Kurian Update

Clavi Non Defixi carries a statement from Susan Spilka of publisher Wiley-Blackwell concerning the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization:

“The publication of Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization, which Blackwell Publishing Limited (now part of Wiley-Blackwell) contracted in 2006 as a major cross-disciplinary reference work, has been delayed to enable the review by its Editorial Board that was envisioned at the outset of this project. At that time, the Encyclopedia’s Editor, George T. Kurian, approved and helped to appoint an Editorial Board of prominent theologians and scholars to perform this responsibility.

After serious concerns were raised by contributors about the Introduction, which was written by Mr. Kurian, we contacted members of the Editorial Board directly for feedback. We learned that Mr. Kurian did not engage the Editorial Board in the manner we had agreed to at the beginning of the publishing process; therefore, we requested that they perform these responsibilities to ensure that the Encyclopedia meets Wiley-Blackwell’s standards of scholarship. We acknowledge that we should have been aware of the shortcut Mr. Kurian took in his editorial process sooner, but that does not change our responsibility to rectify the situation now.

We will not speculate on the outcome of the Editorial Board’s review. No decision has yet been made about the inventory that is being stored in our distribution facilities.

While we understand and share the concerns of contributors to the Encyclopedia regarding the delay, we must fulfill our responsibilities as a respected global publisher. We sincerely appreciate that many of the Encyclopedia’s contributors have taken the time to understand the issues that we and the Editorial Board are attempting to address, rather than making hurtful and damaging accusations.”

As I blogged yesterday, Kurian has accused the book’s critics of being motivated “the devil”, and he insists this is a case of PC-censorship by anti-Christians to appease Muslims. Such overheated rhetoric, it seems to me, raises severe doubts about Kurian’s credbility – although one wonders why Blackwell allowed such a fiasco to develop in the first place. A contributor to the book adds a comment to the blog here:

Hello, I’m a contributor. In response to Kurian’s email, I asked him to give me some exact examples of passages WB objected to, and the precise objections. I said, in these cases, sometimes people feel they’ve been discriminated against, but actually, it is a question of quality. He has not responded.

So I’m left in doubt about whether this is really a case of PC censorship, or a matter of quality.

At the same time, it was obvious to me as a contributor that this was always intended as a pro-Christian dictionary, and it surprises me that editors and contributors suddenly raised problems at the very end of the process, after it was printed. I don’t think this was fair to Kurian.

Another person writes:

…I have published a couple of books by both major ‘Christian’ and ‘secular’ academic publishers, and to be honest I don’t really trust any publisher that much. Regardless of the Kurian thing, W-B were hardly on top of the project; I never did get my contracts from them or many of my emails answered. There were other important drops as well I won’t mention in public. I’m sure W-B has target authors to whom they are more professional. The point is not to speak bad of W-B but to say that there is probably alot of blame to go around. And, no, I’m not Kurian nor am I on his side (his email was very unprofessional). Both Kurian and W-B left me very unconvinced.

However, another contributor, Edward Feser, complains at the National Review that

 The publisher has not explained why its academic standards did not prevent it from granting final editorial approval and printing the encyclopedia. To paraphrase John Kerry, it would seem that Wiley-Blackwell was for publication before it was against it.

In the UK, Feser’s piece has been picked up by Damian Thompson, who is quick to spin a tale of anti-Christian persecution. Thompson ignores the bizarre aspects of Kurian’s email, and he suggests that:

 The most vicious anti-Christian prejudice I’ve ever encountered has been at academic conferences in America. And US academic publishers can be fantastically craven in the face of political correctness.

I know the work of a number of American scholars of religion and I’ve been to a few conferences (albeit not in America), and I have to say I have never encountered “vicious anti-Christian prejudice”. Of course, some scholars are more reductionist than others, and certain assessments of religious phenomena may be uncongenial to “insiders”. I’ve also heard scholars privately express scorn at manifestations of fundamentalism – indeed, I do that myself publicly on this blog. However, most academics, whether personally irreligious or not, can spot the difference between scholarly interpretation and mere polemic – or apologetic, for that matter – and can judge what is appropriate in academic writing and speaking. Kurian, by contrast, does not give impression of having a clue.