February 20, 2009
Is the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization Really "Too Christian"?
Update (11:50 a.m. Thurs., Feb. 26): CT has posted our take on the controversy here.
CT is looking into the commotion over veteran editor George Kurian's four-volume Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization being allegedly censored for being "too Christian."
Kurian, the lead editor, has been remarkably pointed in his accusations, while the publisher Wiley-Blackwell has offered plausible yet incomplete defenses. All in all, highly unusual to see such a big academic project unravel at such a late stage in the game.
1) Kurian says the encyclopedia was pulled because a small group of critics didn't like the tone of his Christian language, feeling the reference needed to be more critical of Christianity and more positive towards Islam.
2) Wiley insists it pulled the volumes not out of anti-Christian bias but because editorial review procedures were bypassed without its knowledge.
3) Observers say it's highly unusual for a publisher to pull such a major project so late in the game and wonder how Wiley-Blackwell bumbled its editorial process.
A number of UK papers and Catholic News Agency have covered the controversy, and contributors have discussed in the comments section of this blog. Terry Mattingly at Get Religion is annoyed no mainstream press is covering it.
Much of this follows this National Review blog post done by Edward Feser, a contributor to the book. Feser follows up in this post where he presses Wiley to say whether Kurian is lying or not and Wiley in turn keeps dodging. Feser's conclusion:
So where does all of this leave us? In three consecutive statements now - their first two public statements, and Susan Spilka's emailed response to my questions - Wiley-Blackwell has failed directly to address any of Kurian's specific allegations to the effect that the publisher and/or editorial board demanded that certain changes of content be made so that the Encyclopedia would be less pro-Christian, more friendly toward Islam, and so forth. ... One might be tempted to dismiss all this as a case of "he said/they said." But it seems fair to conclude that while Kurian's claims have been clear, consistent, and specific, Wiley-Blackwell's statements have seemed piecemeal, vague, incomplete, and bureaucratic.
CT has a reporter on the story and will let our readers know what we turn up.