Friday, February 6, 2009

Blackwell scraps encyclopedia under pressure from objections

UPDATE (2/18): A number of blogs and articles have linked to clavi non defixi over the last two weeks concerning the encyclopedia.  Often these referring sites have only linked to this first post, which only discusses Kurian's original protestation.  More information has surfaced since the time of my writing this post, although many discussions of the matter only seem interested in hearing Kurian's side of the story.  Please see here, here, and here in addition to the following post.

I received the following email about the
Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization. I have not read any of the articles from this encyclopedia, nor have I verified anything said below. I do know a number of the contributing authors, however, and the matter seemed of enough concern to post the email here for the purposes of dissemination. If I hear any important updates or matters of correction, I'll publish as needed.

As a matter of summary, a substantial encyclopedia slated for 2009 (and released at AAR/SBL) has faced objections from prominent members of its editorial board for being “too Christian, too orthodox, too anti-secular and too anti-Muslim and not politically correct enough for being used in universities.” The encyclopedia has been pulled by the publisher, and existing copies are being sought out and destroyed.

If anyone has more information on this, please share. I do hope the situation isn't as extreme as the email makes out, but if it is then there's much to be concerned over. I find it odd that such respected scholars would act in so extreme a fashion, but again, I don't know anything personally about the matter. We'll see how things play out. If you have the set, keep it! If you're involved with the project in some way, take action as necessary.

I am sorry to report a looming crisis in the publication of the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization.

ECC was successfully completed in September 2008. It was completed a year ahead of schedule and in four volumes instead of the contractual three. It was edited, copyedited, factchecked, proofread and finally approved by Blackwell’s editorial team. It was printed and bound and then launched at AAR and SBL where it received high praise. It was also lauded and endorsed by Edwin Yamauchi and Mark Noll and others. I have a copy of the set with me.

Then the devil struck in the form of a wrecking crew of seven malcontents led by David Morgan and Bernard McGinn and some members of the editorial board. They determined that the Introduction and many of the entries were “too Christian, too orthodox, too anti-secular and too anti-Muslim and not politically correct enough for being used in universities.” Under mounting
pressure from the powerful anti-Christian lobby, Blackwell Religion publisher, Rebecca Harkin and Editorial Director Philip Carpenter agreed with this assessment and (illegally) suspended the publication and began proceedings to pulp the entire edition of several thousand copies of the four-volume set just because there are a dozen references to which they do not subscribe and which ran counter to their philosophy and agenda. This is probably the first instance of mass book-burning in the 21st century.

Carpenter and Harkin now demand that not merely the Introduction but also all the other 1,450
entries should be “dechristianized” to make it politically correct before it can be reprinted. This is the most blatant form of censorship in the history of religious publishing. Carpenter, Harkin,
Morgan, McGinn and others are not merely censors but also intellectual vandals and arsonists who destroy other people’s intellectual property. They do so because of an innate hatred of orthodox Christian ideas which they view as subversive of their own universe.

Carpenter and Harkin are working hard to sabotage the project and strip it of its Christian content. Among the words or passages they want deleted are “ Antichrist”, “Enemy” (as referring to Satan), BC/AD (as chronological markers), “Beloved Disciple,” “Gates of Hell,” “Witness,” “Virgin Birth,” “Resurrection,” “Evangelism” “Harvest,” and any reference with an “evangelical tone” or citing the “uniqueness of Christ and Christianity”. They also object to historical references to the persecution and massacres of Christians by Muslims, but at the same time want references favorable to Islam. To make the treatment “more balanced”, they also want the insertion of material denigrating Christianity in some form or fashion. All these I have refused to do. So long as there are people like Carpenter, Harkin, Morgan or McGinn and publishers like Wiley-Blackwell, there will be no freedom for Christian ideas or the expression thereof. Therefore, to paraphrase Churchill, I shall fight and expose them in the courts, fight and expose them in the libraries, fight and expose them in the academia and fight and expose them in the media.

In this struggle I am seeking your support and your prayers. Specifically, I need you to do three

1. I am instituting two legal suits against Blackwell for this highhanded act of censorship. One is a class action suit on behalf of nearly 400 contributors who had worked hard for two years on this project. The suit will seek specific performance, that is, it will require Wiley-Blackwell to publish the book as originally approved and printed, without change and without censorship of its Christian content, tone and character. Blackwell has not paid any of the contributors even one cent but rather promised them copies of the set and also free online subscription. Now they will get neither. By law contributors are entitled to seek restitution for the lost income as well as penal damages for breach of contract. Beyond the financial aspects of the suit, it will send a strong message to the politically-correct establishment that we will not allow the the freedom of Christian expression to be abridged, muzzled, denied or trampled upon. I am also
filing a separate breach of contract suit on my behalf.

If you would like to join in the class action suit please send me an e-mail stating your intention to do so and I will have the attorneys send you within three months all the necessary papers. You will incur no financial costs but will share in any settlement. Please also e-mail a copy of your letter to William Pesce, president of Wiley ( and Eric Swanson, vice
president (

2. I shall appreciate writing to your colleagues, students, university librarians, editors and friends in the media and radio and television stations about this censorship and suppression of Christian expression. I shall also welcome your ideas and suggestions on helpful resources.

3. If you have received a set or any volume in the four-volume set of ECC, please do not return it to Blackwell under any circumstances.

Blessings in His Name,

George Thomas Kurian
Editor in chief, Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization
President, Christian Heritage Society
President, Forum Against PC Censorship
914 962 3287


  1. Susan Spilka, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.February 6, 2009 at 1:07 PM

    Please see below Wiley-Blackwell’s letter to the contributors of the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization.

    Dear [contributor]

    As a contributor to the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization, you may have received a copy of an email from its editor, Mr. George Kurian, which contains inflammatory allegations against Wiley-Blackwell concerning the cause of publication delay for this work.

    We would like, at this point, to give you some more information about the review of the Encyclopedia which is currently in progress, and the reasons for that review.

    Wiley-Blackwell has a leading reputation as a publisher of high quality scholarly content. We are responsible to our customers, who rely on the quality of our books, journals and other publications to meet their needs. We are also responsible to our authors, like you, who have professional reputations to protect.

    The Encyclopedia was commissioned in 2006 as a major cross-disciplinary reference work on the subject of Christian civilization. Mr. Kurian was known to us as an experienced compiler of encyclopedias, but not as a religious scholar. Accordingly, it was agreed with Mr. Kurian at the outset that an editorial board of prominent Christian theologians and scholars would be appointed to provide expert guidance on the composition of the work and its preparation for publication. Mr. Kurian approved and helped to appoint an editorial board consisting of six such experts and was responsible as Editor for overseeing the review and editing by the board members.

    Concern about the content of the Encyclopedia was first raised in November 2008, prior to publication, when we received communications from contributors about the book’s introduction, written by Mr Kurian.

    In the course of reviewing the situation with the editorial board (many of whom had similar concerns to those raised by the contributors), we learned that few if any of the contributions to the Encyclopedia were reviewed by the editorial board members as required both by high standards of scholarship and our agreement with Mr. Kurian. Instead, they were only reviewed (if at all) by Mr. Kurian himself. We have therefore asked the appointed editorial board to review the work for scholarly integrity and accuracy prior to publication—the task they were originally recruited to perform-- and the majority of the board has accepted this appointment.

    We appreciate that the review process has delayed publication and we understand the concerns of contributors to see their work published. However, we do not feel that we would be fulfilling our responsibilities to our customers or protecting your reputation as contributors if we were to publish this work before confirming that it meets standards of appropriate scholarship.

    Mr. Kurian has alleged that this review is being driven by an “anti-Christian lobby determined to ‘de-Christianise’ and censor the Encyclopedia.“ This allegation is completely without foundation. Wiley-Blackwell is a global company and is not affiliated with any lobby or group, religious or otherwise. We have promoted the freedom of expression and ideas for over 200 years and will continue to do so.

    We are sure that you will understand that it would make no sense for us to sabotage a project to which we have committed long-term investment and resources, and which we think will be valuable addition to Christian scholarship.

    We will fulfill our responsibilities as a respected scholarly publisher. We will also vigorously defend the reputation of our authors and our Company against vicious attacks that we believe are harmful and without basis.”

  2. "We are sure that you will understand that it would make no sense for us to sabotage a project to which we have committed long-term investment and resources" — on the face of it, I'd say Blackwell's story sounds a lot more likely. Anti-Christian secularism? They've published Hauerwas, for God's sake!

  3. Yes, I think so, Ben... I've posted an update on the matter including this letter, which I don't doubt is the more reliable story.

    I was hoping this would be the case, but it's still a sad situation that it had to develop this way. For the sake of the contributors to this volume, I hope that it all works out well. I have little doubt that it will.

  4. Hi, I contributed a good number of articles to the encyclopedia and have the set here. I can't give an answer, but several observations:

    a) On Kurian's side, it is very unusual that W/B already printed and published the volume, even selling it at SBL. Why all of a sudden pull the set after it's been printed, and recall all the old ones at great expense? Sorry, but something is clearly wrong here.

    b) On Blackwell's side, having read some of the encyclopedia, I do think there is probably not the clarity of editing that should have gone into this set. Also, Kurian's letter doesn't help him make the case.

    c) Sorry, Ben, just because Blackwell published Hauerwas doesn't mean anything in this situation. First, it's now Wiley calling the shots, and second, Hauerwas is a bit different culturally than many of the contributors to the encyclopedia.

    I'd also like to add that Cambridge just released a volume on Christianity that was by 'Christians' but extremely ... for atheists and Muslim readers ... at least that is what the intro said ... and really made the volume so ... not very 'Christian' so as to be unusable in a class on Christianity (unless you are teaching atheists' and muslims' perspectives on Christianity). So this kind of thing does get out of control.

    My feeling is that Kurian is mostly correct, that someone somewhere got weirded out because the in places the encyclopedia is as 'Christian' as you would find published by, say, Crossway or Broadman&Holman, and got a recall. And then Kurian overreacted (perhaps).

  5. Anonymous,

    Thanks for stopping by. While I do think that a lot of this is a matter of culture, and that something like W.-B.'s unwillingness to publish a volume of a more confessional sort can get out of control, if the editorial process was as W.-B. claims, that would seem to trump any claims of ideological differences. The editorial board protested, presumably, because their names were on something as editors that they didn't feel represented their work in editing.

    From what I gather Kurian probably has good reason for frustration- it's a frustration that many of us coming from religious backgrounds feel in the publishing game- but he also probably set himself up for this if the editorial process went as W.-B. said it went.

    I would love to see more openness in academia for more confessional writing of the sort that Kurian probably provided; I see no reason why it is less scholarly or any more committed to a pre-established bias than any other perspective, so long as it doesn't preclude objective scholarship. But... we also need to play by the rules, and it sounds like Kurian didn't entirely do so. It also sounds like W.-B. is being pretty reasonable about all this- as Susan mentions, they also have much invested in this project, and their interest is not in a straightforward bookburning, I imagine.

    That's just my take. I do hope things go well for you and the other contributors. I'm sure the finished product will turn out well.

  6. Evan,

    Since we don't know exactly at this point what happened, I won't speculate further. I too hope the review will make the set much stronger without any whitewashing.

    I have published a couple of books by both major 'Christian' and 'secular' academic publishers, and to be honest I don't really trust any publisher that much. Regardless of the Kurian thing, W-B were hardly on top of the project; I never did get my contracts from them or many of my emails answered. There were other important drops as well I won't mention in public. I'm sure W-B has target authors to whom they are more professional. The point is not to speak bad of W-B but to say that there is probably alot of blame to go around. And, no, I'm not Kurian nor am I on his side (his email was very unprofessional). Both Kurian and W-B left me very unconvinced.

    Sorry I must remain anonymous but I have found out these posts 'stick around' for a long time!

  7. I think this argument stems from two different ideas about what the Encyclopedia should be.

    The first (editors) view is that it should be unbiased and objective. For example, an Encyclopedia on Islamic Civilizations written in this way would attribute both the good and bad effects in a historically accurate and dispassionate manner.

    The second (protestors) view is that it should be a broader but still Biblical tome, and thus unashamedly evangelical.

    Both have their merits, but it all depends what the consumer is looking for -- do they want an objective view of Christian Civilization or a Christian's view of Christian Civilization?

    If you were a college and wanted to include an Encyclopedia on Islamic Civilization, which would you prefer: an objective or Islamic perspective?

  8. R. Hampton wrote...[...] Exactly. Most good libraries would like to purchase both and many can't. My guess is that Wiley sensibly recognized that many libraries are going to go with Cambridge version and made the decision to scrap the pro-Christian version. The case can be made that Wiley should present their Encyclopedia as an avowedly evangelical academic tome, with a short page of introduction explaining capitalization, etc.

    My guess is good scholars will cite and discuss both. Wiley should rethink this decision.

  9. Casting the matter as between and "objective" versus a "Christian" Encyclopedia I would argue presents a false dichotomy. The question is what sort of narrative, language and symbolic frameworks shape the rationality and 'objectivity' of the works. Kurian's argument is that Wiley has opted for a framework fundamentally opposed to the collection proposed. If that is true, then I think he has both a legal and philosophic case that not only is Wiley's position anti-Christian but also obscurantist and anti-intellectual. On the other hand, Wiley can vindicate themselves if they can show that their further editing strengthened the work in a fair and open manner.

    Personally, I would hope that for their own sake that Wiley would put together a theologically and globally diverse editorial committee who would work toward consensus to ensure that the academic, intellectual and theological content, integrity and quality of the articles are retained. If this is done and the volume is improved, then I am sure that the volume will be received by the public and the contributors warmly, even as Kurian’s complaint recede. If, however, the volume is bowdlerized to conform to a particular ideological secular bias or politically correct slant, then it will leave Wiley Blackwell subject to severe and in my view legitimate criticism. Again, Wiley Blackwell deserves the benefit of doubt to this point, but in all fairness given the last minute withdrawal of the volume and communication only after the fact of Kurian’s complaint it is not surprising that this has raised serious concerns.

  10. Wiley-Blackwell's letter in response says, "We are sure that you will understand that it would make no sense for us to sabotage a project to which we have committed long-term investment and resources, and which we think will be valuable addition to Christian scholarship."

    On the surface, that statement makes sense; however, a reasonable person would also assume that if Wiley-Blackwell is committing long-term investment and resources to a project which they think will be a valuable addition to Christian scholarship THE EDITORIAL BOARD WOULD HAVE DONE WHAT THEY WERE CHARGED WITH DOING, that is reviewing the material prior to publication." At the very least, a reasonable person would assume that the editorial board would review the instructions for submission to ensure that contributors are aware of limitations which will be imposed on their writings.

    Instead, it seems as though Wiley-Blackwell is changing the set of rules after many contributors have complied with them. A reasonable person might wonder if some of those contributors would have refused participation if the set of rules had been different from the outset.

    If I were on a jury hearing litigation involving this situation, Wiley-Blackwell would not be sitting in a very comfortable position.

  11. Hello, I'm a contributor. In response to Kurian's email, I asked him to give me some exact examples of passages WB objected to, and the precise objections. I said, in these cases, sometimes people feel they've been discriminated against, but actually, it is a question of quality. He has not responded.

    So I'm left in doubt about whether this is really a case of PC censorship, or a matter of quality.

    At the same time, it was obvious to me as a contributor that this was always intended as a pro-Christian dictionary, and it surprises me that editors and contributors suddenly raised problems at the very end of the process, after it was printed. I don't think this was fair to Kurian.

  12. I am a contributor and wish that people could read the Introduction that Kurian authored for the Encyclopedia. It contained unChristian sentiments toward Muslims and others and was full of historical inaccuracies. Wiley Blackwell did well by refusing to publish it. They should have caught the problem early on. If Kurian had made use of the editorial committee as he was supposed to have done, this never would have happened. He made the mess himself and now he's trying blame it on some nonsense about anti-Christian bias. That is simply not true.