Wednesday, February 11, 2009

‘Too Christian’ for academia?

Here is a piece I wrote for National Review Online about the political correctness controversy brewing over Wiley-Blackwell’s Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization.

UPDATE: The Catholic News Agency interviews George Kurian, the encyclopedia's editor. The Telegraph comments on the story. First Things sums it up: "This encyclopedia is too on topic"!

UPDATE 2: The Guardian and The Times have picked up the story.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can hardly contain the bile that rises up in my throat while reading your article in National Review. First, the title indicates that the books are 'Christian.' Second, no offense to anyone in academia, but how many people are just going to stumble across this particular set of books? Don't you think people will actually have to go looking for it to find it? I am tired of political correctness putting down the very things this country was founded on. And, I am offended that Muslims can be offended by Christianity, but Christians cannot be offended by Islam. When Islam has a larger number of followers in the world than Christians, will Christians get to fight back then? The answer, unfortunately, is a big fat NO. By that time, Christians will be second-class citizens with no option to be offended.

R Hampton said...

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

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

The second (protestors) view is that it should be a broader version of the Bible, and thus unashamedly evangelical.

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

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

Anonymous said...

It seems Wiley-Blackwell has decided to follow the communist "non-person" approach to this issue. Not a single reference to either Feser or the Encyclopedia seems to exist on their website - no hits from searches of their site.
(Then again, perhaps the communist analogy isn’t quite correct; this may be more a case of Shultz on Hogan’s Heroes… I know nothing!)

Evan said...

I read your article with some interest, but don't think that the whole story is being told here. For anyone who's interested, I tried to get to the bottom of this on my blog a few days ago. My first post is here, and a bit of an update is here.

Whether or not academia is out to get Christian scholars may be a question worth entertaining, but in this case there seem to be more mundane explanations. The full statements of both Kurian and Wiley-Blackwell are on my blog, so you can see what both have to say without relying on the limited quotes of Feser's article.

Evan said...

Anonymous, from Wiley-Blackwell's perspective, they have an unfinished project that will hopefully be published some time in the near future. You can't expect a publisher to broadcast every single editorial update to the world.

Anonymous said...

Maybe they need another publisher - like Regnery perhaps.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Evan,

As I noted in the article, the trouble with Wiley-Blackwell's current claims is that they do not account for the fact -- which they never deny or even address in their reply -- that they not only initially agreed that the Encyclopedia was ready to go, but actually had it printed and bound. That they should ignore this amazing aspect of the story in their rebuttal certainly raises questions about their credibility, no?

Edward Feser said...

R Hampton,

You seem to be assuming that what Kurian delivered was a work of apologetics or devotion. I can assure you that the articles I have seen from the Encyclopedia (including my own) were neither.

R Hampton said...

From the public perspective - without the benefit of seeing the original text and the editing - it's a case of he said, she said. Sure you can argue about who is more trustworthy, and thus correct, but I'd rather base my judgement on the actual documents.

Anonymous said...

You mean the ones currently being destroyed?

Ha ha.

Evan said...

To be sure, the fact that all of this was recalled after the encyclopedia was printed is odd. That said, a publisher must rely somewhat on editors and reviewers, who they presume are being forward about their work.

If the editorial board was left out of the loop by Kurian, then likely Wiley-Blackwell was as well. It's unfortunate that complaints were made so late, but I do wonder at what point people like McGinn, Morgan, or the Wiley-Blackwell representatives were actually able to do editorial work on the project. Wiley-Blackwell's email also mentions that it was article contributors themselves who first raised concerns. It was your co-contributors.

You bring up the point that Wiley-Blackwell doesn't mention the very late nature of the complaints. But we can't forget that Kurian has also not addressed the issue of whether his editorial board was consulted in accordance with his agreement with Wiley-Blackwell. This is surely a pertinent question to ask.

Neil Parille said...

I was rather surprised that a major publisher would publish something called The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization.

-Neil Parille

Lorenzo said...

Political correctness knows no limits. The Encyclopedia of Homosexuality went out of print due to a PC attack.

Yay for the Internet, the Encyclopedia is now online.

Logan said...

You know, the word "unbelievable" is thrown around a lot these days. But in this case, I'd be hard pressed to find a more appropriate word.

Try to imagine a little role reversal, where a major adademic press released a 4-volume encyclopedia of secularism. Then it was recalled because, among other things, some scholars "wanted the insertion of material denigrating Secularism in some form or fashion.”

Yeah, I can't either.

Michael B said...

R Hampton,

Does your latter comment serve to indicate you're retracting your earlier judgement?

Evan said...

FYI, I've posted Wiley-Blackwell's recent statement in full on my blog, check it out here.

rhampton said...

Michael B,

My initial post was about what I thought to be a difference of perspective -- is the purpose of the Encylcopedia to be evangelically inspiring or historically objective? To this date I don't know (nor said or implied) with whom the fault lies because I have not examined the editing. So what "earlier judgement" are you referring to?

Michael B said...

I was referring to your depiction of the contrasting views, the judgement concerning the editors/protestors, stereotyped dichotomy, especially the notion the editors were simply concerned with an "unbiased" and "objective" pov. It doesn't matter.

Evan said...

Here is a good article that just came out about the ECC, and it gives some helpful information about other similar situations as well.