Friday, February 26, 2010

"The new landscape of the religion blogosphere" from The Immanent Frame

The Anti-Moderate points out a report from the Immanent Frame on "the new landscape of the religion blogosphere", which mentions me in passing (more on that below).  Ben Myers was surveyed at length along with a number of other religion bloggers, and shows up numerous times in the report.

What to make of this?

It's an important conversation to have.  I wouldn't spend my time working on clavi non defixi if I didn't think the blog served some useful purpose, so I am sympathetic to the concerns of the report writers.  But I also fall squarely in the skeptic camp when the possibility is suggested of some more official or permanent status for blogging.  I'll set aside issues of religion journalism on blogs, as that is not my personal concern.  I am mostly thinking of blogging related to academic work.

Clavi Non Defixi has always leaned heavily on the nuts and bolts of academic work in theology.  While I occasionally editorialize, I try to keep the commentary directed towards matters of academic work, and I try to balance it with non-editorial updates on what is going on in academic theology.  You will rarely find longer essay-format pieces on theological questions here, and when I do write longer pieces, it is usually not a work of my own, but rather an extended consideration of something that's going on... a newly published article, a school of thought that is emerging, a presidential hiring or a professorial firing, etc.  I don't tend to post block quotes that I find inspiring, or material about politics, pop-culture, etc.  I am not here to be pastoral.  It's not that I think these things are necessarily bad reasons to blog, they're just not the reasons why I blog.

I am also not here out of any desire to make blogs into something more than they are.  Blogs are highly ephemeral, and they usually have no peer-review whatsoever.  These qualities are very good for some purposes, and not for others.  I see blogs as ancillary to more central aspects of academic work in theology, and ideally not as a center of activity.  I've found blogging useful for meeting fellow academics  that I would not have otherwise met, and for sharing information in a more extended setting than usual geographic constraints would permit.   But I am not eager to actually do much extended theological work on my blog.  I'm sure none of this comes as any surprise to regular readers.

The report mentions me at the bottom of Section 2, on "Blogging and academia":
Several contributors to The Immanent Frame have published revised versions of the ideas they originally presented on the blog, demonstrating the potential for such sites to serve not only as forms of publicity for finished scholarly work, but also as part of an ongoing, collective, and public endeavor to advance knowledge. On the other hand, when The Immanent Frame began to offer sample academic citations for citing its posts, it stirred a stern reply at the blog Clavi Non Defixi: “Are blogs ‘legitimate piece[s] of academic writing’? God help us… no” (Kuehn 2008).
It struck me as a bit ironic that the report saw fit to cite me talking about how I thought it was problematic to cite blogs and take them too seriously as academic writing.  By way of object lesson, then, I felt compelled to delete the post that the report cited.  You can no longer reach it through the report's hypertext bibliography.  I do hope that the folks at the Immanent Frame took my comments about the ephemeral nature of blogging to heart, and archived my post before I decided to delete it.  I'm guessing, however, that they didn't.

The comments from Adam Kotsko and Brian Leiter in section 2 are pretty much where I fall on this.  It's also worthwhile to note that Kotsko and Leiter are both quite active bloggers... so the point isn't to dismiss blogging as a useful activity.  Both of them have also published in open-access journals (which I am more nervous about myself, for better or worse), so they are quite open to the prospects of academic work online.

The rest of the report is worth looking at, although a lot of it is not directly related to theology blogging.  It would be helpful to see a fuller discussion of academic blogging, as journalistic blogging is a quite different beast and brings up different questions.  In section 4, the question of "gaps in the field" was raised, and various bloggers voiced their personal thoughts.  Ben Myers suggested that lack of diversity was a major problem in theology blogging, and I think that this is accurate.  This question of gaps might be worth entertaining further, here or elsewhere.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The aesthetics of speculative philosophy (and more thoughts on knowledge in history)


The Journal of Speculative Philosophy recently updated its cover, and I heartily approve of the change.  I'm one of those people who thinks that the austerity of West Point in winter is beautiful rather than dreary, so as far as I'm concerned one can rarely go wrong with charcoal gray.

I also wanted to mention an article I've just finished reading from JSP that I think gets at some of what I was recently trying to describe about two approaches to knowledge in history.  Joseph W. Long's "Who's a Pragmatist: Distinguishing Epistemic Pragmatism and Contextualism" (JSP 16.1 [2002] pp. 39-49) argues for the possibility of non-pragmatist existential approaches to epistemology against common assumptions that such epistemologies naturally tend towards, or are, pragmatist.  I take it that the epistemic contextualism Long discusses is similar to what I'm trying to identify in certain approaches to knowledge in history that are not constructive and anti-skeptical but rather employ a certain amount of skepticism in historical work. I find in this article some confirmation of my sense that there is a family resemblance in these different approaches, but that there are also important distinctions to maintain. For Long, the defining characteristics of pragmatism (and so the dividing line with other approaches to knowledge)are (pp.40-41):

(1) the regress problem [of inferential justification] is completely averted because beliefs are immediately justified or unjustified based upon the practical difference their veracity would make in our experience of and interaction with the world.
(2) There is no distinction between truth and justification (or alternately, truth is defined in terms of justification or the processes of justification)
(3) There is no distinction between the world (external to minds) and the world as we perceive and interact with it.

Long's point is to present an account of an "existential" or "social" epistemology that is not pragmatist (using Wittgenstein as the primary example). Simply extend the social aspect of these epistemologies over time, and I think this is roughly the distinction that I was trying to describe concerning knowledge in history. To what extent the term "contextualism" is similarly applied by epistemologists and philosophers of history, I'm not really sure, but that might be worth considering.

Joseph Long's 2005 dissertation Existential Epistemologies treats this thesis at greater length.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Margaret Mitchell is the new dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School

I just returned from a staff meeting with the president elect of Wheaton College to find an announcement in my inbox of the newly elected dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School:

We are pleased to announce that Margaret M. Mitchell has been appointed Dean of the Divinity School for a five-year term, effective July 1, 2010. She succeeds Richard A. Rosengarten, who will return to the Divinity School faculty.

The University of Chicago Divinity School occupies a special place among its peers as a preeminent and unique place for the rigorous study of religion, past and present. The choice of Mitchell as Dean emerged from an intensive faculty search process, conducted by a committee elected by the faculty of the Divinity School and chaired by Margaret E. Burton Distinguished Service Professor and former Dean, W. Clark Gilpin. The committee determined that Mitchell’s international scholarly profile, dedication to teaching, and record of University-wide service make her a perfect choice to carry the Divinity School’s hallmark tradition forward.

A Divinity School alumna (Ph.D., 1989), Mitchell joined the faculty in 1998 and now serves as Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature. Her research and teaching span a range of topics in New Testament and early Christian writings. Mitchell is interested in the relationship of this literature to the wider Greco-Roman world and the literary culture in which they were composed, as well as in the legacies of those texts as sacred scripture for Christian communities in later antiquity and beyond.

Professor Mitchell is the author of Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation; The Heavenly Trumpet: John Chrysostom and the Art of Pauline Interpretation; The “Belly-Myther” of Endor: Interpretations of 1 Kingdoms 28 in the Early Church (with Rowan A. Greer); and Paul, the Corinthians, and the Birth of Christian Hermeneutics (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming, 2010). She is the editor (with Frances M. Young) of The Cambridge History of Christianity, Volume 1 (Origins to Constantine). Mitchell has also published numerous articles and was recently part of a team (including micro-chemists and medieval bookmaking experts) that demonstrated one of the University Library’s most enigmatic possessions, a mini-codex known as “Archaic Mark,” is a forgery. These findings will soon be published in the journal Novum Testamentum.

At this time, we also want to thank Rick Rosengarten, who has served for the last ten years with dedication and success as Dean of the Divinity School. Under his leadership, the Divinity School launched the Chicago Forum on Pedagogy and the Study of Religion, established a program in the study of Islam, made 15 faculty appointments, and oversaw the folding of the Divinity School into the University’s Graduate Aid Initiative. Rosengarten has become a national voice on the academic study of religion, and on religious pluralism in Chicago. There will be
an opportunity later in the spring to honor Dean Rosengarten’s service.

We look forward to working with Margy as she assumes her new responsibilities.

Many congratulations to Professor Mitchell. I have not had the chance to meet her yet, but I have heard wonderful things about her research and her teaching. She has also spoken at and attended a few conferences at Wheaton and has been well received by the community.

Question on translations of Augustine

Edmund Hill's translation of de Trinitate in the New City Press series of Augustine's works has always bothered me. On a purely subjective level, the language seems needlessly colloquial. Hill has also rather pointlessly included his own chapter divisions, though with book and paragraph divisions already in place I simply don't see the need for them. These sorts of petty complaints have preconditioned me to be suspicious of the work, so I'm wondering if Hill has made a mistake here or if I'm just ignorant. I spent a little bit of time investigating last night and this morning, and now I'm submitting it to others.

In the translator's preface, Hill writes:
"As far as I can ascertain, the De Trinitate has been translated completely into English three times in the last century: Library of the Nicene Fathers in 1887; The Works of Aurelius Augustine (a series begun in 1872) in 1934; and in The Fathers of the Church (a USA series) in 1963." (p.60)
By my count, there was a translation done by Arthur West Haddan in 1872 that was published as vol. 7 of the Marcus Dods series of Augustine's works in 1878. The Haddan translation was further edited by William G.T. Shedd for the Schaff series in 1887. There was also a translation done by Stephen McKenna for vol. 45 of the CUA Fathers of the Church series, in 1963 (a revised selection from this translation was also used for the Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy series in 2002). Haddan is the only previous English translation that McKenna lists in his selected bibliography.

Am I missing something here, or is Hill's count simply off? We have an 1887 translation (Haddan-Shedd). We have a 1963 translation (McKenna). The 1934 translation is a mystery to me... even if Hill is referring to the two different publications of Haddan as separate translations, the date seems to be wrong. The Dods series did begin in 1872, but I think that it ended in 1934, and with a republication of vol.1-2 (The City of God) rather than with On the Trinity.

Hill doesn't provide any bibliographical information for this, so there's not really much to go on. Does anyone know of a 1934 translation of Augustine's de Trinitate that I'm failing to notice? Or is Hill simply mistaken? My suspicion is that he's counting Shedd as one and Haddan as another, and there's some issue with the date of the Haddan translation he has in mind. But I wouldn't want to overlook something if there's a mysteriously low-profile translation out there.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A few items...

  • John discusses the work of Aziz Al-Azmeh on Islam, late antiquity, and questions of periodization.
  • The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies has a CFP for an upcoming theme issue on "Identity and Religion in the Medieval and Early Modern Mediterranean". Submissions are due 1st July, 2010.
  • Anthony Paul Smith shares some of the latest news on his edited volume with Daniel Whistler, After the Postsecular and the Postmodern: New Essays in Continental Philosophy of Religion. There is a great suggestion in the comment section to recommend this book for your library. Congratulations to Anthony and David as this project moves towards completion... I'm looking forward to its release.
  • An interview with David Kelsey looking at his recent two-volume opus on theological anthropology, Eccentric Existence. (Also, apologies to whoever linked this interview on their blog... I've lost track of who you are and so can't offer my thanks)
  • For those who are planning to attend the 2010 Wheaton Theology Conference but don't know much about N.T. Wright... Nijay Gupta has helped to organize a series of posts on "N.T. Wright for Everyone" (here and here). For those in the Wheaton area, the Theology Department is also hosting a short film and discussion on N.T. Wright this Tuesday, February 23, at 7:00 PM in Barrows Auditorium.
  • Amidst a lot of less-than-stellar considerations (both supportive and suspicious) of Wheaton's president-elect, Rachel offers some helpful thoughts.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Thoughts on Ryken at Wheaton

On Saturday morning the staff and faculty of Wheaton College met to hear who our next president would be, in anticipation of a public announcement on Sunday at noon. I was surprised to come home from Saturday's meeting and have emails and phone messages from people asking me my thoughts about Ryken, given that the people asking me were not privy to the information at that point. Of course a quick google search revealed that Christianity Today had released the announcement ahead of the timetable established by Wheaton College and Ryken's congregation. This left a lot of folks pretty pissed, and understandably so. It's unfortunate that half of the discussion over the new selection has been about CT's decision to announce the leaked news, but I think those who leaked the information and the CT staff more or less have themselves to thank for that.

Wheaton College has selected Philip Ryken to be their eighth president. The website has a lot of information up about the selection process that will be worth reading, including a timeline, the qualifications that were formulated for the candidate, and the letter presented to the trustees by the selection committee, recommending Ryken for the post.

Because I don't know all that much about Ryken and didn't have a very solidified opinion about the selection, I decided to stick with the original timeline and wait until today to post. This has given me a little bit of time to read up on relevant matters, although I still offer my thoughts with a caveat that I will likely not offer the same sort of depth that other commentaries might. This is one of those times when I realize I don't understand evangelical culture all that well, and I want to be sensitive to this fact.
  • Beginning with the biographical: Ryken is a Wheaton alumnus, and his father has been an English professor at Wheaton since 1968. Ryken is also on the board of trustees at both Wheaton College and Westminster Theological Seminary (PA). He is the pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA. Ryken is involved with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and with the Gospel Coalition, two conservative Reformed groups devoted to renewal work in evangelicalism.
  • Ryken as too close to home? One of the major criticisms of this decision that I've heard is that Ryken's ties to Wheaton College make his selection questionable. This criticism has ranged from simply saying that the board didn't really think outside of the box to outright suggestions of nepotism. These concerns strike me as a bit overblown; at the staff meeting when the selection process was discussed, a few of the committee members mentioned that they were at first hesitant about Ryken simply because he was the obvious choice. There was an initial skepticism about Ryken as the "safe" choice, then, and the eventual decision was made in light of a desire to not pick a president simply because he was a well-liked trustee. Perhaps the concern about not thinking outside of the box continues to stick, but I don't think that the selection was made out of an intentional mission to choose "one of us".
  • On Diversity. Whether or not there was an intention on the part of the trustees to choose "one of us", obviously we ended up with that by the end of the process. This has disappointed a number of people who were hoping to break the tendency of putting white males in leadership positions. My advice would be one of caution in offering this sort of critique against Ryken, though. I don't know what other candidates were being considered, but I'm guessing that the list was plenty diverse, and that the selection committee was fully receptive to any candidates who were nominated. That's just my take, though... perhaps my naivete. In saying this, however, I'm not at all intending to say the same thing as Carl Trueman when he rather uncharitably dismisses these diversity concerns as "the typical middle class obsessions of the post-Marcuse left." Unlike Ryken's fellow Reformation21 contributor, I actually do think that these concerns are warranted. I simply doubt that the selection committee was insensitive to them
  • Ryken's conservatism. There certainly was a conscious decision by the selection committee to continue in a similar ideological vein as Litfin, much to the disappointment of those who were recently fired up by Andrew Chignell's article. I'm not immediately concerned by this: a conservative president doesn't make a college conservative any more than a liberal president makes a college liberal. What will be more pertinent is the extent to which Ryken chooses to make Wheaton into his own image, and I think that is more difficult to predict. His affiliations with the Gospel Coalition and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals should be a concern not because they are conservative, but because their renewal efforts are pretty activist. Such activism isn't wrong in itself, but the responsibilities of an administrator at such a diverse school as Wheaton (relatively diverse at least, for evangelicalism) are different from those of a pastor or an administrator of a school with a more specific confessional identity. It will be interesting to see how Ryken works within an institution that, while it is decidedly evangelical, couldn't sign on to the mission of the organizations with which Ryken has been so far involved. He might handle this just fine, so I'm not saying that this is a problem. But it is a point at which I could see problems arising. One particular example, actually brought up at the staff meeting, was that of women in leadership. Wheaton doesn't have many women in executive leadership or trustee positions, but it has more than Westminster Theological Seminary or Tenth Presbyterian. How the demographics of this leadership would change under Ryken might be worth considering.
  • Ryken and the Reformed tradition. One thing that has been striking me as I read blog commentary on the selection is that the choice of Ryken almost says more about the neo-reformed movement than it does about Wheaton. This is being received as a big coup for an already quite aggressive movement within conservative evangelicalism. Folks should probably be watching the "young Calvinists" as this plays out as much as they should be watching the College. Again, this doesn't mean that Wheaton will be transformed into a confessional Reformed institution; for all of the complaints about Litfin, no one could accuse him of enforcing a dispensationalist litmus test for the faculty during his tenure. But there will presumably be implications for the future of conservative reformed evangelicals. This bullet point may be good news for some folks and bad news for others.
  • Ryken's lack of extensive teaching background may be a concern. I think that as long as he listens and includes the faculty during his tenure, there is probably not much to worry about here. But the fact remains that one of the major voiced frustrations of faculty here at Wheaton is that the administration is too overbearing and does not allow the faculty enough of its own say or role in decision making. Ryken's lack of experience on faculty will mean that he is inevitably less personally aware of this issue.
  • The biggest concern. The biggest concern for me in all of this is Ryken's connection to Westminster Theological Seminary as a member of the board of trustees during the Peter Enns controversy. Apparently he was "instrumental in getting Peter Enns off the faculty".* Most of the criticism offered against President Litfin has involved the dismissal of various professors here at Wheaton, and it seems that- more so than his personal conservative stances- the president elect's involvement with the dismissal of Peter Enns should be a matter of significant concern for what might be coming our way. My hope would be that the trustees and administration wouldn't tolerate that sort of thing here, but then, one of our trustees obviously did, and now he of all people has been selected by the rest of the trustees for the presidency. So who knows. There are already comparisons being made between Ryken's Wheaton and Mohler's Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I'm not aware enough of Southern Baptist happenings to know all that this would entail, but from what I understand, it would fit the label of "purge" fairly well. Wheaton's lack of specific confessional identity will hopefully make this sort of action an impossibility, but the boundaries of the identity "evangelical" itself have been put forward as reason for the dismissal of various professors in the past, so I think that the concern on some level still remains.
There will be another staff meeting on Tuesday, and Ryken will actually be present to meet the Wheaton community. If any other pertinent points come up at that time, I'll be sure to mention them. I would have liked to have offered a less hedged assessment of the situation, but I really don't know Philip Ryken very well. I look forward to meeting him and finding out more. Please do share your own thoughts on the selection.

*someone has noted that this is merely a comment from an individual in a blog post, and may not be entirely reliable. Whatever the reliability of the characterization of Ryken's role as "instrumental", though, he was on the board of trustees at the time and was not one of the nine signatories of the trustee minority report. Based on this it is my understanding that Ryken supported the dismissal of Enns over the wishes of the majority of the faculty committee, who did not approve the dismissal of Enns. I am happy to be corrected on this, as others know much more than I do about the Enns controversy. I've left the body of this post as is but wanted to make a note of clarification here. G.L.W. Johnson was a fellow WTS student and someone with whom Ryken has apparently had private contact about his role on the board. I don't intend to make any claims of my own about how "instrumental" Ryken was beyond relating the ones that Johnson apparently made on Heidelblog earlier today.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 85.4

The latest issue of Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses is out. Two articles in particular are worth noting.

Lieven Boeve has an article on the significance of the event of Vatican II for Joseph Ratzinger. Boeve has worked a lot on theology in the context of postmodernism. As far as I know, most of his work relating to Vatican II has dealt with Gaudium et Spes. This consideration of post-conciliar thought will be a valuable contribution to the mounting literature on the question.

Emilio Brito has an article in the Notes section on Hegel's pneumatology (and with 139 footnotes, the editors of ETL obviously use the term "note" rather loosely). Brito's work on the theology of the German Idealists include La Christologie de Hegel (1983) and Dieu et l'etre Thomas d'Aquin et Hegel (1991).

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hathi Trust Digital Library

I was trying to find A.E. Brooke's critical edition of Origen's commentary on John today, and the UChicago catalogue provided a link to Hathi Trust, which I had never heard of before. It's another digital repository that will be worth bookmarking.

As far as I can tell they provide open access for out-of-copyright books, and have more that are in-copyright (I'm not sure of the viewing availability of this material). There are, however, items available in fulltext on Hathi Trust that are not available on Google Books. The commentary I was looking for was actually scanned for Google Books by the University of Michigan, and it comes up in a Google Books search, but for some reason there is only partial viewing available on Google Books while there is full access on Hathi.

Hathi, like Google, seems to be working with a number of research libraries to sustain its archive. The University of Chicago is a member institution, but from what I can tell UChicago has not to this point actually deposited any of its digitized holdings into Hathi Trust (nor have most of the member institutions, it seems). While I'm not very well-educated on the major digitization projects going on these days, it strikes me that compared to other ventures, Hathi Trust is much more of a cooperative and careful enterprise, and is deeply invested in working with research libraries for the purpose of quality archiving. Looking through their site, you don't get the impression that this is a mad dash to throw a bunch of stuff up there. They seem quite methodical and deliberate. I imagine this may put them in a position to be the eventual standard for digital bibliographic institutions as things move forward. is the other obvious place to go for a large collection of digitized books, and of course there are many other smaller ventures out there depending on your particular research area. Being aware of the diverse options is important, as the future of a single headline-grabbing venture like Google isn't set in stone, and relying on Google Books as a crutch for finding resources will leave one unaware of a whole lot more that is out there. Amongst the big players in digitization, though, I think Hathi seems the most prepared to actually make good on some of its intentions in the long-term.

You can find their most recent update here, with statistics on collection growth and current activities such as disaster recovery planning and quality control measures.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wheaton Presidential Selection Announcement

The presidential selection committee for Wheaton College has apparently made their decision of who our next president will be, and the staff here will be informed about it soon. After the news is shared with us, the committee will make a public announcement, at which point I'll be able to share the news here on clavi non defixi. This will be in the next few days.

I suppose in the meantime I can give you a little hint... it probably isn't Kenneth Starr.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

David Brakke on "A New Fragment of Athanasius’s Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter"

David Brakke has an article in the latest issue of the Harvard Theological Review that will be worth reading. In it he offers a translation and assessment of a new fragment of Athanasius's 39th Festal Letter, published in 1994 (though originally identified as an anti-Manichaean sermon) by Alla Elanskaya.

Along with the actual text of the letter, Brakke offers some extended thoughts on its significance for the interpretation of fourth-century controversies over biblical canon, heresy, and orthodoxy. Brakke also reevaluates some aspects of the thesis he offered in his earlier Athanasius and the Politics of Asceticism, and engages with some of the critical responses that the book received (late antiquity scholars will know better than me whether his comments here are all that new, or whether they've been addressed previously... perhaps even in the 1998 edition?).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Two approaches to knowledge in history

Yesterday I posted on historical epistemology and received some interesting feedback. I've also in the past offered some scattered and rather amateur thoughts on pragmatism and conceptual history as I try to come to grips with a lot of work that is still relatively new to me. I've appreciated the contributions of others on all of these points as I try to feel my way around with all of this, and I don't claim to speak from very much experience. In the comments, James K.A. Smith mentioned the influence of recent pragmatists on the sorts of developments that occur in historical epistemology and other projects, and in light of that I wanted to attempt an articulation of what I've understood to be a major dividing line in recent historical approaches.

As I've encountered people who are trying to take seriously the historicization of epistemological questions, they seem to split into two very vague camps. When I think of pragmatists like Rorty or Brandom, there seem to be very constructive and anti-skeptical intentions at work when knowledge is discussed in historical terms. There is a sense that we are actually coming to knowledge through the working out of its contingent process. On the other hand, certain archaeological or genealogical practices seem to work primarily from critical and skeptical intentions when knowledge is discussed in historical terms. There is a sense that we are peeling away layers of pseudo-knowledge through the working out of its contingent processes.

Of course, these two practices are not mutually exclusive simply because they work in opposite directions. It's presumably valuable to critique the history of certain claims on the basis of historical development in the service of establishing an alternative claim that is just as historically contingent. The possibility of a paralyzing skepticism on the one hand and a traction-less relativism on the other recommends the employment of both approaches to knowledge in history. But it seems like it would be valuable to establish what tendency is being encountered at any given point, for the sake of clarity if nothing else.

I don't know enough about the "historical epistemology" of the previous post to say anything decidedly, but it strikes me that the history being presented has more critical and skeptical intentions. The purpose of "uncovering" suggests this (reading the Davidson interview recommended by a commenter seemed to confirm this general impression). In a previous post on conceptual history I tried (rather awkwardly) to make some connections with pragmatism, but again, I don't know whether conceptual historians would have much interest in normative and constructive projects based on the historical work with which they're engaged.

I think there are ripe possibilities all over the place here, but in bringing up these different strands of inquiry I don't mean to imply that I think the work of all of these diverse subfields and schools of thought are necessarily in agreement or coming at these issues from a similar perspective. As a neophyte, it's easy to say, "Oh, look! They're talking about concepts or reasons as something historical! We must all be talking about the same thing!" ...I'm enough aware of what I'm reading to not make this sort of mistake. But I'm also not familiar enough with these different conversations to know with any confidence what will end up being useful and what won't.

Also, to clarify: I don't mean the above to be any sort of special realization that I've had-- I think the distinction I'm making here is pretty basic and decidedly underwhelming. Really, it's no different than Rorty's point when he distinguishes American pragmatists from comparable, though more pessimistic, thinkers in Europe. As I poke around in unfamiliar conversations, however, I wanted to make the distinction explicit in my own words and establish what exactly (I think) I'm dealing with here. I'm sure there are other distinctions worth making as well, but this seems to be a relatively foundational one.

A few items...

  • A CFP for vol. 22 of Pli: The Warwick Journal of Philosophy. The volume's theme is contingency.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Historical Epistemology

I was looking through Barry Stroud's CV this morning (I trust I'm not the only one odd enough to enjoy reading people's vitaes... the practice seems comparable to reading bibliographies), and I noticed that he has a forthcoming contribution to the edited collection, Historical Epistemology.

I had never heard of this concept (I suppose if I worked more with Foucault I might have come across it by now), so I did some more looking around. I couldn't find information on the volume itself, although I have some suspicions that it might actually be the same thing as What (Good) is Historical Epistemology?, from a conference at the Max Planck Institute.

There have been other recent events around historical epistemology as well, including a conference at Columbia and at K.U. Leuven. "Historical Epistemology" seems to be exactly what it sounds like- an historical approach to conditions and possibilities of knowledge. The approach appears to be mostly discussed in the history and philosophy of science. Below is the description from the Columbia conference, which offers a good introduction of what's being talked about:

At the intersection of philosophy and history, historical epistemology has become in recent years a powerful alternative to traditional approaches to the history of science and philosophy. Focused upon conditions of possibility that transcend social causes and biographical idiosyncrasies, historical epistemology uncovers the fundamental concepts that organize the knowledge of different historical periods. It might be defined as the discipline that introduces historical contingency into the ways of understanding the world that appear inescapable to people. Kant was wrong, historical epistemology argues, to think that human beings can only understand the world as, say, Euclidean or ruled by causality. He was right, historical epistemology contends, to work to understand the conditions of possibility underlying knowledge and practice; such careful philosophical work needs to be historically specific.

Historical epistemology is a distinctive Franco-American approach to the history of philosophy and science. Building upon an earlier tradition of French history and philosophy of science culminating in the work of Georges Canguilhem, the work of Michel Foucault pointed towards historical epistemology as a viable approach for studying the past by uncovering and reconstructing the underlying historical apriori of different periods. Three of the most prominent historical epistemologists -- Lorraine Daston, Arnold Davidson and Ian Hacking -- drew on different aspects of Anglo-American philosophy and history in developing Canguilhem and Foucault’s approaches.

The precise contours of historical epistemology nevertheless remain blurry. Some eagerly endorse this approach yet do not offer any sharp positive definition (such as Davidson); others attempt to distinguish it from the history of epistemology in ways that some scholars have found unconvincing (e.g., Daston, criticized by Yves Gingras); still others dispute the name itself, but not the practice (Hacking). Without denying that a certain conceptual imprecision can sometimes be methodologically fruitful, this conference on historical epistemology will bring together scholars who have rarely had the opportunity to discuss publicly their ideas on historical epistemology.
This conversation seems quite related to some of my recent interests, which have tended to focus on historical understanding and conceptions of knowledge, interpretation, and understanding as they relate to theological problems. Arnold Davidson of the Divinity School and Lorrain Daston (recently a visiting professor at the Committee on Social Thought) seem to be closely connected with historical epistemology, although I don't know whether it has a wider presence at Chicago.

If anyone knows more about historical epistemology or has some thoughts on how it might be applied to theological work, please feel free to share. It also seems as if this is a more recent amalgamation of ideas that can actually be traced back a good ways... that is, the ideas presented here are probably a lot older than the disciplinary nomenclature. As far as that is the case, I imagine there's a lot of creative space for relating some of these newer insights with work that has come before.

At the very least, I suppose, there are a few more edited collections to keep an eye on.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Augustine's Manichaean Dilemma

I was surprised to find this book while I was browsing the Regenstein Library yesterday, as I hadn't heard about it yet. Jason David BeDuhn, who has published extensively on Manichaeism, has put out the first of a projected three volumes on Augustine's Manichaean Dilemma. BeDuhn traces Augustine's relationship with Manichaean thought as a corrective to perspectives based too heavily on Augustine's own later and more idealized account of his conversion. The book is listed as a 2009 release by Penn Press, but I believe that it actually came out in 2010.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Marie-Dominique Chenu, 1895-1990

Today marks the 20th anniversary of M.-D. Chenu's death. The Angelicum has posted an article from today's L'Osservatore Romano in commemoration.

Chenu was one of the many theologians who transformed Catholic thought in the 20th century, who often found himself an enemy of the Index but, by the time of Vatican II, had clearly been vindicated by the fresh air that the Spirit had breathed into the Church. He is most well-known for his studies on Thomas Aquinas and his introduction of historical considerations into what had previously been a rigidly neo-scholastic conception of the Thomist tradition. His study Nature, Man, and Society in the Twelfth Century (translated into English by Jerome Taylor) was also quite influential in the field of medieval studies, and continues to be a classic reference.

Since his death, Chenu's theology has received some substantial treatment, including work by Emmanuel Vangu Vang, Christophe F. Potworowski, and Le Saulchoir, where he taught for some time.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A few items...

  • Amir Hussain of Loyola Marymount University will be the next editor for the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, beginning in 2011. I joined AAR just as Charles Matthewes was beginning his term as editor, so it will be interesting for me to see what the editorial turnover has in store for continuity and change in the journal.
  • A reader recently commented on an old post of mine about Sutton Courtenay Press, offering some further information and also suggesting Dust & Ashes Publications. Dust & Ashes offers second-hand books in a number of areas of Protestant theology and history, as well as reprints of some classic texts.
  • Apparently there is a philosophical equivalent of Franz Bibfeldt! Thankfully most of the Bibfeldt stories I've heard are all in good fun and haven't resulted in too much public humiliation for those who are unaware.
  • An interesting working paper is out on recent trends in the sociology of religion.

My sister sent me this picture, from my visit over Thanksgiving. As you can see, I have
the two essential tools for any decent theological research: a bottle of beer, and crayons.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Session on the Incarnation at Midwest AAR 2010

A while back I mentioned that I'd be interested in putting together a panel for the 2010 Midwest AAR conference. A number of folks responded, and in the end we decided to send in a proposal for a book panel on Kathryn Tanner's Christ the Key. Following some attrition due to schedule problems, Nate Crawford and I ended up submitting a proposal for a two-member panel for the conference.

Amy Carr, the chair of the Theology Section at Midwest AAR, did some great work combining our proposal with a paper from Thomas Bridges, who is a doctoral student at Marquette and contributes to An und für sich. Samuel Chambers of Vanderbilt University will be responding to the three papers. Unfortunately, Tanner will be attending another conference on the weekend in question, so we weren't able to secure her as a respondent.

Here is the schedule for our panel (I don't know about Nathan, but I imagine I'll change my paper title to something more descriptive once I've formed a response to Christ the Key and know better what direction I'll be taking things):

Kathryn Tanner and Mark C. Taylor on the Incarnation
Session 3:4, Saturday, March 27, 10:20-12:15
Chair: Amy Carr, Western Illinois University

Evan Kuehn, Wheaton College and the University of Chicago
A Perspective on Kathryn Tanner’s Christ the Key, Part I

Nathan Crawford, Loyola University-Chicago and Indiana Wesleyan University
A Perspective on Kathryn Tanner’s Christ the Key, Part II

Thomas Bridges, Marquette University
Christology after the Death of God: Incarnation and the Rise of Secularism

Respondent: Samuel Chambers

I imagine that our session will be one of the first conference discussions on Tanner's lectures. The Christian Theology section for AAR 2010 in Atlanta will likely also feature a panel on the book, and more treatments will surely come up over the next year or two. I look forward to meeting the other presenters in person, and I hope that others in the region can attend. If you're interested in doing so, you should order Tanner's book now, as it has just been published and the delivery process is a bit slow (my copy is on the way, or so I'm told). You may also want to check out Mark C. Taylor's After God, although Thomas can correct me if there's a better text to look at in preparation for his paper.

You can find the full schedule for the conference here. Registration is here.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Spirit, Letter, and History

I just finished reading the inaugural History & Theory lecture, given by Carlo Ginzburg last spring at the Consortium for Intellectual and Cultural History. Ginzburg is one of the most celebrated living historians, and significantly is credited with initiating the opening of the Inquisition (what is now the CDF) Archives. His lecture is available in the latest issue of History & Theory, and is titled, "The Letter Kills: on some implications of 2 Corinthians 3:6".

Such an explicitly biblical theme catches the eye in a journal of theory and philosophy, and the lecture itself is, if not a commentary on scripture, an account of the history of such commentaries as they have related to the practice of history. Ginzburg begins with Augustine's epiphany concerning the letter and spirit as recorded in the Confessions and fleshed out in de doctrina christiana, although he provocatively highlights the importance of the literal sense preserved in Augustine's thought rather than the allegorical implications that tend to be the bread and butter of discussions on Augustine's exegesis. I think that this is a valuable focus, and reflects a wider attention lately to the literal sense. This reconsideration is beginning to balance out what was at times an over-emphasis on allegory as the defining characteristic of premodern exegesis.

From Augustine, Ginzburg jumps forward to similar perspectives in Lorenzo Valla, and then back to the medieval exegetical tradition leading up to Nicholas of Lyra. From here Ginzburg moves forward again, to Spinoza. The essay doesn't satisfy (and doesn't intend to) as an historical piece carefully tracing hermeneutical influences of Augustine upon these later thinkers. As a probing and speculative consideration of literal and allegorical reading in Western Jewish and Christian thought, however, Ginzburg's piece is enjoyable and thought-provoking. Especially where he brings up similarities amidst stark contradictions between Augustine and Valla or Spinoza, Ginzburg hints at the frustrating vacillations that accompany any extensive engagement with the dialectical plays that pop up in modern dilemmas over the nature of history.

The second History & Theory lecture will be given this April, by Dominick LaCapra on "Historical and Literary Representations of the Final Solution: Saul Friedländer and Jonathan Littell"

Revue Irénikon and the monks of Chevetogne

When pulling together sources for my recent article on catholicity, I ran across a study of early patristic uses of the term in the journal Irénikon. The journal was new to me, although it has been around for almost a century now. There isn't any index of articles for Irénikon as far as I can tell, and I must have run across the article by chance through Cat.inist. In the end, the article I was using didn't make it into the final manuscript, and I've since lost track of the poorly scanned pdf that I received from ILL, so that I don't even know exactly what article I was reading.

I happened to have stumbled upon Irénikon again tonight, however, and I thought I'd mention it for those who are interested. The journal is a quarterly publication of the Benedictine monastère de Chevetogne, in Belgium. The monastery was founded by Lambert Beauduin, who was well-known for his work in the early 20th century liturgical movement and for his devotion to ecumenism. The commitment to church unity was and continues to be the basis of the monastery of Chevetogne, and this is the theme of their journal as well.

Anyone working on ecclesiology will probably benefit from trying to pursue a bibliography of the journal, although as I said there doesn't seem to be any compiled index, and it may just necessitate a spotty job of searching as best as possible through various catalogs. The monastery's website is also worth visiting and exploring, offering a good deal of background on the ecumenical ministry of the monks.

Friday, February 5, 2010

In the library

Anna has been posting on her experiences at the University of Cambridge libraries, and it sounds like more posts are to come on what to consider when visiting reference libraries. I'm also fresh from conversations with a visiting friend about the library at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (and the frustration of odd hours and cataloging practices in some overseas institutions), so I was in the mood for offering a general reflection on libraries. Feel free to treat this as an open thread.

It's always a joy to read about libraries; the professional importance of these institutions for academics as well as the aesthetic importance of them for bibliophilia makes them a common enough topic on these sorts of blogs, but I think it's always valuable to read about new perspectives... especially when advice is given for libraries where the process of application and entrance is more complicated than simply walking through the front doors. Most all of my experiences in towering research libraries of the sort that Anna mentions have been with the Library of Congress, where I try to hole myself up whenever I'm back in Arlington to visit. As a cataloger I've also learned to appreciate the library in a special way, from the inside. In graduate school I was advised by a theology professor to pursue work here, and told of the close connections that theologians traditionally share with librarianship as a profession. The advice has served me well, and I think that the benefits of my current work will certainly be taken with me elsewhere. Gaining a new perspective on academic work outside of the concerns of the individual researcher or teacher helps to open one's eyes about how the wider process works, and contributes to more effective use of one's own time as a scholar.

Pelikan's Idea of a University: a Reexamination includes a chapter on libraries that argues (if I recall correctly) for libraries as really the central and binding institution of any university. I think that's about accurate... one realizes when working here that the mission of the library pre-dates and will likely outlast most anything else that is going on around campus. Realizing this helps to put into perspective many of the calls for urgency, hand-wringing about certain standards of relevance, or accusations of antiquarianism that risk confusing what exactly is going on here in academia. Librarians are often much more aware of all of these concerns than most people realize or give them credit for... often it is in the library where the best balance between being one step ahead of the game and cognizant of the distant past is best achieved. The depth of what sits here is just breathtaking, even in a smaller or mid-sized library, let alone an enormous one.

Anna also links to the wonderful pictures at Librophiliac from a few years ago. If you haven't yet seen them, be sure to take a few minutes and scroll through.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I'm asking as an outsider to the whole "apocalyptic" fashion that has lately taken cool theologians everywhere by storm... was this a 2009 thing, or is there more to come?

Based on the theology blog coverage, one almost got the impression that the only things happening in Montreal this past November (other than Zizek-Altizer, of course) were sessions on theology and apocalyptic. Websites were set up. Superlatives were liberally employed to describe what was happening. Maybe I misinterpreted the energy surrounding this, but I had the sense that people were intending to point out something of an "apocalyptic turn" in theological work. It seems logical- there's no question that it's a hot topic, and Nate Kerr's study has received a lot of sustained attention over the past year or two, at AAR and elsewhere. On a cruder level there has certainly been a wider pop-cultural fascination with the whole concept.

But as the call for papers for AAR 2010 comes out, I don't see an apocalyptic group listed. Are there plans for a 2010 presence? As I understand it, the purpose of the Explorations in Theology and Apocalyptic venture was to feel out the possibility of adding a new consultation to the AAR roster. Is something like this still a few years down the road? Or was there a decision that such a consultation wouldn't be pursued? I haven't run across anything from the organizers about what's going to happen.

While much of the current revival on this topic isn't my personal cup of tea coffee (at least as far as my constructive theological interests go), I'm still curious to know what you all are up to.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A few items...

  • The first interview in the Woodward Theological Society's inaugural series is up, featuring James K.A. Smith. The WTS website also has more information up than when I previously mentioned it, so do explore the site a bit.
  • The Record (Wheaton's college paper) had an article this past Friday on Chignell's "Whither Wheaton?" essay. It has been posted online, and you can read it here. There are some additional faculty comments that are worth reading, and the slant is certainly more conciliatory towards the administration. Speaking with a co-worker yesterday, I also found out that there has been a push to get names to the board soon; from what I understand we might be hearing an announcement on the new president as early as the next few weeks. In that case, I can't imagine that concerns about Chignell's article causing a conservative backlash are all that serious... probably the article came out too late to cause much of anything with regard to the board's decision.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mouneer Anis resigns from ACC

Mouneer Anis, primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East, has resigned from the Anglican Consultative Council. Here is his letter to the ACC, explaining his decision. Coming soon after the Covenant document's release, this development is a serious blow to the process as a whole. The bishop's complaints are perfectly straightforward, and I think they are problems that have been apparent for some time.

"I have come to the sad realization that there is no desire within the ACC and the SCAC to follow through on the recommendations that have been taken by other Instruments of Communion to sort out the problems which face the Anglican Communion and which are tearing its fabric apart. Moreover, the SCAC, formerly known as the Joint Standing Committee (JSC), has continually questioned the authority of the other Instruments of Communion, especially the Primates Meeting and the Lambeth Conference."

I think it would be incorrect to paint this move as a conservative reaction to the process. This is not merely a declaration that, "you all are abandoning the Gospel!", although doctrinal concerns are certainly an aspect of the wider situation. But the point of the frustration with the ACC in particular is that there exists a paralyzing dysfunction within the instruments of communion that makes productive work next to impossible. Whatever one's intentions for the future of the Communion, the ignoring of resolution after resolution with impunity leaves little visible ecclesial structure left with which to do anything after the dust has settled. This is also what lies at the heart of many criticisms of Rowan Williams's episcopacy, I think-- it's not just that people think he's wishy washy, or that people can't appreciate the nuance with which he attempts to balance the various voices in the Anglican crisis. I think that most everyone is thankful for that moderation and attention to sometimes-frustratingly-ambiguous charity. The problem comes when all good faith in the mutual bonds of recognition and love is abandoned, and the deliberative bodies of the Communion simply choose to plug their ears to one another (I discussed these sorts of failures of institutional structures and the need for reform in my 2007 article, "Instruments of Faith and Unity in Canon Law").

Further, Bishop Anis is not generally seen as the fiery figure that Akinola or Orombi tend to be in inter-Anglican affairs... Orombi, for instance, remains a member of ACC but simply hasn't even bothered to attend! For Anis to make this move signals, I think, a growing impatience amongst even those who are more willing to continue with canonical processes that, thus far, have not really tended to effect all that much on the inter-provincial level.

Folks should take note. The exit of people like Anis from the deliberative process tends to signal a looming tipping point.