"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).


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Bloody Byzantine Streams

Interest in all things Byzantine is as high as ever, and students of the empire's history will want to take note of a book released just in June: Anthony Kaldellis, Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood: The Rise and Fall of Byzantium, 955 A.D. to the First Crusade (OUP, 2017), 440pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
In the second half of the tenth century, Byzantium embarked on a series of spectacular conquests: first in the southeast against the Arabs, then in Bulgaria, and finally in the Georgian and Armenian lands. By the early eleventh century, the empire was the most powerful state in the Mediterranean. It was also expanding economically, demographically, and, in time, intellectually as well. Yet this imperial project came to a crashing collapse fifty years later, when political disunity, fiscal mismanagement, and defeat at the hands of the Seljuks in the east and the Normans in the west brought an end to Byzantine hegemony. By 1081, not only was its dominance of southern Italy, the Balkans, Caucasus, and northern Mesopotamia over but Byzantium's very existence was threatened.
How did this dramatic transformation happen? Based on a close examination of the relevant sources, this history-the first of its kind in over a century-offers a new reconstruction of the key events and crucial reigns as well as a different model for understanding imperial politics and wars, both civil and foreign. In addition to providing a badly needed narrative of this critical period of Byzantine history, Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood offers new interpretations of key topics relevant to the medieval era. The narrative unfolds in three parts: the first covers the years 955-1025, a period of imperial conquest and consolidation of authority under the great emperor Basil "the Bulgar-Slayer." The second (1025-1059) examines the dispersal of centralized authority in Constantinople as well as the emergence of new foreign enemies (Pechenegs, Seljuks, and Normans). The last section chronicles the spectacular collapse of the empire during the second half of the eleventh century, concluding with a look at the First Crusade and its consequences for Byzantine relations with the powers of Western Europe. This briskly paced and thoroughly investigated narrative vividly brings to life one of the most exciting and transformative eras of medieval history.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Exploring the Life of the Soul

I noted in July a recent book by Peter Tyler that attempts to link patristic spiritual theology with modern psychoanalytic thought around questions of the "soul." Now we have another, similar book just published: John Hanwell Riker, Exploring the Life of the Soul: Philosophical Reflections on Psychoanalysis and Self Psychology (Lexington, 2017),194pp.

Charles Strozier, a highly respected historian and psychoanalyst, has written appreciatively of Riker's new book. Strozier is the author not just of historical works about Abraham Lincoln but other books, including a fascinating biography I recently finished of Heinz Kohut, who was such a significant figure in Chicago psychoanalytic circles in the latter decades of the 20th century.

About Riker's book the publisher tells us:
In this book, John Hanwell Riker develops and expands the conceptual framework of self psychology in order to offer contemporary readers a naturalistic ground for adopting an ethical way of being in the world. Riker stresses the need to find a balance between mature narcissism and ethics, to address and understand differences among people, and to reconceive social justice as based on the development of individual self. This book is recommend for readers interested in psychology and philosophy, and for those who wonder what it means to be human in the modern age.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Religion, Authority, and the State: Constantine and Beyond

Debates about religious freedom are by no means unique to the United States in these early years of the 21st century. So too debates about the legacy of Constantine are not new developments either. Two recent books shed light on both questions, giving them wide context.

The first, Religion, Authority, and the State: From Constantine to the Contemporary World (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 249pp. is a collection edited by Leo Lefebure.With at least two chapters focusing on Slavic Orthodox debates around religious freedom, this book promises to be of interest to Eastern Christians.

The publisher further tells us about this book:
In commemoration of Constantine’s grant of freedom of religion to Christians, this wide-ranging volume examines the ambiguous legacy of this emperor in relation to the present world, discussing the perennial challenges of relations between religions and governments. The authors examine the new global ecumenical movement inspired by Pentecostals, the role of religion in the Irish Easter rebellion against the British, and the relation between religious freedom and government in the United States. Other essays debate the relation of Islam to the violence in Nigeria, the place of the family in church-state relations in the Philippines, the role of confessional identity in the political struggles in the Balkans, and the construction of Slavophile identity in nineteenth-century Russian Orthodox political theology. The volume also investigates the contrast between written constitutions and actual practice in the relations between governments and religions in Australia, Indonesia, and Egypt.  The case studies and surveys illuminate both specific contexts and also widespread currents in religion-state relations across the world.
The second study, by Kyle Smith, is Constantine and the Captive Christians of Persia: Martyrdom and Religious Identity in Late Antiquity (University of California Press, 2016), 256pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
It is widely believed that the Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity politicized religious allegiances, dividing the Christian Roman Empire from the Zoroastrian Sasanian Empire and leading to the persecution of Christians in Persia. This account, however, is based on Greek ecclesiastical histories and Syriac martyrdom narratives that date to centuries after the fact. In this groundbreaking study, Kyle Smith analyzes diverse Greek, Latin, and Syriac sources to show that there was not a single history of fourth-century Mesopotamia. By examining the conflicting hagiographical and historical evidence, Constantine and the Captive Christians of Persia presents an evocative and evolving portrait of the first Christian emperor, uncovering how Syriac Christians manipulated the image of their western Christian counterparts to fashion their own political and religious identities during this century of radical change.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

On Elisabeth Behr-Sigel's Ecclesiology and Related Matters

In late August I first drew attention to this book, and noted a few other sources of relevance to the life of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel.

I have now had a chance to read A Communion in Faith and Love: Elisabeth Behr-Sigel's Ecclesiology (2017, 176pp), edited by Sarah Hinlicky Wilson.

It is, as with all such collections, very mixed. The first three chapters revisit a lot of Behr-Sigel's biography, and for those who are familiar with this material, as I am, these chapters offer little that is new and fresh.

The fourth chapter, by Antoine Arjakovsky, whom I have often discussed on here and interviewed in the past, is an interesting reading of Behr-Sigel in dialogue with Celia Deane-Drummond, especially her 2000 book, Creation Through Wisdom: Theology and the New Biology.

Teva Regule's chapter, the fifth, is the first one to really deliver on the promise of the title, focusing as it does on Behr-Sigel's "ecclesiological vision."

Valerie Karras writes an interesting but by no means original chapter on the questions of sex, gender, the Trinity, and ordination of women in Orthodoxy in light of Behr-Sigel. This is a helpful synthesis of questions she and others have engaged elsewhere, and for those new to those debates, this would not be a bad place to start. I'm not entirely convinced of some of her conclusions, but she certainly raises some of the right questions.

Amal Dibo's chapter is perhaps the weakest of the book, and I confess to being rather cross with it insofar as it is content yet again to repeat that tiresome slogan about the Orthodox Church not being "an institution; it is a new life with Christ." One hears this constantly, though one almost never detects the slightest effort on the part of the one making this claim to actually defend it with the necessary detail and elaboration it requires to be anything more than an empty, romanticizing, self-congratulatory assertion. (Certainly my students, coming fresh to Orthodoxy, find it the most heavily and ponderously institutional of all Christian expressions they have every encountered--regularly saying they thought Catholics were bad enough, but Orthodox are much worse!)

The editor's chapter, "Behr-Sigel's New Hagiography and its Ecumenical Significance" is a treat--indeed, the true highlight of the volume. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson writes with grace and insight and knows what the really important questions are to ask. Noting the connection between hagiography and ecclesiology whereby nobody is saved alone--that is, that we are all saved together, as part of the communion of saints, that great cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews--Wilson shows how these twin themes were developed in Behr-Sigel who, though she moved from Lutheranism and the Reformed Church into Orthodoxy, nonetheless retained what Wilson calls a "characteristically gracious attitude: she always insists on validating what she finds good and worthy in other communities, even in the one she has chosen to leave." Given the shrill slandering one finds in so much of Orthodox apologetics today, especially among on-line converts who have nary a good word about their now-despised Protestant (or Catholic) pasts, this is a model worthy of holding up again and again.

Behr-Sigel's approach to hagiography was first pioneered in some of her writings in her Master's thesis, Prayer and Holiness in the Russian Church, a translated excerpt of which Wilson offers as the final chapter to this book. Behr-Sigel focused on a married woman about whom little was known: Juliana Lazarevskaya, the telling of whose life advanced a new approach to hagiography much closer to modern biography, that is, an approach that does not drown its subject "in a fog of golden legend." Among other things, Juliana was noteworthy for being married and nobody's idea of pious or "monastic."

In this--as well as in telling the life of Mother Maria Skobtsova and Tikhon Zadonsk--Behr-Sigel's hagiographic methods become something of a model for the work of Michael Plekon, a close friend of Wilson (and of me) whom she mentions with gratitude several times in A Communion in Faith and Love.

Fr. Michael's books, including Hidden Holiness as well as Saints as They Really Arehave rightly won several awards and I know students to whom I recommend them have found them very valuable and insightful. I have interviewed him over the years about most of these books, and the most recent interview is here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Rhetorical War as Politics By Other Means (I)

Yale University Press sent me a brand new book which I am reading with great interest: Philippe-Joseph Salazar, Words Are Weapons: Inside ISIS’s Rhetoric of Terror, trans. Dorna Khazeni (Yale UP, 2017), 256pp.

This, the publisher tells us, is:
The first book to offer a rigorous, sophisticated analysis of ISIS’s rhetoric and why it is so persuasive
ISIS wages war not only on the battlefield but also online and in the media. Through a close examination of the words and images ISIS uses, with particular attention to the “digital caliphate” on the web, Philippe-Joseph Salazar theorizes an aesthetic of ISIS and its self-presentation. As a philosopher and historian of ideas, well versed in both the Western and the Islamic traditions, Salazar posits an interpretation of Islam that places speech—the profession of faith—at the center of devotion and argues that evocation of the simple yet profound utterance of faith is what gives power to the rhetoric that ISIS and others employ. At the same time, Salazar contends that Western discourse has undergone a “rhetorical disarmament.” To win the fight against ISIS and Islamic extremism, Western democracies, their media, politicians, and counterterrorism agencies must consider radically changing their approach to Islamic extremism.
This book is of great interest to my own ongoing project into the uses and abuses of Crusades history in ISIS propaganda. I shall have more to say about all that later.

Continues. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Psychoanalysis of the Living God (III)

In the previous two installments, we have been attending to the work of Ana-Maria Rizzuto, a pioneer in helping propel psychoanalytic thought beyond its prejudices about theology as an "illusion" born of infantile insecurities and neuroses.

Though her landmark book The Birth of the Living God has been in print for nearly forty years now, and though it enjoyed considerable and almost immediate engagement by pastoral psychologists and other counsellors and clinicians, its reception in the psychoanalytic world was very narrow in many ways. Her more recent book (1998) Why Did Freud Reject God?: A Psychodynamic Interpretation (discussed in my second installment), which is a remarkably careful, restrained treatment full of respect for Freud, and completely free of any "gotcha" tendencies one might expect in lesser hands, has finally shown to those with any lingering doubts that Rizzuto is a serious theoretician and clinician whose research demands to be taken seriously.

So we now have just such a serious engagement with Rizzuto in this new collection, Ana-María Rizzuto and the Psychoanalysis of Religion: The Road to the Living God, expertly edited by Martha J. Reineke and David M. Goodman (Lexington Books, 2017), 228pp.

With a helpful introduction and conclusion, the book features six chapters from various clinicians engaging Rizzuto, with each chapter having a response by Rizzuto herself. The book is a model of how to advance important discussions not in lockstep, but with gracious respect when people differ, as several commentators do with parts of Rizzuto's thought and work.

The first two chapters are extremely useful introductions to the wide applications of Rizzuto's work. The middle chapters are case studies. And the final two chapters challenge Rizzuto's work to go beyond its previous applications in looking, first, at the psychic constructions of various "monsters" and then at engagements with the so-called new atheists.

For those new to Rizzuto's work, the first two chapters will be especially useful in doing a lot of heavy lifting summarizing many of her main insights and methods.

The middle case studies are fascinating, especially in drawing attention to the VITA project at the Modum Bad Clinic in Norway, doing what from every indication sounds like fascinating and singular work today that far from fleeing a patient's religious imagery and language, or shunning it as nothing more or other than psychopathological, attempts to see where theological and spiritual language, metaphors, and insights may be useful either in revealing underlying disorders, or in contributing to a patient's healing, or both.

The final chapter is the only one that comes closest--and this only very briefly--to a theological engagement in the strict sense. But it has no sooner begun that task then it shifts focus, and one is left wanting further such engagement.

The editors, in their brief conclusion, note that there is a great deal of room for future creative adaptation of Rizzuto, and though they do not reference such a direction themselves, I take them to mean, inter alia, that one could begin to analyze not just an individual's psychic conception of God as a "transitional object" (Winnicott), but an entire culture or tradition. Rizzuto's work has been very much confined to individual-clinical experience, which is an absolutely necessary foundation from which to proceed. It remains to be seen whether and how her insights admit of wider application. Regardless, this is a valuable and insightful book with skillfully presented material. The editors and contributors are to be congratulated.

Concluded. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Chaldean Catholic Church

For nearly 15 years, to think of the plight of Iraqi Christians is to weep. The unjust war that was waged in that country in 2003 did incalculable damage to Christians there and in neighboring countries. The Christians of Iraq, like those of Iran, Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere in the Arab and Islamic world, remain largely unknown by too many North Americans in particular.

A book coming out later this year will help to change all that: Kristian Girling, The Chaldean Catholic Church: Modern History, Ecclesiology and Church-State Relations (Routledge, 2017), 224pp.

About this study we are told by the publisher:
This book provides a modern historical study of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq from 2003 to 2013, against a background analysis of the origins and ecclesiological development of the Chaldean community from the sixteenth century onwards.
The book offers an insight into the formation of Chaldean ecclesiological identity and organisation in the context of the Chaldeans as a community originating from the ecclesial traditions of the Church of the East and as an Eastern Catholic Church in union with the Holy See. The book argues for the gradual and consistent development of a Chaldean identity grounded and incarnated in the Mesopotamian-Iraqi environment, yet open to engaging with cultures throughout the Middle East and West Asia and, especially since 2003, to Europe, North America and Australasia. It also examines the effects of religious and administrative policies of the governors of Mesopotamia-Iraq on the Chaldeans, from their formation in the sixteenth century until the installation of the new Chaldean patriarch, Louis Raphael I Sako, in March 2013. Furthermore, the book provides a unique analysis of the history of Iraq, by placing the Chaldeans fully into that narrative for the first time.
Providing a thorough overview of the history of the Chaldeans and an in-depth assessment of how the 2003 invasion has affected them, this book will be a key resource for students and scholars of Middle East Studies, Modern History, History of Christianity, as well as for anyone seeking to understand the modern status of Christians in Iraq and the wider Middle East.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

More on Maximus

When I started this blog nearly seven years ago now I noted how many publications, by the middle part of the last decade, had recently appeared devoted to Maximus the Confessor. (If you look at old entries, you'll have to excuse some of the missing image links to Amazon, which several years changed its coding and left it to bloggers to manually reinstall every single link with new code, an enormously tedious process consuming time I do not have. Most of the text links still work, however.)

Since then, the pace of publications has slowed only slightly. If you are bewildered as to where to begin with all these scholarly riches, then you will be aided by The Oxford Handbook of Maximus the Confessor, eds. Pauline Allen and Bronwen Neil (OUP, 2017), 640pp. It appears later this fall in a paperback edition, having been published in hardback just over two years ago.

The publisher supplies us with the following blurb:
Maximus the Confessor (c.580-662) has become one of the most discussed figures in contemporary patristic studies. This is partly due to the relatively recent discovery and critical edition of his works in various genres, including On the Ascetic Life, Four Centuries on Charity, Two Centuries on Theology and the Incarnation, On the 'Our Father', two separate Books of Difficulties, addressed to John and to Thomas, Questions and Doubts, Questions to Thalassius, Mystagogy and the Short Theological and Polemical Works. 
The impact of these works reached far beyond the Greek East, with his involvement in the western resistance to imperial heresy, notably at the Lateran Synod in 649. Together with Pope Martin I (649-53 CE), Maximus the Confessor and his circle were the most vocal opponents of Constantinople's introduction of the doctrine of monothelitism. This dispute over the number of wills in Christ became a contest between the imperial government and church of Constantinople on the one hand, and the bishop of Rome in concert with eastern monks such as Maximus, John Moschus, and Sophronius, on the other, over the right to define orthodoxy. An understanding of the difficult relations between church and state in this troubled period at the close of Late Antiquity is necessary for a full appreciation of Maximus' contribution to this controversy.
The editors of this volume provide the political and historical background to Maximus' activities, as well as a summary of his achievements in the spheres of theology and philosophy, especially neo-Platonism and Aristotelianism.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Psychoanalysis of the Living God (II)

In my last installment I noted some recent thoughts on past and possibly future links between psychoanalysis and theology, especially about the controverted question of the existence of God, a discussion that has been advanced very considerably by the contributions, since 1979, of Ana-Maria Rizzuto in her landmark book The Birth of the Living God. That book, as I noted in the previous installment, has recently been the subject of an appreciative study to which I'll return presently.

In the meantime, let me draw attention to Rizzuto's second major book of note: Why Did Freud Reject God? (Yale University Press, 1998).

It is a rather unusual book, and not at all what I thought it would be--until, that is, the second half of the book. It starts off very much remotely, considering Freud's well-known passion for collecting antiquities, some of which he was able to bring with him to London when he fled there in the spring of 1938 to "die in freedom" as he said. Some were left behind; the rest were sold to raise funds to bribe the Nazis to grant the requisite forms permitting the Freud family and a few associates to flee to the British capital. Rizzuto wonders about Freud's relationships to these antiquities, some of which were clearly totems for pagan religions. She sees his massive and endless collecting of them as evidence of an unconscious obsession with very oblique theological questions.

From here she spends a very great deal of time on a detailed examination of the Philippson Bible, an illustrated and annotated Hebrew-German version which Freud's father Jakob gave his son, and which his son clearly read with great attention. This gives rise to a consideration of the religious faith and practice--or lack thereof, as the case may be--of Freud's parents and grandparents.

To read Freud, especially his correspondence, is to be confronted with copious evidence of his scriptural literacy: biblical quotations, that is, verses from and references to the Hebrew scriptures, and occasionally to the Talmud, show up on a regular basis-- and not in a clumsy fashion, either, suggesting deep and easy familiarity with the texts.

Rizzuto also takes great care to examine the other area where Freud's familiarity with the God of Judaism and Christianity emerges very early in his life: through his relationship to his beloved Czech Catholic nanny, who took him to church very early on (up to the age of 2 or thereabouts), as a result of which he apparently developed a habit, his mother said, of coming home and "preaching" to the household.

Having, over eleven chapters, laid out all this material for judicious consideration, and never once with a kind of "gotcha" attitude, Rizzuto comes, only in her twelfth and final chapter, to stitch everything together very graciously in answer to the question of her book's title. At no point does one feel like she is forcing the question, or forcing Freud into preconceived answers or subjecting him to a facile analysis on a couch of his own making. She applies psychoanalytic principles and practices to the man who pioneered them, and does so in a sober, restrained way leading to very well-supported conclusions. I have to think that Freud would, perhaps grudgingly, admire the case she has built.

Her conclusions are that Freud, as stoic a man as it is possible to imagine (he lived in constant pain from 1923, when cancer of the jaw was first diagnosed, leading to an endless series of sometimes brutal surgical interventions and to the wearing ever after of an ill-fitting prosthesis), grew early in life to hate feeling dependent on anyone and to hate feeling helpless or muddled (which is why he refused drugs to deal with his pain until the last few days of his life in September 1939 when he finally asked his physician for enough morphine to be injected to allow his life to move peacefully to its close). Freud associated "religion" with an infantile sense of helpless dependency on a paternal figure onto whom we project hopes for protection and eternal solicitude. Given, Rizzuto documents, an unreliable father in Jakob who left Freud feeling helpless at two crucial periods in his life, he seems to have rejected God because of his belief that God is simply unreliable and untrustworthy, just as his father was.

In the next installment we will turn to the new edited collection, Ana-María Rizzuto and the Psychoanalysis of Religion: The Road to the Living God, which does to Rizzuto and her book what she just finished doing to Freud and the Future of an Illusion

Continues. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Bible and the Trinity

The Catholic University of America Press sent me their newest catalogue, which contains several books of interest, including one set for release early in 2018: The Bible and Early Trinitarian Theology, eds. Christopher A Beeley and Mark E Weedman.

A number of prominent scholars are featured in the book, including the Orthodox priest and scholar Bogdan G. Bucur of Duquesne University.

About this scholarly collection we are told:
The past thirty years have seen an unprecedented level of interest in early Christian biblical interpretation, from major scholarly initiatives to more popular resources aimed at pastors and general readers. The fields of Biblical Studies and Patristics/Early Christian Studies each arrived at the study of early Christian biblical interpretation largely from their own standpoints, and they tend to operate in relative isolation from one another. This books aims to bring the two fields into closer conversation, in order to suggest new avenues into the study of the deeply biblical dimension of patristic theology as well as the contribution that patristic exegesis can make to contemporary views of how best to interpret the Bible.
Based on a multi-year consultation in the Society of Biblical Literature, The Bible and Early Trinitarian Theology features leading scholars from both fields, who bring new insights to the relationship between patristic exegesis and current strategies of biblical interpretation, specifically with reference to the doctrine of the Trinity. Following an account of how each field came to study patristic exegesis, the book offers new studies of Trinitarian theology in Old Testament, Johannine, and Pauline biblical texts and the patristic interpretation of them, combining the insights of modern historical criticism with classical historical theology. It promises to make a valuable contribution to both fields, suggesting several new avenue into the study of early biblical literature and the development of Trinitarian theology.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Jesuits and Casuists: A Note on Understanding Amoris Laetitia

I was on a panel last spring with Matthew Ashley of Notre Dame talking about Francis's methods as pope, and alluded in passing to a book that very much bears mentioning now in light of this endlessly jejune furor in the Catholic Church over Amoris Laetitia. It is a book I read twenty years ago now in a graduate class on the history of ethics, and has remained with me both as a wonderfully written and deeply fascinating work of history, but also as a clear reminder of the importance of treating cases on their own terms, something which the Catholic tradition used to pride itself on doing. I went back to it for my lecture last spring, and found that it described, in often uncanny ways, the approach of Pope Francis to moral questions in the aforementioned exhortation and elsewhere.

Published in 1990 by the University of California Press, this book remains very timely in the Catholic Church today. I submit you cannot understand how and why Pope Francis operates as he does until you read Stephen Toulmin and Albert Jonsen in The Abuse of Casuistry: A History of Moral Reasoning.

Equally I submit you cannot understand why his opponents (including authors of that "filial correction") are driven to apoplexy by the man until you realize, thanks again to Jonsen and Toulmin, that this pope is not content with abstract denunciations or universal declarations that fail to discern their particular applications in the context of individual lives. As the authors note of the early Jesuit leaders, "they prepared their charges to meet problems of conscience with 'discernment'--a favourite Jesuit word." Anyone who has read and listened to Pope Francis knows that 'discernment' remains if not his favourite word then certainly one of his most frequently uttered. He is a Jesuit casuist of the old school. Understand that and you understand something fundamental about the man.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Churches of Ethiopia

As I commented back in May, it is high time that we are at long last seeing serious studies in English devoted to the fascinating world of Ethiopian Christianity.

Along comes another lavishly illustrated study set for release this autumn: Ethiopia: The Living Churches of an Ancient Kingdom by Philip Marsden and Mary Anne Fitzgerald; eds. Carolyn Ludwig and Morris Jackson; photographs by Nigel Pavitt, Frederic Courbet, Justus Mulinge, Carol Beckwith, and Angela Fisher (American University of Cairo Press, 2017), 544pp. + 875 colour illustrations.

About this book we are told:
The ancient Axumite Kingdom, now a part of Ethiopia, was possibly the first nation in the world to convert to Christianity. In AD 340 King Ezana commissioned the construction of the imposing basilica of St. Mary of Tsion. It was here, the Ethiopians say, that Menelik, son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, brought the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments. By the fifth century, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church had spread beyond Axum into the countryside, aided by nine saints from Byzantium, and over the next ten centuries a series of spectacular churches were either built or excavated out of solid rock in the region, all of them in regular use to this day. Lalibela, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has the best known cluster, but the northern state of Tigray, less famous and more remote, has many churches that are masterpieces of design.
Ethiopia: The Living Churches of an Ancient Kingdom traces the broad sweep of ecclesiastical history, legend, art, and faith in this sub-Saharan African kingdom and describes some seventy of the most breathtaking churches, with their astounding architecture, colorful decoration, and important religious festivals, all illustrated by more than eight hundred superb color photographs by some of the most celebrated international photographers of traditional cultures. This magnificent, large-format, full-color volume is the most comprehensive celebration yet published of the extraordinary Christian architectural and cultural heritage of Ethiopia.

Monday, September 25, 2017

New Russian Saints and Old Soviet Memories

Today is listed as the official release date of a book that I'm greatly looking forward to reading. I was at a conference last March--the Association for the Study of Eastern Christian History and Culture at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio--and heard an enthralling if alarming paper about attempts in certain circles in Russia today to canonize Rasputin, Stalin, and a sordid cast of others from the Soviet period. That is but a more egregious example of a temptation that besets us all, I think--to romanticize the past, its uglier aspects forgotten by us, whether deliberately or not, or at least softened enough as to be undergo what Freud called abreaction.

In any event, this book looks set to raise all sorts of fascinating issues about historical memory and its uses and abuses: Karin Hyldal Christensen, The Making of the New Martyrs of Russia: Soviet Repression in Orthodox Memory (Routledge, 2017), 256pp.

About this book we are told:
Following the end of the Soviet Union the Russian Orthodox Church greatly increased the number of saints, taking the total from the approximately 300 canonised in the previous one thousand years to over 2,000 by 2006. This book explores this interesting phenomenon. It outlines the process of canonisation, examines how saints are venerated, and relates all this to how Russian people choose to remember the Soviet Union and commemorate its victims. The book includes in-depth case studies of particular saints and their veneration.

The publisher also gives us the table of contents:
Introduction
Part I: Canonization:
1. Canonization as an Exercise of Power
2. The Grand Narrative of New Martyrdom
3. Separating the Sheep from the Goats
Part II: Iconization:
4. Aesthetics, Genres and Modes
5. Hagiography as a Plea for Imitation and an Argument for Sainthood
6. Depicting Sainthood
Part III: Veneration:
7. Butovo, the Making of a Site of Memory
8. Venerating and Missionizing New Martyrs
9. Saints, Victims and Perpetrators
Conclusion

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Psychoanalysis of the Living God (I)

One of the most famous case studies Freud ever wrote was about the so-called Wolf Man. It featured, so we later learned, a Russian man who had grown up in an Orthodox household. (Freud's Russian connections are well documented in a book I noted here.) This patient's case was one of the early places where Freud wrote about "religion" and did so without any of the hostility he was later accused of, not least after the 1927 publication of Future of an Illusion.

That book has been wildly misunderstood, largely by Christians who were handed an over-easy excuse ever after to ignore or malign Freud, or worse still to malign him based on their ignorance of what he actually wrote. That book has also cemented the strong perception that all subsequent psychoanalytic thought and psychoanalysts themselves are hostile to Christianity.

In a lecture I gave this week in Iowa to the Mercy College of Health Sciences, and in a forthcoming short essay for the Catholic Herald of London, I have attempted to show not only that there is really nothing in Freud that is hostile to faith, but that there is a very great deal to be welcomed by Christians, not least, as Paul Ricoeur noted, in Freudian "iconoclasm" which purifies faith of false and neurotic idols so that we can have a fighting chance of seeing and believing in God as He really is.

Another figure in France who has also grasped this is Elisabeth Roudinesco, author of the short but important book Why Psychoanalysis (2001) where she notes, inter alia, that Freud, as the "father of doubt," should be welcomed by all those who are suspicious, as Christians ought to be, of the homogenizing and commodifying tendencies today of globalized capitalism with its many hidden illusions and idols.

In my lecture and forthcoming article, I noted a half-dozen analysts who were themselves Christian, including the Jesuit psychiatrist and analyst William Meissner, author of a number of very substantial clinical and spiritual works including, inter alia, Psychoanalysis and Religious Experience as well as To the Greater Glory: A Psychological Study of Ignatian Spirituality.

The "Anglo-Catholic" (Episcopalian) Stanley Leavy wrote a short and very moderately useful book, In the Image of God: A Psychoanalyst's View.

Karl Stern, whose life has been recently told in a good new biography by Daniel Burston, which I reviewed here, is almost totally forgotten now but was in the 1950s and 1960s the most important person to link Catholicism and Freudian thought in critical and helpful ways. Stern took a no-nonsense approach to Freud and God, dismissing Freud's atheism as a "tragic historical accident" and his attempts as philosophizing about God as "amateurish and contradictory." All this, and a great deal more, is discussed by Burston in great detail in his welcome study, A Forgotten Freudian: The Passion of Karl Stern.

A few years after Stern's death in 1975, Ana-Maria Rizzuto published her landmark work The Birth of the Living God: a Psychoanalytic Study in 1979. Rizzuto, who taught in Catholic parishes in Argentina after an upbringing there in a traditional Catholic family, came to Boston to complete medical and analytic training, where she has practiced ever since. Her research as a young clinician was with patients and their concepts of God, which she describes with great sensitivity in this book, drawing in particular of the insights of D.W. Winnicott to show, pace Freud, that "God" was not an infantile illusion born of a neurotic search for a protective paternal figure but, rather, a "transitional object" necessary to the mind as it is trying to understand the world and its relationship to the world beyond itself.

In 1998, Rizzuto published another very significant book, Why Did Freud Reject God?: A Psychodynamic Interpretation which treated Freud very respectfully and did not at all try to catch him out or subject him to an amateurish "turning of the tables" (or, perhaps better, of the couch) as she answered the question in her title.

Rizzuto's work has been only this year getting some overdue engagement in a new book the publisher sent me last week: Ana-María Rizzuto and the Psychoanalysis of Religion: The Road to the Living God, eds. Martha J. Reineke and David M. Goodman (Lexington Books, 2017), xix+207pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Ana-María Rizzuto’s groundbreaking explorations of the formation of God representations in early childhood and their elaboration throughout the life cycle have made their mark, enriching the practice of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, as well as scholarship within the psychoanalytic study of religion. Accompanied by illuminating commentaries by Rizzuto, the authors of this edited collectione essays in this volume underscore Rizzuto’s most important contribution to clinical practice: rather than assert that psychoanalysis is incompatible with religious beliefs and practices or with spiritual concerns that patients may bring to a therapeutic context, Rizzuto makes room for the coexistence of psychoanalysis and religion in the therapeutic setting. Demonstrating how Rizzuto’s work has enhanced connections within and among psychoanalytic theories of religion, established pathways for new developments in psychotherapy, and facilitated interdisciplinary conversations, this volume showcases the compelling power of Rizzuto’s work and its ongoing influence.
I'm about half-way through it, and it is a welcome and lucid study about which I shall have more to say in subsequent installments.

Continues. 

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.
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