Friday, February 13, 2009

Statement from Wiley-Blackwell about the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

First, thanks to all for your input on this situation. I'm glad we've had some contributors speak from their experience, and it's been helpful to move past accusations to really find out what happened. Susan Spilka of Wiley-Blackwell has gotten in touch with me again and asked that I post the following statement about the encyclopedia:

"The publication of Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization, which Blackwell Publishing Limited (now part of Wiley-Blackwell) contracted in 2006 as a major cross-disciplinary reference work, has been delayed to enable the review by its Editorial Board that was envisioned at the outset of this project. At that time, the Encyclopedia's Editor, George T. Kurian, approved and helped to appoint an Editorial Board of prominent theologians and scholars to perform this responsibility.

After serious concerns were raised by contributors about the Introduction, which was written by Mr. Kurian, we contacted members of the Editorial Board directly for feedback. We learned that Mr. Kurian did not engage the Editorial Board in the manner we had agreed to at the beginning of the publishing process; therefore, we requested that they perform these responsibilities to ensure that the Encyclopedia meets Wiley-Blackwell's standards of scholarship. We acknowledge that we should have been aware of the shortcut Mr. Kurian took in his editorial process sooner, but that does not change our responsibility to rectify the situation now.

We will not speculate on the outcome of the Editorial Board's review. No decision has yet been made about the inventory that is being stored in our distribution facilities.

While we understand and share the concerns of contributors to the Encyclopedia regarding the delay, we must fulfill our responsibilities as a respected global publisher. We sincerely appreciate that many of the Encyclopedia's contributors have taken the time to understand the issues that we and the Editorial Board are attempting to address, rather than making hurtful and damaging accusations."

Some thoughts of my own:
  1. Note that the volumes in inventory have not been pulped/burned. This is not "the first bookburning of the 21st century." Even if they were or will be, however, this is an editing job late in the game, rather than censorship.
  2. Note that the "editing job late in the game" is occurring because editing did not happen at the proper point in the process, when Kurian and Wiley-Blackwell had previously agreed it would occur. While it may be plausible to fault Wiley-Blackwell for not being aware of this, one wonders whether a publisher would immediately think to verify whether the editorial board had actually been consulted during the editorial process. Presumably there's a basic level of mutual trust whereby the publisher wouldn't consider itself obligated to look over the shoulder of the editor every step of the way.
  3. The contributors apparently raised initial concerns about the project, rather than anyone from the editorial board.
  4. While Wiley-Blackwell offers its apologies for the delay this presents to anxious contributors, we should also remember that the encyclopedia was finished and in print well ahead of schedule. If you look at many online book distributors, the encyclopedia isn't even slated to come out until later this year. So, while it was kind of the publisher to offer this note of regret, it shouldn't at this point be a matter of great concern to contributors in the first place. Perhaps a disappointment after thinking that the print date would be earlier than expected, but most CV's of contributors that I've seen still have their articles listed as forthcoming anyway.
  5. As I count it, we have two public statements posted by Wiley-Blackwell about the matter, and one private email of Kurian's that has since been distributed further and reported upon publicly. For those who continue to question the veracity of Wiley-Blackwell's case, we cannot forget the rather extensive accusations that Kurian has made, nor the fact that he has not responded (publicly) to Wiley-Blackwell's description of his editorial process.

UPDATE: Edward Feser notes a few more places that have picked up on the story. Most of this is just rehashing what has already been said, but I'm posting it here because of the CNA article with some more comments by Kurian. While he doesn't seem to offer too much in the way of new information, has has indeed spoken publically again about the matter.

1 comment:

  1. Evan, thanks again for your updates on this interesting situation. You make a good point in #2; in the case of multi-author books that have an external general editor, there is usually an understanding that the general editor will function in the role that an in-house editor normally would. (I am currently working with three such situations.) Along with that, of course, comes the expectation that the general editor will adhere to the publisher's standard policies and procedures. Publishers therefore place a considerable amount of trust in their general editors to function on their behalf.