daughter Anna by the Gestapo, the famous Jewish psychoanalyst used his connections, at the urging of friends, to flee to London via Paris. He would die in the British capital in 1939, just as war was breaking out.

I had known in advance that the famous couch had gone with Freud to London but thought that his Viennese house would have more of a presence than it did. The picture to the right is of a re-creation of his waiting room, and the one below at right is a replica of his chair in his study--next to the consulting room--where he did a lot of his reading and writing. But the rest of the house is rather sparse, which makes some sense insofar as he was forced to live out his remaining days in exile, and one is starkly confronted with one early effect of the anti-Semitism of the Nazis; but it was also a bit disconcerting to see the emptiness "filled," as it were, with rather slickly touristy trappings. Perhaps the museum in London, which I hope to visit some day, has a different feel to it.

As luck would have it, early next year we have a study of both museums coming out and looking at some of these questions: Joanne Morra, Inside the Freud Museums (I.B. Tauris, 2017, 288pp.).

About this book the publisher tells us:
Sigmund Freud spent the final year of his life at 20 Maresfield Gardens, London, surrounded by all his possessions, in exile from the Nazis. The long-term home and workspace he left behind in Vienna is a seemingly empty space, devoid of the great psychoanalyst’s objects and artefacts. Now museums, both of these spaces resonate powerfully. Since 1989, the Freud Museum London has held over 70 exhibitions by a distinctive range of artists including Louise Bourgeois, Sophie Calle, Mat Collishaw, Susan Hiller, Sarah Lucas and Tim Noble and Sue Webster. The Sigmund Freud Museum Vienna houses a small but impressive contemporary art collection, with work by John Baldessari, Joseph Kosuth, Jenny Holzer, Franz West and Ilya Kabakov. In this remarkable book, Joanne Morra offers a nuanced analysis of these historical museums and their unique relationships to contemporary art. Taking us on a journey through the ‘site-responsive’ artworks, exhibitions and curatorial practices that intervene in the objects, spaces and memories of these Museums, Joanne Morra offers a fresh experience of the history and practice of psychoanalysis, of museums and contemporary art.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Habsburg Empire Reconsidered

This year marks the centenary of the death of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef, who died in Schönbrunn Palace, whose magnificent gardens (pictured right) and "Palm house" (below) I toured one lovely evening while in Vienna earlier this month.

I was struck, when in Vienna, by the number of posters in the subway of one of the last and most famous portraits of Franz Josef, advertising a new exhibit reconsidering the imperial legacy a century after it more or less ended. Though it would get you lynched in any number of academic circles today, still I regard the question as one worth asking: were all forms of imperialism and colonialism the oppressive forces they are so often simplistically and reductively made out to be? My cursory knowledge of the history of the Habsburg Empire, especially in Galicia, and especially as it affects the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church, would suggest very much that the answer to my question is of course negative. There was much in the empire to commend it, then and since, and I am looking forward next month, when my teaching ends, to reading a new history: Pieter Judson, The Habsburg Empire: a New History (Belknap Press, 2016), 592pp.

About this book we are told:
In a panoramic and pioneering reappraisal, Pieter Judson shows why the Habsburg Empire mattered so much, for so long, to millions of Central Europeans. Across divides of language, religion, region, and history, ordinary women and men felt a common attachment to “their empire,” while bureaucrats, soldiers, politicians, and academics devised inventive solutions to the challenges of governing Europe’s second largest state. In the decades before and after its dissolution, some observers belittled the Habsburg Empire as a dysfunctional patchwork of hostile ethnic groups and an anachronistic imperial relic. Judson examines their motives and explains just how wrong these rearguard critics were.
Rejecting fragmented histories of nations in the making, this bold revision surveys the shared institutions that bridged difference and distance to bring stability and meaning to the far-flung empire. By supporting new schools, law courts, and railroads, along with scientific and artistic advances, the Habsburg monarchs sought to anchor their authority in the cultures and economies of Central Europe. A rising standard of living throughout the empire deepened the legitimacy of Habsburg rule, as citizens learned to use the empire’s administrative machinery to their local advantage. Nationalists developed distinctive ideas about cultural difference in the context of imperial institutions, yet all of them claimed the Habsburg state as their empire.
The empire’s creative solutions to governing its many lands and peoples―as well as the intractable problems it could not solve―left an enduring imprint on its successor states in Central Europe. Its lessons remain no less important today.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Nationalism, Apostasy, and the Ottoman Empire

We have seen a number of new books in the last five years or so treating both the sunset of the Ottoman Empire, and also the phenomenon of nationalism both in that empire and in the national Orthodox Churches that emerged from it. A recent study looks at nationalism alongside two other fraught issues involving Eastern Christians: Selim Deringil, Conversion and Apostasy in the Late Ottoman Empire (Cambridge UP, 2015), 332pp.

About this book we are told:
The commonly accepted wisdom is that nationalism replaced religion in the age of modernity. In the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire, the focus of Selim Deringil's book, traditional religious structures crumbled as the empire itself began to fall apart. The state's answer to schism was regulation and control, administered in the form of a number of edicts in the early part of the century. It is against this background that different religious communities and individuals negotiated survival by converting to Islam when their political interests or their lives were at stake. As the century progressed, however, and as this engaging study illustrates with examples from real-life cases, conversion was no longer sufficient to guarantee citizenship and property rights as the state became increasingly paranoid about its apostates and what it perceived as their "denationalization." The book tells the story of the struggle for the bodies and the souls of people, waged between the Ottoman State, the Great Powers, and a multitude of evangelical organizations. Many of the stories shed light on current flash-points in the Arab world and the Balkans, offering alternative perspectives on national and religious identity and the interconnection between the two.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The School of Antioch

It has been my happy duty on here many times over the years to report the wonderful and welcome interest in the Syriac tradition of Christianity as well as the Assyrian community. A recent collection of scholarly articles deepens the exploration of these traditions, while also containing much that will interest biblical scholars: Vahan S. Hovhanessian, ed., The School of Antioch: Biblical Theology and the Church in Syria (Peter Lang, 2016), 136pp.

Part of the publisher's "Bible in the Christian Orthodox Tradition" series, this latest installment, the publisher tells us, 
contains the latest conclusions and findings of academic research by specialized biblical scholars in biblical theology of the Church in the East commonly referred to as the School of Antioch. This collection of essays will be of special interest to scholars of theology and religion, including those interested in the fields of hermeneutics, Apocrypha, Chrysostom, Orthodox Eastern Christianity, and Eastern Christianity.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Ukrainian National Identity

Though even in 2016 one still finds Russians and their apologists sneering at the very idea of Ukraine as an independent country and Ukrainians as a distinctive ethno-national group, the history of both goes back farther than some today may wish to admit. Set for October release is a new book that shows the historical roots of Ukrainian national identity are deeper than previously thought: Johannes Remy, Brothers or Enemies: The Ukrainian National Movement and Russia from the 1840s to the 1870s (University of Toronto Press, 2016), 336pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Contrary to the prevailing opinion, the idea of Ukrainian independence did not emerge at the end of the nineteenth-century. In Brothers and Enemies, Johannes Remy reveals that the roots of Ukrainian independence were planted fifty years earlier.
Remy contextualizes the Ukrainian national movement against the backdrop of the Russian Empire and its policy of oppression in the mid-nineteenth-century. Remy utilizes a wide range of unpublished archival sources to shed light on topics that are absent from current discourse including: Ilarion Vasilchikov’s alliance with Ukrainian activists in 1861, the forged revolutionary proclamation used to deport Pavlo Chubynsky (who is known today as the author of the Ukrainian national anthem), and the 1864 negotiations between Kyiv activists and the Polish National Government. Brothers and Enemies is the first systematic study of imperial censorship policies during the period and will be of interest to those who seek a better understanding of the current Ukrainian-Russian conflict.

Monday, June 13, 2016

On the Difficulty of Living Together (I)

This book's slender size is deceptive insofar as On the Difficulty of Living Together: Memory, Politics, and History, by the contemporary Spanish philosopher Manuel Cruz, is an at times dense and at others diffuse set of arguments about the relationship between memory, history, identity, and the politics of the future. This latter point really distinguishes this book, in my view, from other recent treatments of historical memory and forgetting insofar as the author insists that all too often debates about historical memory are so caught up in the past, or with preserving a particular version of the past, as to ignore entirely the question of what kind of future we want to have.

The author takes issue with a number of arguments as to why historical memory is said to be important. The act of remembering, he insists, cannot be an end in itself. Nor can it be simply a prophylaxis against future repetition of past horrors such as the Holocaust. As he puts it toward the end of the book, merely insisting something must not be allowed to happen again "leaves out the unavoidable matter of the necessary means" (73). In other words, to say "Never again!" to, eg., the Armenian Genocide tells us nothing as to how we may avoid such a thing from happening a second time.

Memory itself is not some neutral, innocent, or harmless repository of "what truly happened." It is shifting, not to say shifty, and always in the service of a narrative, an identity, and a politics. In that regard, memory is a tool of power, and here he quotes Goethe approvingly: "Writing history is a way of getting rid of the past" (21).

The author attempts something of a "small typology of memory" (44), noting five types of defenders of memory: those who insist memory has value in itself; those who see the past as legitimizing the present (e.g., defenders of modern European nation-states); those who link memory and justice; those who associate memory with necessary mourning; and those who use memory as a tool of criticism, denunciation, and a challenge to conscience.

One point the author returns to several times, albeit with great sensitivity given the tremendous controversy that would surely attend a more explicit argument, is that memories of historical injustices, and especially their victims, must not be always and everywhere assumed to be "absolute innocents" (51). To such people we must not extend what he calls an "excess of empathy" (55), allowing some past horror to excuse them of present responsibility. Part of his concern here--though he is less than forthright on this point--seems to be how often victims become victimizers. If victims are treated as untouchables, as moral innocents whose past suffering guarantees them immunity from present and future criticism, then politics will reach an impasse.

Cruz wants to put into question an over-reliance on historical memory insofar as it provides the resources for a settled, homogeneous identity in the present. He insists that "memory is, itself, a setting for conflict. Therefore it cannot be used to defend a harmonious and unitary image of identity" (65).

As I noted above, the real concern of this book is that "it may be more urgent for us to be able to reopen debate about the future" and so asking ourselves about the possibilities and prospects of "living better" (67). Cruz's project may be summed up nicely thus: "a future without any idea of the past is inane...[and] a past with no idea of the future is inert" (68).

In the end, Cruz insists that today more than ever we need the historian, for "he has the authority to reclaim forgetting," which is a way of "draining history" (95). Why should we want to forget, and to drain history? We need to forget certain things because they weigh us down from pursuing a better future.

As I continue to think this through, I will, in future installments, test out some of these ideas via a case-study method, using well-known examples of historically contested events among Eastern Christians.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Oxford Handbook of Abrahamic Religions

Oxford University Press's series of "Handbooks" on various topics have been emerging for years now, and I have been pleased to be asked to contribute chapters to several, including one in print, and two more in press. The hardback versions are often not inexpensive, but more than worth it considering their size and the fact that they have amassed first-rate contemporary scholarship; but OUP very often brings out a much more affordable paperback version some months later.

In any event, a recent such collection has several chapters of interest to Eastern Christians, including those by John Tolan, Sidney Griffith, and Uriel Simonshon, all of whom are (as I have noted on here) specialists in the area of Eastern Christian-Muslim encounters. Edited by Moshe Blidstein, Adam Silverstein, and  Guy G. Stroumsa is The Oxford Handbook of the Abrahamic Religions (Oxford, 2015), 568pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
The Oxford Handbook of the Abrahamic Religions includes authoritative yet accessible studies on a wide variety of topics dealing comparatively with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as with the interactions between the adherents of these religions throughout history. The comparative study of the Abrahamic Religions has been undertaken for many centuries. More often than not, these studies reflected a polemical rather than an ecumenical approach to the topic. Since the nineteenth century, the comparative study of the Abrahamic Religions has not been pursued either intensively or systematically, and it is only recently that the comparative study of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam has received more serious attention. This volume contributes to the emergence and development of the comparative study of the Abrahamic religions, a discipline which is now in its formative stages.
 This Handbook includes both critical and supportive perspectives on the very concept of the Abrahamic religions and discussions on the role of the figure of Abraham in these religions. It features 32 essays, by the foremost scholars in the field, on the historical interactions between Abrahamic communities; on Holy Scriptures and their interpretation; on conceptions of religious history; on various topics and strands of religious thought, such as monotheism and mysticism; on rituals of prayer, purity, and sainthood, on love in the three religions and on fundamentalism. The volume concludes with three epilogues written by three influential figures in the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities, to provide a broader perspective on the comparative study of the Abrahamic religions. This ground-breaking work introduces readers to the challenges and rewards of studying these three religions together.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Churches and States in Ukraine

Harvard University Press tells me that early in 2017 they are bringing out a collection of articles that reprints some essays previously published but still meriting attention: Churches and StatesStudies on the History of Christianity in Ukraine, ed., Halyna Hryn. About this collection we are told:
This book collects nine articles that originally appeared in the journal Harvard Ukrainian Studies and that arose from the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute’s Millennium Project, an initiative launched in the 1980s to celebrate one thousand years of the Christianization of Kyivan Rus´. The articles cover a wide array of subjects: the ecclesiastical structure of the Christian Church in Rus´ in its earliest period (Andrzej Poppe); the conflict between Orthodoxy and the Uniate Church from 1569 to 1700 (Teresa Chynczewska-Hennel); an account of the Uniate Church and the partitions of Poland (Larry Wolff); the transformation of the Greek Catholic Church under the Austrian Empire (1848–1914) (John-Paul Himka); the Greek Catholic Church in the period between the two World Wars (Andrew Sorokowski); a rethinking of the relationship of Church and society in Galician Ukraine from 1914 to 1944 (Bohdan Budurowycz); and the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine during the interwar period (Bohdan Bociurkiw). The book concludes with a bio-bibliography of Bohdan Bociurkiw, a scholar who devoted his career to the study of Ukrainian Church history (Andrii Krawchuk). These essays provide new insights and a fresh perspective to the discipline.
But you do not have to wait until next year to read on this topic. When I was in Vienna earlier this month, I was pleased to be able to meet Frank Sysyn and Serhii Plokhy, perhaps the two leading historians of Ukrainian Christianity and history generally, and authors of many books, including collections they have collaborated on such as Religion and Nation in Modern Ukraine, which I have read with great interest.

Plokhy is also the author of such studies as Yalta: the Price of Peace, which is a fascinating study of the infamous conference at the end of World War II which led, inter alia, to Soviet domination of Poland and Eastern Europe until 1991. For those who are students of the war, this is a book not to be missed.

More recently, Plokhy has authored The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine. I have not read it yet, but historian friends who have tell me it is magnificent, which is no surprise.

And then, mentioned above, and also much discussed at our conference in Vienna, is a study that has been out for 20 years now, but is no less valuable for that: Bohdan Bociurkiw's The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Soviet State (1939-1950). (Bociurkiw has a fascinating biography, some of it detailed here.)

So the areas, broadly, of church and state in a Ukrainian context continue to attract considerable scholarly attention, and this is very much welcome given the region's pivotal place in European history, past and present.


Thursday, June 9, 2016

Who Doesn't Like a Good Feast?

As a Chestertonian of the strict observance, following as I do his dictum that "Catholicism is a thick steak, a frosted stout, and a good cigar," I am always scrupulous about observing the feasts of the liturgical year even if there is not a commensurate level of fastidiousness about the fasts! But the whole logic of feasting and fasting makes Christianity incredibly attractive precisely for its domesticity and the clear links between home and Church--to say nothing of cult and culture, which Josef Pieper has explored so wonderfully in his masterful Leisure: the Basis of Culture

All this is by way of preface to a notice about a new book released this year: Fritz Graf, Roman Festivals in the Greek East: From the Early Empire to the Middle Byzantine Era Cambridge UP, 2016, 380pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
This study explores the development of ancient festival culture in the Greek East of the Roman Empire, paying particular attention to the fundamental religious changes that occurred. After analysing how Greek city festivals developed in the first two Imperial centuries, it concentrates on the major Roman festivals that were adopted in the Eastern cities and traces their history up to the time of Justinian and beyond. It addresses several key questions for the religious history of later antiquity: who were the actors behind these adoptions? How did the closed religious communities, Jews and pre-Constantinian Christians, articulate their resistance? How did these festivals change when the empire converted to Christianity? Why did emperors not yield to the long-standing pressure of the Church to abolish them? And finally, how did these very popular festivals - despite their pagan tradition - influence the form of the newly developed Christian liturgy?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Russian Orthodoxy 2.0

There seemed, as I recall, to come a moment in the late 90s when suddenly many churchmen woke up, realized the Web was here to stay, and rushed to get websites up and running. Later, of course, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media would come along and many Christians would race to be present there and on similar social media. But as we learned many years ago now from the Catholic Marshall McLuhan, the media is not innocent or neutral, but is itself a message, and itself shapes and transforms those using it. This is no less true in the Orthodox world, including the largest Orthodox Church in the world, as a new book, edited by Mikhail Suslov, tells us: Digital Orthodoxy in the Post-Soviet WorldThe Russian Orthodox Church and Web 2.0 (Ibidem Press, 2016), 350pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
This volume explores the relationship between new media and religion, focusing on the digital era's impact on the Russian Orthodox Church. A believer may now enter a virtual chapel, light a candle through drag-and-drop, send an online prayer request, or worship virtual icons and relics. In recent years, however, Church leaders and public figures have become increasingly skeptical about new media. The internet, some of them argue, breaches Russia's "spiritual sovereignty" and implants values and ideas alien to Russian culture. This collection examines how Orthodox ecclesiology has been influenced by its new digital environment, such as the intersection of virtual religious life with religious experience in the "real" church, the role of clerics on the Russian Web, and the transformation of the Orthodox notion of sobornost' (catholicity), asking whether and how Orthodox activity on the internet can be counted as authentic religious practice.

Monday, June 6, 2016

A Note on the Sixth? Evangelist

There are many areas in which I am ignorant, and music is certainly one of them. So take this note for what it is: simply one of grateful expression for a book that has brought delight, almost as much for its subject as for its lovely, lyrical prose that gracefully renders a great deal of technical and historical knowledge in an accessible way without being elementary or condescending.

That book is by the historian Peter Gay (on some of whose other works I commented last month), Mozart: A Life (Penguin, 1999, 2006). It is a short and very winsome biography I read mostly on the plane to Vienna, a city that exceeds all expectations for its architecture, history, beauty, and food. The Habsburgs had indeed a capital worthy of their illustrious empire.

I picked up Gay's biography of Mozart last month because I was going to Vienna this month to a private conference organized by Pro Oriente on the Lviv "sobor" of 1946. So it seemed only fitting that I read about the man who spent the latter part of his life in the imperial capital and was buried there after having written some of the most glorious pieces of music any man has ever created. Gay makes his life come alive and skillfully interweaves it with commentary on his music that is never technically overwhelming (this latter problem having caused me to abandon, several years ago, another biography of Mozart--written by Maynard Solomon--because it was written at a technical level that only those with degrees in musicology could have fully accessed and appreciated it).

In fact, on the train, I passed the cemetery where Mozart was buried. And then I had the great good fortune to go with friends to the magnificent Karlskirche for a performance of excerpts from Mozart's Requiem which was, in that context, not only transporting but also revealing. As my friend, the priest-theologian (and my Doktorvater) Andriy Chirovsky put it, we could finally understand something of the nature of the Baroque--and the Karlskirche has to be a prototypical example of the Baroque--by listening to that music in that church. Suddenly what seemed perhaps excessive now made more sense, as though both the music and that architecture were each commensurate with the other.

And in Gay Mozart has found a biographer of commensurate skill also. Whether Mozart is the sixth evangelist (the status of "fifth" having, some time ago, been assigned by others to Bach) is for others to say, but I do rather like the line attributed to Barth which I first encountered in reading his Swiss contemporary and fellow Mozart lover, Hans Urs von Balthasar: when in the presence of God, of course the angels play Bach; but when they are simply en famille, they play Mozart! (See here for Philip McCosker's interesting theological study of Mozart, Barth, and von Balthasar.)

Friday, June 3, 2016

How Foreign a Country is the Past? How Can We Access it Without Abuse?

I have been having a lot of fun this summer doing a course with my students on ISIS and the Crusades. Those who read ISIS propaganda, especially their slick but tiresome magazine Dabiq, or watch their videos, as I have with studied if horrified fascination for several years now, will note how ritualistically, how constantly, and (of course) how tendentiously they invoke "the Crusades" or the "Crusaders" to justify their various atrocities--whether beheading Japanese hostages, immolating Jordanian pilots, or decapitating, drowning, or torturing many others whose background so obviously precludes them from ever having had any connection whatsoever to the Crusades as historical events rather than ciphers for current iniquities. So this has been a course in historiography as much as in studying the Crusades.

Along the way, my students have found enormously profitable the reading of two books that treat the uses and abuses of history in general, and then the uses and abuses of Crusade history in particular. In the first instance, we have Margaret MacMillan's Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History, which is short and accessible, but full of the lucid erudition that marks MacMillan's other wonderful books, especially Paris 1919 and The War that Ended Peace: the Road to 1914.

Then we have turned our attention to the doyen of Crusades scholars, Jonathan Riley-Smith, and his short but equally accessible book The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam. Re-reading this nearly a decade after it came out and before ISIS was really commanding the attention it does, is an interesting experience in itself, perhaps especially for Riley-Smith's last chapter in which he shows that a good deal of the responsibility for the problematic "re-remembering" of the "Crusades" by Muslims in the last several decades comes at the hands of Christians, especially French Catholics and German Lutherans, who wanted, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to revive the Crusades as examples of Christian glory in conquest. So by no means do Christians have clean hands in the competition to use and abuse history.

I find it striking, however, that the language of glory and conquest which many Christians used as recently as a century ago is now regarded by almost all Christians with abject horror. This was true not just in revisionist accounts of the Crusades, but in the rhetoric leading up to, and all throughout, the First World War. Philip Jenkins, as I noted on here a while ago, is especially useful in his book  The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade in showing how profoundly bloodthirsty Christian preachers were--whether in Westminster Abbey, First Presbyterian in Boston, Trinity Lutheran in Berlin, St. Basil's in the Kremlin, Notre Dame in Paris, or a thousand other pulpits of all traditions. Everybody was invoking God to crush their enemies, and using chilling rhetoric to demonize their (fellow Christian) enemies. Find me even three preachers today in an Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or Orthodox pulpit who are willing to say such things even in the mildest terms--to suggest God wants them to smite their enemies. Indeed, for most Christians the language of enemies is itself reprobated and incomprehensible.

Instead, in 2016, we find discussions among Catholics and other Christians about even revising or eliminating altogether the tradition of a "just war," thereby testifying to how far Christians, in barely a century, have changed their assessments of the morality of violence, lethal force, and war. My operative assumption here is that a good deal of that re-assessment has had little if anything to do with theological considerations rationally worked out. Rather, most of it is a reaction-formation, steeped in guilt, to the horrors of the First and then the Second World Wars, and then a ritualized invocation of "War no more!" (as several popes have said at the UN in the last 50 years) which is little more than a species of wish-fulfillment.

All this leads me to mention a recently released revised edition of a book which, a quarter-century ago, became an almost instant classic: David Lowenthal, The Past Is a Foreign Country (Cambridge UP, 2015), 676pp.

About this book we are told:
The past remains essential – and inescapable. A quarter-century after the publication of his classic account of man's attitudes to his past, David Lowenthal revisits how we celebrate, expunge, contest and domesticate the past to serve present needs. He shows how nostalgia and heritage now pervade every facet of public and popular culture. History embraces nature and the cosmos as well as humanity. The past is seen and touched and tasted and smelt as well as heard and read about. Empathy, re-enactment, memory and commemoration overwhelm traditional history. A unified past once certified by experts and reliant on written texts has become a fragmented, contested history forged by us all. New insights into history and memory, bias and objectivity, artefacts and monuments, identity and authenticity, and remorse and contrition, make this book once again the essential guide to the past that we inherit, reshape and bequeath to the future.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Mind of Christ and a Psychoanalytic Mind (VI)

I recently received the following book from the editor of Reviews in Religion and Theology, for which I am a regular reviewer. I shall not be able to reproduce my review here, but once I have read it, I will nonetheless share some other thoughts on a book that fits in with our on-going series here on the relationship between Christianity and psychoanalytic thought: Nathan Carlan and Donald Capps, The Gift of Sublimation: A Psychoanalytic Study of Multiple Masculinities (Cascade, 2015), 212pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
There is not, and never was, a monolithic masculinity; there are, and always have been, multiple masculinities. Today diversity with regard to gender and sexuality is beginning to be recognized and celebrated even while many religious denominations still resist these cultural changes. This book offers pastoral interpretations of these social shifts in light of psychological principles, applying them to topics such as the moral disapproval of masturbation; the efforts of some churches to convince homosexual men to adopt a heterosexual orientation; the dynamics of male envy of female longevity; the homosexual tendencies of King James of England and Scotland; and biblical portraits of God's body, gender, and sexuality. The authors make a special use of the psychoanalytic concept of sublimation-that is, the redirection of sexual desires that are considered unacceptable or unworthy toward interests and aspirations that are considered acceptable and worthy. While the use of psychoanalytic hermeneutics here is likely to raise various red flags for potential religious readers (especially for those who have been informed that Sigmund Freud was hostile toward religion), this book presents a rather different Freud by focusing on religious sublimation.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Is Christianity Constitutionally Incapable of Forgetting?

I have noted on here several times previously my ongoing interest in the practices of remembering and forgetting, especially among Eastern Christians and Muslims with references to things like the Crusades, and the divisions between Orthodox and Catholics. I have found several recent books of use in thinking through some of these issues. None of these authors entertains any explicitly theological or "religious" interests or questions--apart from some mention of the Holocaust of course--but their works are nonetheless useful to those of us who try to grapple with theological problems such as long-standing "memories" of division and hurt at the hands of fellow Christians, or Muslims, or others.
As I continue to make my way through such books as Manuel Cruz's On the Difficulty of Living Together: Memory, Politics, and History as well as David Rieff's In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memory and Its Ironies (and several others I have mentioned previously) there emerges a central and properly theological question hinted at in my title: is Christianity capable, is it morally permitted, to forget when its central act, when the "source and summit of the Christian life" is precisely the act of grateful remembrance, of eucharistic anamnesis, of thankful memorialization? Given such powerful weight attached to "remembrance," have many of us derived therefrom some inchoate sense that forgetting is a morally reprehensible act?

I will explore more of the implications of both books once I have finished them. For those who are interested in such questions as remembering and forgetting, especially publicly and culturally, both Rieff and Cruz have written short but powerful essays very much worth your time, and I commend them to you.


Monday, May 30, 2016

The City with Five Names

Lviv/Lwow/Lemberg/Leopolis/Lvov is the major city in Western Ukraine of which I have the fondest memories from my time there in the summer of 2001. It is a fascinating combination of Habsburg influence (see, e.g., the opera house) smack in the middle of what was, 15 years ago, still incredibly underdeveloped and impoverished areas both in the city and especially in the countryside whose sorry state--thanks to Soviet influence--reminded me of nothing so much as 19th century rural America bereft of all the modern amenities we take for granted today. The city has long been a crossroads, and given changing borders in the past century alone, has been part of Austrian Galicia, Poland, the USSR, and since 1991 a free and independent Ukraine.

As I am getting read to go to a conference in June on the pseudo-synod of Lviv of 1946, the city has again much been on my mind.

Two recent books look at the competing influences on this city, which has long been the strong-hold of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church, and a place of encounter between Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox--to say nothing of Latin Catholics, Jews, and others: Tarik Cyril Amar, The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv: A Borderland City between Stalinists, Nazis, and Nationalists (Cornell University Press, 2015), 368pp.
About this book the publisher tells us:
In The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv, Tarik Cyril Amar reveals the local and transnational forces behind the twentieth-century transformation of one of East Central Europe's most important multiethnic borderland cities into a Soviet and Ukrainian urban center. Today, Lviv is the modern metropole of the western part of independent Ukraine and a center and symbol of Ukrainian national identity as well as nationalism. Over the last three centuries it has also been part of the Habsburg Empire, interwar Poland, a World War I Russian occupation regime, the Nazi Generalgouvernement, and, until 1991, the Soviet Union.
Lviv's twentieth-century history was marked by great violence, massive population changes, and fundamental transformation. Under Habsburg and Polish rule up to World War II, Lviv was a predominantly Polish city as well as one of the major centers of European Jewish life. Immediately after World War II, Lviv underwent rapid Soviet modernization, bringing further extensive change. Over the postwar period, the city became preponderantly Ukrainian—ethnically, linguistically, and in terms of its residents’ self-perception. Against this background, Amar explains a striking paradox: Soviet rule, which came to Lviv in its most ruthless Stalinist shape and lasted for half a century, left behind the most Ukrainian version of the city in history. In reconstructing this dramatic and profound change, Amar also illuminates the historical background to present-day identities and tensions within Ukraine.
A second book, also released late last year, takes a similar approach: Christoph Mick,  Lemberg, Lwów, L'viv, 1914-1947: Violence and Ethnicity in a Contested City (Purdue U Press, 2015), 480pp.

About this book we are told:
Known as Lemberg in German and Lwów in Polish, the city of L’viv in modern Ukraine was in the crosshairs of imperial and national aspirations for much of the twentieth century. This book tells the compelling story of how its inhabitants (Roman Catholic Poles, Greek Catholic Ukrainians, and Jews) reacted to the sweeping political changes during and after World Wars I and II. The Eastern Front shifted back and forth, and the city changed hands seven times. At the end of each war, L'viv found itself in the hands of a different state. While serious tensions had existed among Poles, Ukrainians/Ruthenians, and Jews in the city, before 1914 eruptions of violence were still infrequent. The changes of political control over the city during World War I led to increased intergroup frictions, new power relations, and episodes of shocking violence, particularly against Jews. The city’s incorporation into the independent Polish Republic in November 1918 after a brief period of Ukrainian rule sparked intensified conflict. Ukrainians faced discrimination and political repression under the new government, and Ukrainian nationalists attacked the Polish state. In the 1930s, anti-Semitism increased sharply. During World War II, the city experienced first Soviet rule, then Nazi occupation, and finally Soviet conquest. The Nazis deported and murdered nearly all of the city’s large Jewish population, and at the end of the war the Soviet forces expelled the city’s Polish inhabitants. Based on archival research conducted in L’viv, Kiev, Warsaw, Vienna, Berlin, and Moscow, as well as an array of contemporary printed sources and scholarly studies, this book examines how the inhabitants of the city reacted to the changes in political control, and how ethnic and national ideologies shaped their dealings with each other. 
For those who want a wider context for understanding the city of Lviv and its regional place and significance, including its central place in Galicia, now is the time to bring to your attention again a book that has been out for more than a decade, but is still a wonderful and fascinating read: Christopher Hann and Paul Robert Magocsi, eds., Galicia: A Multicultured land.
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