Friday, February 6, 2009

An update on the encyclopedia drama...

Susan Spilka of Wiley-Blackwell has graciously responded to my last post about the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization. She has copied a letter that Wiley-Blackwell has been sending to contributors into the comment section, and I'll repost it here as well.

Thankfully some doubts about Kurian's email have been vindicated. Certainly there is discrimination of various sorts out and about in academia today, but the list of editorial board members supposedly guilty in this situation seemed a bit too respectable to be engaged in this sort of thing. The idea that W.-B. would completely overturn the project, rather than make necessary edits and republish, seemed a bit of a stretch as well.

I do hope the folks at Wiley-Blackwell will understand my concern to pass on Kurian's letter, especially given the qualifiers that prefaced it. It seemed important to get the story to light, precisely so that such corrections to the record can be made. This mess will, I hope, be taken care of well, and I'll be sure to report back when the finished project is out.

I would say, to those of you who hold the original edition of this work... it may be nice to keep it for purely bibliophilic interest. A recalled encyclopedia of this stature doesn't come along all that often!

Below is the letter that Ms. Spilka provided:

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.”


  1. Thanks for the update. As an editor myself I had a hunch that there was likely more to the story, particularly with such a respectable institution as W-B.

  2. You were right to post the letter. Further, it will keep W-B honest, cautious and transparent as things go forward. It will put pressure on the process of editing to ensure that it counters the claims of Kurian. This will do much to restrain the hand that would desire to transpose articles into a purely secular key. They will know that contributors and others will be watching the process and product closely, which I believe will create the crucible for a better encyclopedia.

  3. Over the past 24 hours I’ve communicated with trusted colleagues and fellow contributors to the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization who have in fact confirmed in my view the late but necessary decision of Wiley Blackwell to withhold publication of the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization. I want to assure you that not only have my concerns been addressed, given what I now know, I also would affirm the integrity and decision of Wiley Blackwell. That said, that doesn’t excuse the publishers for letting a volume of this stature be printed without proper vetting, but given the bad press is it not fair that "...upon a pillory - that all the world may see, A just desert for such impiety."

    A good lesson to us all.

  4. Maybe there is a need for new updates. See