Tuesday, February 17, 2009

More on the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization controversy

I have a follow-up piece posted today at NRO’s The Corner. Inside Higher Ed ran an article on the story yesterday. It seems to me that there are serious questions to be raised about Wiley-Blackwell’s official statements on this matter, questions which are not being asked by others who have commented on this story so far (including the Inside Higher Ed piece). I raise them in my article.


  1. Incidentally, the change from BC/AD to BCE/CE is practically complete in the scholarly world, even among Catholics and Evangelicals.

  2. While folks on both sides of the argument are complaining, very little has been said about Kurian's presentation of Christianity in the encyclopedia. Here are 2 paragraphs taken from Kurian's introduction. Notice that Kurian is speaking from a particular eschatological tradition, one to which many (if not most) Christians don't subscribe. This is just one reason why there should have been more review and oversight over Kurian's editorial duties. It should also be noted that Kurian wrote dozens of entries for the encyclopedia, few of which he can claim are within his areas of expertise.

    "In most human institutions it is possible for futurists to extrapolate trends and chart their short-term future. But Christianity is not a human institution. If it were, it would have disappeared long ago. The rudder of the universal church is in the hands of the Holy Spirit and its timelines are already set. There are no surprises in Christian history because it proceeds on a straight line and toward a set goal. The New Testament assures believers that the Church Militant and the Suffering Church of the present age will be replaced by the Church Triumphant that will be reunited with her Lord along with the hosts of believers. When the end is so clearly delineated the ups and downs of the journey to that goal become less important....

    "Christian growth has been always per saltum, or in spurts. There are long periods of dormancy followed by a quantum jump. This quantum jump is invariably the result of divine intervention, because the church in and of itself has no directional compass or reserves of energy outside of the Holy Spirit. With the whole Oikumene, or the inhabited world now with access to the Gospel, the next stage of Christian growth will be different from the past. The Christian Church has been described as a pilgrim church and it is not going to be permanently on earth. The next eschatological phase in Christian history will accelerate the pilgrimage of the church from its role as the Church Militant to its final destiny as the Church Triumphant.

  3. Neil,

    True. And that raises questions like: Why won't Wiley-Blackwell simply say "Yes, that was one change we requested?" if indeed it was? Why print the thing in the first place if they did object to little details like this? And if they had second thoughts later, why pulp the existing print run over such trivia?


    Of course, anyone would have written the thing from some point of view or other, so that by itself does not seem to be a serious objection. But the bottom line is that though complaints were raised about Kurian's introduction prior to publication, they must have been dealt with by Kurian to Wiley-Blackwell's satisfation, because they went ahead and printed it.

  4. Mr. Feser,

    You're absolutely right: Wiley-Blackwell certainly screwed up. But between one Catholic and another, please admit to us, your readers, that Mr. Kurian's ideas are hardly suitable for an encyclopedia of "Christian Civilization." Surely you have some theological objections to much of Mr. Kurian's ideas about the End Times.

  5. Anonymous,

    I do not have a copy of the Encyclopedia, and I haven't seen the introduction, apart from alleged portions of it people have posted in comments sections on various blogs. So I do not want to comment on it without knowing for sure what is actually in it. But what I personally think of the content is in any event irrelevant to the question at hand. Wiley -Blackwell apparently got over their initial objections (which were presumably not based on Roman Catholic grounds!), because they printed it. Hence the plausibility of Kurian's complaint about breach of contract.

  6. Mr. Feser,

    I guess I'm raising another question, which makes it equally at hand. I understand and grant your legal question and concern and Wiley-Blackwell's actions. I'm asking a theological question, and you are a theologian, so I thought we might have a conversation.

    All the best!

  7. My 12 year old son announced this weekend that he doesn't like the change from BC/AD to BCE/CE and said in class he changes the C from Common to Christian - making it Before Christian Era/Christian Era :-)

    Yes, we have been incoulating our kids against the anti-Christian tenor of schools but this was a nice surprise.

  8. Dear Mr. Feser,

    Please allow me to clarify a few points in response to your February 17th article.

    First, we have not responded to Mr. Kurian’s accusations characterizing the content issues because we have a process in place for a peer group of scholars --the Editorial Board-- to do that job. They are better qualified to evaluate the work and determine if revisions are necessary. Mr. Kurian agreed to and helped prepare Wiley-Blackwell’s agreements with Editorial Board members and is bound to fulfill his responsibilities in relation to them.

    In addition, in your article, you confuse different facets of the publishing process: printing with publishing, and copy editing and legal vetting with a substantive review of the content. It is indeed unfortunate that the content review by the Editorial Board is taking place later than anticipated, but that does not negate the need to do so to ensure the quality of the work’s scholarship.

    No decision was made by anyone at Wiley-Blackwell to "pulp" the first print run. Anyone who claims that such a decision was made is wrong. Mr. Carpenter did indeed have a conversation with Mr. Kurian regarding the first print run and specifically the effect changes would have on copies already printed. During that discussion, Mr. Carpenter proposed ways in which the first print run could be salvaged.

    Wiley-Blackwell will more publicly announce its further plans once the Encyclopedia's Editorial Board has completed its review.

  9. I don't get it. Are we living in the medeival times where publications are censored? The author is FREE to say whatever he wants. If it is academically not accurate, then in this world of democracy, someone else can write another paper or volume highlighting the errors of the earlier publication. As simple as that! Hundreds of scholars have contributed to this monumental work. They cannot all be wrong! Shame on the publisher and on the Brits!