Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Religio Academici

While poking around in the catalog of Akadémiai Kiadó this afternoon, I ran across an interesting looking book of essays that I thought would be worth highlighting here.

Religio Academici offers the proceedings of a conference discussing a 1938 essay of the same title, written by Károly Kerényi... whom I gather may be well enough known to classics scholars, although the name was new to me. The symposium discusses matters of faith and reason and the relationship between religion and scholarly work, with the nature of skepticism as the underlying theme. The volume does not seem to be at the University of Chicago, and I can't even locate it on WorldCat, so I may just have to order a copy for myself.

Two of the editors also have forthcoming studies of some interest. Miklós Vassányi has a book in the International Archives of the History of Ideas series (great series... sort of pricey) on the concept of the World Soul. Peter Losonczi has a co-edited book with Continuum on political theology.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A few items...

  • Some interesting news in Catholic-Orthodox ecumenical dialogue, which has resumed during the pontificate of Benedict XVI after an extended hiatus. Chiesa has posted an article on the dialogue, as well as a leaked document from late 2008, which builds on the Ravenna document and discusses the thorny issue of papal primacy. Walter Kasper isn't very happy about the leak, and has stressed that this is a draft and in no way authoritative.
  • Johann Gerhard's sermons on Christ's Passion are back in print from Repristination Press, and are on sale until February 17th, when they return to the normal list price. Repristination Press is a neat little outfit that offers some translations of Lutheran scholastic works.
  • Tim Hiller is presenting at the University of Chicago Theology Workshop, and his paper is up now for viewing. Note that the workshop has changed the date for his lecture to Thursday, Jan. 28th, so as not to compete with all of the theology courses... which means that I'll actually be able to make it. I hope to see others there.
  • Not theology related, but the Newberry Library is advertising a number of cataloging positions for a project lasting until 2013, working with 22,000 French pamphlets, mostly published between 1780-1810.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Woodward Theological Society

I wanted to point out a new theological presence that is being established in Metro Detroit. The Woodward Theological Society will seek to fill a need for theological reflection, resourcing, and training in the Detroit area. The steering committee has been hard at work pulling together what looks to be an exciting venture, and they will be officially launching their site on February 1st. At this point, you can read about the plans that they have in store here, including the possibility of conferences, a journal, and networking with regional seminaries and theological libraries to bring resources to ministers, students, theologians, and others. You can also stay in touch with them through facebook. They will be putting out a newsletter as well, and while it seems they've taken down the subscription page for it, I'm assuming that it will be back up again before too long.

Keep an eye on their site as as they go public with more of their work in early February. They'll begin by hosting some interviews with scholars who embody the work of WTS.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A few items...

  • Baker Academic is looking for a full-time editor. Robert Hand asked me to direct any responses to him... if you have any interest in or questions about this opportunity, please feel free to contact him.
  • I've just run across Academic Studies Press after cataloging two of their books for the library. The press focuses on Jewish and Slavic studies, and may be worth exploring. They have also announced a new journal, Review of Jewish Thought, for which James Robinson of the Divinity School is an editor.
  • Adam has a great post up on the complexities of teaching Christianity in the context of a culture deeply informed by Christian structures. He offers some helpful reflections on recent interest in "global Christianity" as well as the awkwardness of how to deal with a religion so close to home in the United States, especially in universities that are not religiously affiliated.
  • The ACNA has released a communiqué from their first annual provincial council.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

There will always be orthodoxies... Wheaton, free inquiry, etc.

(The picture to the right is from a restroom wall here at the library. It seems we might be in the midst of an advertising blitz here at Wheaton!)

The "Whither Wheaton?" article has received a lot of attention; I actually got to it a week late, and now Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed has gotten a hold of it and filed it under a headline of "Academic and Publishing Freedom". This is what I wanted to discuss.

Insiders & Outsiders
For those who are a part of the Wheaton community, reading these sorts of critiques can be a delicate matter. There is much to be said about current affairs here, but as Chignell points out, it makes all the difference in the world whether one comments as an insider or as an outsider. I read Chignell's piece with some comfort that he had an interest in and commitment to the good of Wheaton. I read Jaschik with a little bit more suspicion, because he is an outsider. Jaschik's piece ended up being just fine and didn't offer anything all that controversial, but the default suspicion was there nonetheless, and I think it's perfectly appropriate to harbor such suspicions.

Apart from institutional concerns, people have to keep in mind that there are even deeper bonds in play here than those between administrators, faculty, students, and alumni. As a reader of Chignell's critique, one thing that lingered in my thoughts was the fact that Stan Jones (the provost of Wheaton College who features prominently in the article) and probably half of the Christianity Today staff (whose CEO killed the article's original release in Books & Culture) are fellow parishioners at the church we attend. We went through the membership class with Stan Jones. One of our priests holds an executive position at Christianity Today, and many other staffpeople are involved in our church community (to clarify- as far as I know, the CEO of Christianity Today does not attend our church, and no one who does attend played a role in cutting Chignell's article).

These are people of whom I think well. They are kind, humble, and practice a generous faith. Yet for those who only know them from the pages of critical articles, a much different picture is formed. I may disagree just as firmly with any given decision that the administration makes, but there are faces and hearts behind that decision that are not immediately apparent to Scott Jaschik or any other outside commentator, however fair and balanced.

There will always be orthodoxies
At our orientation for the University of Chicago Divinity School in April 2008, the dean gave a speech that he probably offers in some form or another for each new cohort of students. The basic message centered around his assertion that "here at the Divinity School there is only one orthodoxy: there are no orthodoxies." Of course it's a little cliché, but his point is a fair one to make. The Divinity School seeks to defend a strong commitment to inquiry free of doctrinal constraint. On the whole I think they do a decent job of achieving such an environment.

But let's be serious. There will always be orthodoxies, and no one should be surprised about this fact. Just as there are delicate matters of orthodoxy here at Wheaton, they are present at the Swift Hall as well, and anywhere else. I feel no less constrained by the academic culture in Hyde Park than I do here in Wheaton- the constraints are simply different (much different!), and based on certain understandings of communal orthodoxies, whether written or unwritten.

This is why I have a problem with Jaschik's perspective on Wheaton, which seems to operate primarily through a prism of "academic freedom". While I'm happy to stand as a proponent of free inquiry, I think the idea has become overused and unhelpfully grandiose in its connotation. Troublesome as it was that Chignell's article was rejected by Christianity Today, that's just the politics of publishing, folks. If that constitutes a repression of ideas, then it is a very anemic sort of repression. One publication withdraws its support for an article, perhaps for political reasons, and the article ends up online a few weeks later to a rather impressive reception from readers and other publishing venues. That hardly warrants comparison to the index of some Inquisition (a comparison I've seen made repeatedly in various comment sections). For those who aren't aware, Stan Jones' latest book was also rejected from a number of non-religious publishing outfits for the explicitly stated reason of being too politically dangerous a venture. Eventually his work was put out by InterVarsity Press. This was a book involving some considerable amount of preparation, not an article that took a few months to research and write. So it's not as if the Wheaton administration is unfamiliar with being at the receiving end of constraints of orthodoxy.

Competing orthodoxies are inevitable, and it's either disingenuous or naive to act as if a pure stance of free inquiry and discourse is alive and well in any corner of the academy, or even should be. Critical discourse implies constraints of all different sorts if it is to remain critical. Some of these constraints will be political, dogmatic, or ideological... that is, not based on reasonably neutral assumptions or universally accepted objective rules. These constraints will always be in the process of negotiation, but I think that all sides would benefit from recognizing that such negotiation sits amidst the fray of discourse, and never stands above everything as some transcendent ideal... of "free inquiry" or of anything else.

Where I sit amidst this particular fray of discourse
As I said in my previous post, I think that Chignell's article is wonderful and it fits my views pretty well. I've also said above that I think Jaschik's piece was reasonable and fair to the whole situation as far as outside perspectives go. So my above comments aren't meant to dismiss these critiques, but merely to offer some cautions and minor disagreements.

Those who have read clavi non defixi for a while might think that I'm a bit contradictory about these matters, and I may be. In the past I've written in support of (or at least in sympathy with) various institutional censures or dismissals of theologians or other thinkers. I've even put in a good word or two for the CDF. At the same time, I've posted articles about academic freedom often enough, and offered my share of criticism of the CDF and other more local bodies of institutional enforcers. In private conversations about Wheaton with my wife, I can tell you that I tend to be the one bending over backwards to defend Litfin and the rest of the administration (much to her frustration!). And I imagine, if my wife were the one being supportive of the administration, I would find myself bending over backwards to criticize it for some decision or another.

This may be contradictory, but more than anything else I think it reflects my view that, in the vast majority of cases, these disputes over institutional identity and orthodoxy are relative to critical discourse as much as they are foundational to it. I'm generally unconvinced by grand meta-ethical accounts or transcendental arguments concerning the basic principles of free inquiry and discourse. I'm happy for people to advance these sorts of projects as a matter of rhetorical strategy, because talk of universal academic ideals and virtues and whatnot certainly has a significant effect on the intellectual formation of scholars and scholarly communities. But at the end of the day, what we're talking about is not some universal cause, however praiseworthy or convincingly sloganized. We're talking about fellow parishioners, or friends, or intellectual partners and exchangers of ideas. We're talking about the mechanics of different communities that work well towards different (though by and large, probably pretty similar) goals of discourse and inquiry.

There is still much to critique about Wheaton (or any other institution). There is still much to be hashed out as the process of selecting a new president and reforming administrative practice continues. But we should continue with these challenges aware of the fact that there are very little unquestionably "right" or "wrong" stances with which to identify oneself as regards such broad things as "academic inquiry" or "freedom of [activity of present concern]". Problems of communal practice strike me as decidedly more complex, and less aloof, than that.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Whither Wheaton?

Andrew Chignell has a fabulous essay up about Wheaton College as it searches for its next president. Chignell discusses the 17 year tenure of Duane Litfin in a good bit of detail and gets into some issues that I had not heard about before, involving dismissal of professors, the tightening of various institutional orthodoxies, and faculty governance. At the same time he is quite fair to the administration and to Wheaton College more generally- acknowledging good decisions that have been made and deferring to faculty on their opinions. In the end, however, it becomes quite clear what sorts of difficulties have been constraining the College, and what sorts of concerns and hopes accompany the end of Litfin's presidency and the beginning of a new one. I think it hits the feelings of many folks here perfectly, myself included.

The piece is certainly critical, but it's critical from a position of one who is a part of the Wheaton community and who deeply cares about the school's future. For this reason, it is even more surprising to find out that Chignell's essay was originally written for - in fact invited and eagerly accepted by! - the evangelical magazine Books & Culture. At the last minute, however, the CEO of Christianity Today threw numerous unexplained hurdles at Chignell before pulling the plug on the project completely, requiring him to publish the essay in its present online format. You can read the whole story of Christianity Today's rejection of the essay here.


From the article:

Some members of the board of trustees were apparently alarmed in 1992 when the college newspaper reported that well over half the faculty was voting Democratic, and that membership in mainline Protestant denominations—especially the Episcopal Church—was on the rise. Wary of both Clintonism and Canterbury, these trustees began to see the college as on a slippery slope towards Oberlin, with the professors supplying much of the lubrication. In response, and without substantive consultation with the faculty, the board appointed a pastor from Memphis named Duane Litfin over candidates with widespread support and stronger academic credentials. Most prominent of these alternates was the then-Provost of Notre Dame, Nathan Hatch, himself a Wheaton alumnus and Trustee who was reportedly being groomed by the outgoing president, J. Richard Chase, to be his successor. (After the Litfin surprise, Hatch resigned from the board and later went on to become president of Wake Forest.)

“The trustees made their statement bringing Litfin in,” says Jeffrey Greenberg, professor of geology. “It was generally believed that they wanted a doctrinal policeman to keep us from going too liberal.”

[...]

How magisterial must an administration be regarding the interpretation of core commitments in order to keep the institution on course? Or, put another way, how much wiggle-room for reasonable, charitable differences in interpretation can be allowed while still preserving a school’s distinctive confessional character?

The question has been answered in one way over the last 17 years, and the results (as with all administrations, perhaps) have been decidedly mixed. The new president’s answer to this question is likely to be the defining characteristic of his or her administration.


Make sure to read the entire essay, which is much longer and gets into many more details.

(1/20): I've also added further thoughts here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Natura Pura

In a new book out from Fordham University Press, Steve Long undertakes the ambitious goal of countering Henri de Lubac's thesis that there is no pure nature apart from grace. Natura Pura argues that "Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar erred by negating the proportionate natural end for man within the doctrine of grace. Given the loss of natura within theological method, its recovery requires philosophic instrumentalities." Long also engages with analytic thought and seeks to offer thomist alternatives, and with accusations that natura pura introduces Pelagianism.

The study should be fascinating. I'll be curious to see how the argument is handled: from the summary, Long seems to be taking a systematic approach to the problem as a philosophical issue, while the real strength of de Lubac's argument was always in the genealogies that he traced back to Aquinas or to Augustine. The difference in perspective may color the dispute in a significant way.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Academia is what it is...

Continuing the chronicles of perceived and actual university woes, reflections on the purpose of education, etc...

Samuel has a good piece on intellectual as opposed to academic vocations and the importance of recognizing the place of university life as we pursue various ends. A representative quote, I think, is this:
"I know I am called to pursue and share truth; I believe I am called to pursue and share truth in the university. Thus I order my life towards that latter, proximate end as a way of working towards the former, ultimate end."

Roland comments on an article by Melissa Gregg and also seeks, though in a rather different way than Samuel, to deflate our expectations of academia. A quote:
"But I couldn’t help noticing that Melissa actually believes in the university. She wants to change it for the better, instead of thinking outside that framework. Of course, there is a long training to get you to believe, years of undergraduate study, more years of postgraduate work, after which you are a product of the machine. As Pascal once said, kneel and you will believe (and here’s a lolly as well). The problem with believing in and giving your life to an institution is that it couldn’t give a rat’s arse for you."

I don't disagree with either of these pieces, and on top of not disagreeing with Samuel's piece I actually think it's helpful. He offers some constructive steps forward for how to think about one's intellectual calling, inside or outside of the university.

To all this I would persist in emphasizing: academia is what it is- let's not make too big a deal of it. I've been intrigued by how much unrelenting scrutiny has been brought to recent conversations about university life. Personally, I don't feel especially compelled to take continuous self-inventories of my priorities (or litmus tests? One gets that sense at Stalin's Moustache or Vulgar Marxism). I doubt that such anxiousness over proximate and ultimate ends would be present if we were talking about reforming a local government's zoning regulations, or restructuring a small non-profit organization. If we're dedicated to the useful function of a government or an organization, then we try to fix what needs fixing, and we probably don't entertain all that many existential dilemmas about our own place in these processes and whether we "believe" in them unnecessarily. All that talk strikes me as entirely too grandiose. My question, then, is why must the university be any different than a government, or a non-profit?

I imagine that academia uniquely attracts these sorts of reflections because it is so tied to things like "truth" or "free inquiry" or "progress" or other things that we value in a particular sort of way. It has also been liable in the past to confusion with these ends themselves. For this reason, it makes a lot of sense that people like Samuel are questioning whether the academic life assists or obstructs the pursuit of certain ultimate ends. It also makes sense that people like Roland reject strong "belief" in institutions and structures that are perceived to not "give a rat's arse about you".

There's no question in my mind that these reflections benefit us insofar as they foster intentionality in our working lives. My own contribution, though... perhaps a concurring opinion alongside Samuel's and Roland's... would be to say that once our priorities are all in line, once we have divested ourselves of undue faith in the university, once we have acknowledged the ancillary purpose of academic to intellectual inquiry and the decidedly tentative nature of statements about one's own place in the professoriate given the current (and probably future) job situation... once we have gone through all of this, we should come out of the process feeling free to comment, advocate, and work for the university in whatever capacity we currently stand: as graduate students, faculty, or aspirants to either position. Academia is what it is, and once we move on from the need for perpetual hand wringing about the moral import of our place within its processes, I think we should with a good conscience be able to move forward and get the job done.

That's how normal folks operate, at least. And as quirky as academic folk are, I contend that a good chunk of them probably stand somewhere within the pale of such functional normalcy (or I hope against hope, at least!).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A few items...

  • On February 3rd, the Center for Applied Christian Ethics here at Wheaton will be hosting Eddie Glaude Jr., who is speaking on "Racial Identity". If you are at all able to attend this lecture, you should- Glaude is an important thinker of the pragmatist tradition in religious studies and African American studies, and not to be missed. I was introduced to Glaude's work when we read A Shade of Blue for Kevin Hector's pragmatism seminar this past autumn. Glaude is a senior fellow at The Jamestown Project, professor of religious studies and chair of the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University.
  • New Blackfriars has put up an Editor's Choice "virtual issue" on Aquinas. Twelve articles from previous issues have been selected for re-release in pdf form online, free access.
  • The journal Ethics and the blog PEA Soup have begun a collaboration. For each new issue, the editors of Ethics will choose an article to post open-access so that PEA Soup can host a discussion on it. Given recent conversations about articles on the philosophy of religion and a suggestion from James K.A. Smith for a similar collaboration with journal publishers, I wonder if it would be worthwhile for a theology blog to look into such a possibility.
  • Following up on Adam's post and some suggestions for adjunct and grad unions, a report from a state panel in Maryland on graduate and adjunct affairs is being criticized for ignoring the possibility of unionization.
  • If my last post on the woes of the university wasn't long enough for you, there's always more to read. In the UK, there are concerns that financial restrictions will lead to significant problems in the near future, and even an exodus of professors elsewhere.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A few more thoughts on doom & revolution in the academy

My recent post, Prophets of doom and peddlers of revolution, discussed the difficult facts of structural problems in the humanities and how some people are proposing to respond to them. I didn't really offer much of substance, except to call certain discussions to peoples' attention and suggest that it is valuable to formulate some constructive intentions in response to hiring, funding, and other problems. Responses went in a number of directions, and I have not really responded to them, so I thought I'd bring together a few points here.

The Very Legitimacy of the Humanities
Although I hadn't really focused on questions of legitimacy that have been raised for the humanities, John brings up this particular aspect of the discussion. This has been a running theme at Vita Brevis, and John continues to educate me. His recent post links CHE and NYT articles on the matter, and also links to an extended post from Samuel of Lector et Auditor (more on that below). Also be sure to check out John's "On Pursuing a Career in the Humanities" from his series on religion/theology doctoral programs and his "Whither the Humanities?" on another recent NYT article.

Call off the revolution? (Or take it elsewhere, at least?)
Samuel has a very long post in response to these issues, and I'll say up front that I can't do it justice or respond to all of it here. In it he criticizes some of the assumptions and goals that have animated Adam Kotsko and my own passing-on of Adam's thoughts. The viability of fixing the system is questioned, and alternatives to the current values harbored by graduated students and young scholars are presented. A major suggestion that Samuel offers is that more PhD's should be considering teaching in a secondary school environment, and that this course shouldn't be shunned but rather embraced as an important contribution to the future of liberal education.

I think that Samuel offers a good counter to more drastic calls for change in the academy, and I agree with a lot of his points. I think that PhD's who go on to teach in high schools are a tremendous blessing to the system, and are making important use of their education that shouldn't be dismissed by the prestige complex that plagues academia. I strongly agree that people need to come to grips with the fact that there are too many doctoral students in many disciplines, and I think that the doctoral programs currently constricting their student intake will benefit from that policy in the long-run: doing so will release some pressure on the bottleneck and contribute to the quality of students that do end up going through doctoral studies. I also agree that a good deal of academia's problems have more to do with the constructed value system of scholars rather than with the institutions themselves.

That said...

With regard to the alternative possibility of secondary education, it is also important to remember that this system has problems of its own-- indeed, may be in more need of reform in the U.S. than higher education itself. That's not to say that it isn't a good idea to teach in these environments, but simply that structural problems will not go away with a shift to younger students, and that someone will have to write a similar blog post about peddling revolution in the younger grades.

Also, we shouldn't assume that callings to teach are necessarily the same for everyone. Elitism in the academy should not blind us to the fact that there are people who sincerely seek higher education as their vocation. For them, questions of the future structural viability of the academy are not simply self-justifications of a disordered value system, but rather responsible reflections on their vocational context. Some scholars have no wish to be high school teachers, and presumably those who teach high school should be there out of some vocational intentionality rather than simply as an alternative to university teaching.

An analogous situation is ministerial training and youth ministry... often (though this has changed as youth ministry programs in seminaries and colleges have sprouted up), parish youth ministry has been treated as a stepping stone-- as a place to sharpen the skills of the newly ordained before moving on to bigger and better things. This damages both the youth of a church and seminarians, because particular vocational callings are not being considered. In the same way, I would not want to see secondary schools as "the place that needs teachers and could benefit from products of the ivory tower who don't have anywhere else to go."

Returning to the university... for some scholars higher education is not merely a twister of personal values, but rather a place of learning that we do genuinely care about, and do wish to call our vocational home. These people should be concerned about reforming structural problems within the university, and should not be apologetic about their commitment to the institution or fall into the trap of believing that the Horowitzes of the world are the only... or even are!... viable challengers to the problems facing academia simply because they are external to it. There is an extent to which pitting a Socrates or a Kierkegaard (or some other lone vessel of the ideal of liberal thought) against the Academy is instructive and edifying for scholars. But at a certain point we either need to come to terms with the value of institutional scholarship and not feel sheepish about being passionate for its reform, or we should get on with it and work alone (which Samuel thinks is not an option... here I agree with him a good bit of the way, although I do think there are some options for independent scholars and that these options should also be nurtured. But that's another post).

Church and University
Finally, I'd like to address the issue of ministry and scholarship, and my personal intentions with regard to this dilemma. Samuel brings up the importance of teaching in the context of one's church in the same way that he brings up secondary education as an alternative to higher education. Tony Hunt has also responded rather pointedly to my original post that care for the education of clergy should take precedence over the university system. Finally, A.D. Ployd has joined us in these conversations and has also just started his own blog, devoted primarily to issues of "bridging the gap between the academic study of theology and the life of the Church".

I hope that I am sensitive to these concerns, and I don't wish to dismiss the centrality of the life of the Church for the work of theologians. But I do want to say here, as a matter of clarification, that on clavi non defixi my primary concern has been matters of academic theology and therefore of the academy. This is not because I think the academy is more important than the Church, any more than the hypothetical blog of a Christian devoted to antique cars would signal that antique cars are more important than the Church for that person. There are many other people who blog about theological matters with an emphasis on their ministry, or on the life of the Church. There are others, like A.D. Ployd, whose blogging concerns sit rather squarely in the middle of Church and Academy (or Between Athens and Jerusalem, as he so aptly titles it). And there are places like clavi non defixi that lean heavily towards academic matters.

This isn't to say that I don't welcome comments about matters of Church life here on the blog- I do! Further, I think these thoughts are important for challenging academic theologians and defining the scope of their work! But my niche as I write at clavi non defixi is decidedly and unapologetically within the academy- that's what I feel I can best contribute. That's why I've raised questions about the woes of academic institutions rather than the woes of church institutions.

...but back to the problem...

Genres of blogging aside, it may still be worth arguing, of course, that clergy should take priority in our minds over faculty. My response to that would probably be 1) there still needs to be a healthy system of institutional learning for clergy to attend, bringing us back to the original problem, and 2) like Samuel's appeal to high school teaching, we need to keep in mind the vocational integrity of professors... some are called to higher education rather than ministry in the same way that some are called there rather than to secondary education. The concerns of these people should not be deemed illegitimate or less legitimate simply because we can posit a competition between them and some other vocation. If there are problems with the academy it's probably worth asking how to fix them, regardless of the fact that there are problems in other places as well.

Thanks to all those who have offered their thoughts-- I look forward to future conversation and action on this.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Translation of Marchetto's history of Vatican II

Discussions about the identity and legacy of Vatican II have been renewed with an extraordinary amount of vigor over the past few years, perhaps because of the significance of the council for Benedict XVI and his own role as a galvanizing force for the continuity perspective (more on that below). As a generation of post-conciliar theologians ends (see Ben's recent thoughts on this with regard to Schillebeeckx), a younger generation seems to be taking its place- one that identifies itself with more traditionalist goals and a "reform of the reform". I think some of the same shifts could probably be identified in Protestantism as well. That's not to say that the older generation is of no significance in theological discourse today; Concilium, liberation, liberal, and other perspectives continue to put out good work and have even met the newer traditionalist work quite decidedly (decisively, in many cases). So I'm not at all convinced by the conservative triumphalism that simply dismisses the relevance of these voices. But I think it's fair to say that some shift of ground has occurred in the theological world.

One contribution to the new traditionalism that has been met with much praise as a watershed piece of scholarship is Archbishop Agostino Marchetto's Il Concilio ecumenico Vaticano II : contrappunto per la sua storia. In the book, Marchetto offers a "counterpoint" to the so-called Bologna School on Vatican II, which advocates an understanding of the council as a "rupture" with the past. The most well-known production of the Bologna School is the multi-volume history of Vatican II under Guiseppe Alberigo, the English edition of which is published by Orbis under the editorial care of Joseph A Komonchak.

I am generally in agreement with the continuity perspective that Marchetto advocates, though as I have mentioned above, I think that proponents of this view can often overstate their case. Marchetto seems to do so by pitting his work so decidedly against a "Bologna School", and describing a revisionist mainstream of scholarship that has marginalized those who argue that the council stood in overwhelming continuity with tradition (on this, see the superb lecture by John W. O'Malley). While there is certainly a level of liberal revisionism present in post-conciliar thought, I think that something like Ratzinger's opposition to certain liberal theologians on the interpretation of the spirit of Vatican II is much more plausible a scenario than Marchetto's opposition to certain scholars of konzilgeschichte, whether or not one personally agrees with Ratzinger or Marchetto. Unfortunately, this distinction often isn't made, and disputes in the guild of theological studies over the legacy of Vatican II can be unnecessarily carried over into historical studies that really aren't as ideologically driven as the polemicists would have you believe.

Nonetheless, Marchetto's book should be widely digested for what he claims it offers... a counterpoint to the conciliar histories of the past few decades, and especially to Alberigo. And it will soon be available in English. Shawn Tribe of the New Liturgical Movement has been following the process over the past year or so, and you can look to him if you want reports of the more triumphalist variety (one of his posts is even rather flamboyantly titled "Agostino contra Bonoienses"!!!). He has mentioned that the publication date is now Feb. 2010 rather than Nov. 2009 as listed by the University of Chicago Press (which distributes for the University of Scranton). You can find the book here.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A few items...

  • The latest volume of Baker's Texts and Studies in Reformation and Post-Reformation Thought series is out, on Luther's two kingdoms doctrine.

Question on cremation practices...

I'm straying a bit from my normal topics, but Jim West has mentioned an article about cremation and burial and I was interested in the question. While cremation is becoming more common in the U.S. (34% of people), rates of cremation amongst Evangelicals and southerners are much lower.

As far as I recall, my family tends to cremate their dead, though I think it's more common on my mother's side than my father's. I remember upsetting my girlfriend in high school with the idea that I'd probably be cremated, and she mentioned the concern about the resurrection of the body (which has always struck me as rather odd). I think my wife would be okay with me being cremated, but I don't think it is normal for her family. In the end I don't much care what happens one way or the other... I won't be dealing with me... it's just that cremation has always seemed more space-efficient.

I didn't even realize that burial procedures were all that controversial until a few of these conversations came up, so I'm somewhat fascinated by the theological import that people place on these questions. I'm also interested in the fact that the article contrasts cremation with burial. I don't know how normal it is, but every cremation that I recall from my own family involved a burial of the ashes as one would bury a coffin. Also interesting to note, the article cites Stephen Prothero as someone who thinks that cremation contradicts traditional Christian doctrine on the body.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Prophets of doom and peddlers of revolution

Over the past week or two I've seen lots of people re-posting William Pannapacker's much acclaimed/reviled article, "Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don't Go". I'm guessing that this recent renewal of interest is coming from the fact that Pannapacker has a another article out and the Chronicle has bumped up his old one to put it on display next to the new (they convey much the same message, with a little bit more thought this time about where one might go outside of the academy).

There is a valuable warning here for students, and I think the Chonicle articles are worth taking a look at. Yet criticisms that Pannapacker and others simply throw up their hands in despair when we need to do something about the problem are also worth making, and these arguments have certainly been made. Of late, by Adam Kotsko and Roland Boer (here and here).

Anyone who reads clavi non defixi knows that I'm not really much of a radical as far as calls for revolution and organizing go. But I must say that in the case of the structures at work in academia today, the Kotskos and the Boers are the only ones that I see saying anything very substantive about what the problem is and how to move forward in resolving it. They may be right or wrong (and Adam is quite clear that he's just trying to figure out what's best, and he's open to suggestions), but they certainly seem to be heading in the right direction of actually engaging with what's at stake rather than denying it or simply writing woeful articles about how terrible the situation is.

I realize that we're inundated with these state-of-the-academy reports, so I'm not trying to overburden everyone with them. But it does seem that... if this is really a problem... it would make sense to start thinking about a solution rather than continue to spin our wheels putting together the perfect CV. I made the point on An und für sich that I'm sympathetic but I don't know how much graduate students can do compared to faculty, and it may be that we need to wait for faculty senates and administrative staff to make changes with regard to budget and hiring (any faculty readers can feel free to pipe in on their thoughts here).

My only point, I suppose, is that those who see organizing and radical changes to the structure of the university as going too far (and believe me, I'm uncomfortable with it too) should at least be able to acknowledge the fact that precious little has been proposed in terms of viable alternatives. That in itself should be reason enough to take these calls seriously. From there I'd be happy to hear from others why these are not viable solutions and what a viable solution might look like. Until then, we should thank the peddlers of revolution for getting a conversation started.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Gilbert Dahan and medieval exegesis

Theologians who have some interest in medieval exegesis likely turn to Henri de Lubac's work first and foremost. Other important twentieth century scholars like Beryl Smalley may also feature prominently. These names stand apart, like Peter Brown for late antiquity or Heiko Oberman for the late medieval period. They stand apart for theologians in particular, perhaps, because these are the scholars who have made some important headway for theological work, whether it's bringing certain figures or schools of thought to the academy's attention or articulating a narrative of historical ascent or decline that is important to our framing of the tradition. Often, however, theological work fails to adequately keep up with historical research. One can get the impression that de Lubac said all there was to say on the matter, and projects of theological interpretation can simply go on from there as if nothing else is being written apart from their own constructive work.

Another name that should be added to the short list of prominent scholars of the history of exegesis is Gilbert Dahan. Dahan is probably best known for his work on Jewish intellectual history and Jewish-Christian polemic- I believe his only book so far translated into English is Christian Polemic against the Jews in the Middle Ages (Notre Dame, 1998). Dahan's 1999 L'Exégèse chrétienne de la Bible en Occident médiéval, however, is an important work for those concerned with Christian exegesis of Scriptures. When discussing the new history of exegesis examination at the University of Chicago with Prof. James Robinson this past autumn, it was the first book that he pulled off his shelf as an important one for reading lists (although it is already ten years from publication and being superseded by further studies). Dahan has recently returned to an extensive synthetic look at the landscape of medieval biblical exegesis in Lire la Bible au Moyen-Age: Essais d'herméneutique médiévale (Droz, 2009).

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A few items on journals...

  • The latest issue of the Ecclesiastical Law Journal is out.
  • Something for the theologians to read in the latest issue of JAAR. William Wood has a review essay on the recent wave of books in philosophical theology... "On the New Analytic Theology, or: The Road Less Traveled". UPDATE: The new issue of Faith & Philosophy has an exchange between James K.A. Smith and Bruce Benson on possibilities for the future of continental philosophy of religion that will also be worth reading.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Divinity School updates...


Winter course...

This Winter Quarter I'll be taking one course at the Divinity School, which will mean only being on campus once a week and a nice break from the hectic schedule of Autumn semester (which involved three days a week in the city and still trying to squeeze in a 40 hour work week here in Wheaton).

I'm looking forward to my course- it's on "The Trouble With Time", and will be led by Willemien Otten and Susan Schreiner. Following is the description provided:

This course will focus on time and temporality as an issue at the heart of Christian thought, analyzing in particular different approaches to time in the early Christian, medieval and early modern period. In doing so the course will deal with such tensions as time's flux versus eternal standstill, the force of grace in predestination versus the embrace of fortune and fate, the epiphany of incarnation versus the inevitability of judgment, and apocalyptic violence versus divine impassibility, portraying Christianity over the course of its development as incorporating various perspectives at various times. Among the authors to be discussed are: Augustine, Boethius, Joachim of Fiore, Luther, and Calvin.

Judging by the syllabus, the course seems to be structured around a good selection of primary sources, with a heavy emphasis on commentaries of Genesis and the Psalms, as well as sermons and mystical or devotional writings. The two required secondary sources listed are Janet Coleman's Ancient and Medieval Memories: Studies in the Reconstruction of the Past and M.B. Pranger's “Killing Time: An Essay on the Monastic Notion of Speed,” in Medieval Monastic Preaching, ed. Carolyn Muessing (the chapter can be found here).


Theology Workshop...
I'd also like to mention two upcoming papers that will be presented at the Theology Workshop. Next Tuesday, January 12th, Kyle Rader will be presenting on "Twelfth Century Monks, Divine Love, and the Place of Loss and Grief in Christian Life". Two weeks later, Tim Hiller will be presenting a paper titled, "A Crisis for Ethics or Ethics in Crisis? Divine and Human Agency in Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans".

Kyle and Tim are both doctoral students at the Divinity School under Kathryn Tanner. Kyle's research focuses on Augustine's trinitarian theology and love, especially from Nicaea to the 12th century, as well as Wesley and modern theology. Tim's research involves human agency and subjectivity in light of various divine attributes.

Usually the papers presented at the Theology Workshop go up online, and you can always find the workshop linked on the right sidebar with my personal information. I'll try to mention it if/when they go up. Tim and Kyle can correct me on any details above... I'd also be happy to put your papers up on clavi non defixi if you're interested in that.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A failure of theology?

Ben Myers has recently started a series of Theology FAIL posts where egregious specimens of Christian oddity or incompetence are highlighted for readers. The first post, on an essay arguing that Christians should feel free to enjoy killing under circumstances of warmaking, was well received, and so two more posts have gone up... one on Richard Swinburne's philosophical theology, and one on imprecatory prayer against President Obama.

My only question concerning this series is one of genre. Forgive me if I'm nitpicking, but this thought crosses my mind often enough, and I thought I'd mention it. I can understand the critique of Swinburne as being a "theology" fail. The critique of the "Onward Christian Soldiers" piece seems less a theological fail, although as an essay I suppose it is a piece of popular-level theological work about the ethics of war. The imprecatory prayers of a handful of uneducated pastors doesn't strike me as at all a matter of theology, however. In a very vague sense it involves the exegeting of Scripture, but if we're going to call every usage of Scripture "biblical studies", I think we lose more than we gain in determining exactly what a particularly scholarly instance of such usage entails. Should we call Oprah's book club literary criticism? Should we then consider it a failure when it fails to act like the literary criticism that goes on in university language departments?

Is something that is liable to theological critique- something upon which theology might comment- itself "theology"? Or is anything that happens to come up in the life of faith a matter of theology?

My concern is that in attempting to becoming everything, "theology" (or any other discipline) becomes nothing. And I'm not trying to assert that certain things are devalued because they don't qualify as theology. Quite the opposite, I'm trying to push against the professionalization and specialization that tends to view all things through an academic lens. I think that a blurring of the lines is often done with good intentions- with a concern for egalitarianism or a democratization of knowledge and of discourse. But knowledge and discourse don't self-evidently gain anything by being subsumed into a university discipline, nor do the disciplines necessarily gain anything by trying to become "political" or "ecclesial" or "practical" or "applied".

I remember a class discussion from last year when the text under scrutiny was something by Nietzsche, and a classmate (an MDiv student, I believe) asked something like, "Well, okay, but how can I apply this in my sermon on Sunday?" My (unvoiced!) response to this was, "Good Lord! Are people really taking home from these courses the idea that we should be preaching with Hegel, or Kant, or Nietzsche simply because we should be thinking with them?" I can sympathize with the impulse to identify theology as something that matters for the Christian life, but that doesn't mean that something that is thought-provoking or edifying in theology will necessarily be similarly important for the context of public worship. The same applies, I think, to sermons that read like a critical commentary. It's not that the academic field of biblical studies isn't important for teaching the Scriptures to a congregation... it is. But there needs to be a recognition of genre distinction and an acknowledgment that the biblical studies guild is its own community with its own raison d'être. The same goes for philosophy, or theology. Ben's previous post on theology as research also gets into some of these problems, and I responded in the comment section with some thoughts that are similar to what I've offered here.

These are just some musings on the purpose and scope of theological work, of which I think people often try to make both too much and too little. Don't take the above thoughts as any sort of blanket critique of what Ben is doing with his FAIL series... this just happened to be what suggested the issue to me. I'm not questioning whether these things deserve the "FAIL" stamp, but whether they all deserve the "Theology" stamp.

A few items...

  • Two years ago I presented a paper on Augustine, interiority, and pilgrimage at the Illinois Medieval Association, and made the acquaintance of Eugenia Russell of the Royal Holloway, University of London. Russell works in late Byzantine studies and at the IMA she was presenting on her dissertation topic, "Encomia to St Demetrius in Late Byzantine Thessalonica." Russell has since organized a conference on Late Byzantine Spirituality, and I was pleased to stumble across the published proceedings yesterday. Spirituality in Late Byzantium is out through Cambridge Scholars Press, and will be worth pursuing for those involved with Byzantine studies.
  • The Orthodox Theological Society in America will be holding its 2010 meeting in June, and the call for papers closes on January 30th. The theme for this year's conference is "Exploring the Icon of The Servant Church." Andrew Louth will be presenting the keynote lecture, on Aquinas and Eastern Orthodoxy.
  • Princeton Theological Seminary has begun a new initiative called Ad Fontes, which will focus on going back to the sources of the Reformed tradition through reading groups and discussion. The basis of the project will be McKee's recent translation of the 1541 Institutes.
  • Olivier-Thomas Venard of l'École biblique de Jérusalem has a massive new book out on Scripture. Pagina Sacra is the third of three volumes on Thomas Aquinas as theologian and poet (see v.1 and v.2), and offers an historical and theological examination of reading scripture with significant attention to christology and the eucharist. There is also an afterward by John Milbank that promises to be provocative, on the possibility of a kabbale thomiste. Venard is heavily involved with Radical Orthodoxy and has previously translated Milbank's Suspended Middle into French. He has also recently edited a volume of essays on the literal sense (mentioned this past summer).
  • Anthony Hunt has offered a very honest perspective on what it means to be caught amidst current Anglican troubles. A lot is going through my mind in response to it, and perhaps I'll comment at some point.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Radner on academic decline in the Episcopal Church

Ephraim Radner has written some thoughts on the future of Anglicanism... and in particular of the U.S. Episcopal Church... in response to the recent Anglican Covenant document. The commentary can be summed up in his remark that, "the Episcopal Church, as it has been known through the past two centuries, is no more, in any substantive sense."

Below are his comments on the situation of Episcopal seminaries and theological work. They are quite harsh, as is typical of the rest of the piece and Radner's prognoses more generally. Other than the problems at Seabury-Western, I don't know enough to confirm or dispute anything that he says here. While it would be easy to dismiss his comments about intellectual laziness amongst pastors and professors (especially so because he makes these accusations in such unspecified terms), I think that they're worth reading as a caution and at least as a challenge- warranted or not- to the possibility of a damaging status quo.

I have also wondered about the future of the Anglican Theological Review, given the institutional woes of the Episcopal Church. Radner doesn't discuss ATR in particular. Perhaps my concern is misplaced; I think I associate ATR with Seabury-Western because of Ellen Wondra's editorial leadership, but I'm not sure to what extent the journal is tied to the seminary. It seems to maintain a list of supporting institutions.

If anyone has any comments on Radner's thoughts or better knowledge of certain seminaries or publications, please share them. I'd also be curious to hear of readers' reactions to his accusations of intellectual laziness. My initial thoughts are that 1) whether it's true or not, Radner needs to put himself out there and get specific if he's really interested in the Church's edification rather than making blanket accusations, and 2) Young scholars should not take this as a license to dismiss those with whom Radner has a problem: lazy or not, they have probably forgotten more than today's newly minted PhD's and MDiv's know. That said, I'm not opposed to Radner being a curmudgeon about all this if it needs to be said. There's no need to get sentimental about problems that should be addressed.

Here is the essay. Below is the section that I'm interested in:

It is a bellwether of this set of dynamics that several of our seminaries have faced or will soon face their own inability to continue in existence. The demise of Seabury-Western, the selling off of the Episcopal Divinity School’s real estate assets, the well-known financial travails of Church Divinity School of the Pacific and General Seminary, not to mention the long-standing challenges of the Seminary of the Southwest – all this suggests not just that theological education in TEC needs a more rational institutional basis (something argued for some time), but that the “institution” is incapable of sustaining the theological education of its ministers, period. This incapacity, it needs to be said, threatens more conservative as well as liberal seminaries.

On the latter front, and from my own particular experience as well as from an admittedly more subjective perspective, I would note that Episcopalian ministers and scholars generally have received some of the best-resourced educations within the Christian churches; in their ranks are some of the most lively minds and engaging personalities. (Oh, how I wish we could better invigorate and sustain one another!) But they remain among the most intellectually lazy Christians I know, most of whom stopped reading rigorously years ago, prefer arguments based on prejudice, and have contributed virtually nothing to the Anglican and larger Christian theological forum for decades now. There are exceptions, of course, some of them wonderful; but the problem frankly colors the leadership across the board, from the top down and the bottom up, from Left to Right, Liberal to Conservative. The Anglican intellectual tradition that is embodied by and that has derived from TEC is bankrupt, long deflated in comparison with even recent witness from other parts of the Communion.

The goodbyes here are hardly debatable as far as I can see, and the fact that they are shared, to some extent, by several other Christian denominations hardly mitigates the farewell’s stinging force.