Sunday, November 28, 2010

New faculty publication!: Polydoxy

The Library is pleased to announce that it has received its copy of Polydoxy: Theology of Multiplicity and Relation, co-edited by Drew professor of Constructive Theology, Catherine Keller, and Laurel Schneider, professor of Theology, Ethics and Culture at Chicago Theological Seminary. This volume comprises essays based on presentations made at the 9th Transdisciplinary Theological Colloquium (TTC), an annual event at Drew Theological School. The colloquial origin of the essays accounts in part for the spirit of community they evince, but this also owes in large measure to the appreciation the authors collectively have for the very multiplicity and relation cited in the sub-title. The authors know each other's work and cite it (which does not invariably happen in multi-author collections of essays). Among the 12 authors, Laurel Schneider cites Catherine Keller, who cites John Thatamanil, who cites Mayra Rivera, who cites Sharon Betcher, who cites Laurel Schneider...--in a circle of citings that includes many additional mutual citings (and sightings!) embracing the other authors. The authors do not simply discuss multiplicity and relationality, they realize it before our eyes.

A helpful introduction introduces a third term to what might have been a mere complementarity of multiplicity and relation: "Unknowing" (p. 4), and it is under those three headings (Multiplicity, The Unknown, and Relationality) that the twelve essays are arranged. The three terms together mark a range of value that does not so much oppose as dis-enclose (to quote Rivera quoting Jean-Luc Nancy, p. 175) orthodoxy, the counterpoint to the polydoxy of the book's title. If Orthodoxy is, as Marion Grau simply and lucidly characterizes it, the "lifting up of one particular opinion as true" (p. 218), then polydoxy is the co-existence--or better, co-habiting--of multiple opinions. As counterpoint to orthodoxy, polydoxy accompanies it with possibly and indeed hopefully harmonizing alternatives, as Roland Faber indicates when he segues from polydoxy to polyphony (p. 41). The coinage of "polydox," though not entirely new (Rabbi Alvin Reines had used this term to name the non-dogmatic and open-to-atheistic Judaism he developed and promoted in the late twentieth century), dis-encloses itself in a plurality of meanings, even without the "poly" prefix. For doxa all by itself can mean, as Rivera explains, "opinion, view, or judgment" (p. 168). But then, by a curious twist of biblical translation, whereby the Hebrew kabod became doxa in Greek, a whole new range of meanings unfolded for the term out of the Hebrew: weight, honor, beauty, power, manifestation--as in the Glory (or manifestation) of God. And Rivera's essay is indeed an exploration of how doxa in this wonder-inducing sense can alternatively energize or enervate those who receive it.

A philosophically (Platonically) inflected meaning of doxa, which demeans it, as mere opinion, in contrast with certain knowledge (p. 168), pushes the argument for polydoxy forward. For here is where the Unknowing enters in. The uncertainty that the Platonic doxa on doxa implies becomes its appeal to polydoxic sensibility. A previous TTC had explored the paradoxical affinity of apophatic teachings about the divine with the reality of multiple, related bodies. And a preference the authors show, apart from the interest some of them have in the Trinity (the editors, Lee, Thatamanil), is for that name of God that, from the Christian heritage, is most elusive, indeterminate and difficult to speak authoritatively about: Spirit. In the index, ably compiled by Beatrice Marovich, Spirit receives the longest entry (and God, none at all.) (Never underestimate the communicative value of a good index!--yes, to quote the Acknowledgments, "brava Beatrice"!).

Now to turn from the doxa to the poly--polydoxic thinking crosses boundaries of space and time. The essays here draw from geographically diverse traditions, in Africa (Yoruba), East Asia (Neo-Confucianism), South Asia (Hinduism and Buddhism, Jainism), Native North America, and Latin America, in the essays respectively by Coleman, Lee, Thatamanil, Brianne Donaldson, Schneider, and Rivera. From within the western Christian tradition, we receive here sympathetic new readings of old favorites, such as Hegel (Lee), and Augustine (Rubenstein), and an original reading of a lesser-known primed to become a favorite for some: Anne Conway (Keller), a 17th century thinker who herself polydoxically interlinked Cambridge Platonism, Quakerism, Kabbalah and Leibniz. The aim here is not plurality for its own sake, but discerned analogies, parallels, complementarities, potential dialogues across difference. Hyo-Dong Lee and John Thatamanil explore these explicitly as they appear between the Christian trinity and Asian religious thought. But the essays also interrogate each other, if only implicitly. Haloes are a theme for both Roland Faber and Mayra Rivera; Monica Coleman's reading of Tananarive Due's novel The Living Blood includes thoughts on hurricanes that speak across the intervening chapters to Colleen Hartung's reflections on tornadoes; while theft, whether as trickery or tragedy, becomes a bridge of potential conversation between Coleman and Schneider.

But if one idea impressed itself most on this reader, it is that the very notion of identity is itself an artifice that need not draw our allegiance. The essays collectively suggest an analogy between identity and orthodoxy. But if polydoxy is the counterpoint to orthodoxy, what plays that role to identity? These essays offer up a family of terms for what this might be: permeability (Schneider, p. 32); indetermination (Faber, p. 41); "the borderline where the I emerged from its matrix" (Betcher quoting Erik Erikson, p. 76); the membranous (Keller, p. 96); ecstasy, in its most literal sense (Rubenstein); emptiness (Lee, quoting Cheng Yi, p. 130); blindness (Hartung); and Jean Luc Nancy's term, already via Mayra Rivera: dis-enclosure. Life in the space marked by these terms is something Roland Faber limns for us at the close of his essay. It is not necessarily an easy place to be. It is something like the place Levinas describes before a self that is hears or beholds the approach of the Other. Sharon Betcher suggests it is just from this space that the ligatures of urban conviviality and friendship open up. But what sustains us in this space before that happens or if indeed it fails to happen? Well, in part, words of such essays as these. If, as Laurel Schneider enjoins us to do, and as Monica Coleman demonstrates in her attentions to fiction, we remember "the innate agency of stories" (p. 31), we may find that more emerges from that quarter to sustain than we imagined--and that more than meets the eye is, or can function as, story. The agency of story can even emerge in that holdout of orthodoxy: the creed. I, for my part, have always loved the sound of the Nicene Creed, which is partly story, even if, from my perch in the religious world, I do not pronounce it myself. Perhaps the authors of this volume, in a future collaboration, will share polydoxic readings of that polysemic and polyphonous string of words, whose flowing cadences may indeed reach far beyond the bounds of that orthodoxy they were originally framed to serve.

Polydoxy is cataloged with the call number BR41 .D74 2011, which places it in the old Cornell Room (Level E). Readers of this volume may be interested in the published essays of other TTC's, listed here, all of which are available in the library. Books of kindred spirit may be found cataloged under these subject headings:
Theology of Religions (Christian Theology)
Christianity and Other Religions
Process Theology
Religious Pluralism
Enter any of these terms into the catalog search box click on the Subject button, and a list of books will appear.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New book by Drew faculty!: Spiritual Formation

The Library is pleased to announce that it has received its copy of Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit, by Henri J. M. Nouwen, with the editorial and integrative help of Drew faculty Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird. The editors have richly enhanced the bibliography of Nouwen, with this volume, as it incorporates much previously unpublished material, including sermon notes, and texts of public addresses and sound recordings. The book seamlessly integrates these with published writings not otherwise easily accessed, and frames the whole with a Preface and Appendix by the editors. Michael Christenesen studied with Nouwen at Yale Divinity School, and the bond between author and editors is itself part of the book's spiritual message: echoes of our earthly pilgrimage (Nouwen died in 1996) continue to sound in the communities of friendship we have formed. The book is the second of a planned trilogy, of which the first, published in 2006, is Spiritual Direction. The projected third volume will be entitled Spiritual Discernment.

Part of the intimacy the book models stems from the shifting reference of the personal pronoun, I, which mostly refers to Nouwen, but sometimes (in the Preface) to Michael, and sometimes, more generally, to the reader, when Nouwen projects towards our thought about ourselves. The little word, I, becomes a meeting ground for author, editors and readers, and so begins to realize the book's teachings on community. At the same time, readers who listen to the sound of that little word will begin to hear its homonym, "eye", which points to a distinctive teaching of this work, about visio divina. A complement to the ancient tradition of lectio divina, or contemplative reading, this "postmodern practice of visio divina" (p. [137]) is a prayerful seeing stimulated especially by icons or iconic paintings and sculptures. At the center of the book are several beautifully reproduced color artworks, from as far apart in time as Andrei Rublev and Vincent Van Gogh. These artworks coordinate with the seven movements of the spirit that name the chapters of the book, beginning with, "From Opaqueness to Transparency" and ending with, "From Denying to Befriending Death." Each of these movements is a practice to perform, in concert and unendingly, for we are never wholly established at the desired pole of, for instance, transparency. The book supplies both readings and visuals to help the seven processes along. It is designed to be read in community, but will also enrich the spiritual life of the solitary reader.

Nouwen was a poetic writer. In context of his teaching about the heart, as the locus of spiritual life, his open question, "What do you know by heart?" (p. xviii) connects spiritual work to memory work. And indeed, "the prayer of the heart" (p. 31) is a prayerful phrase from memory, "repeated throughout the day." Nouwen also supplies etymologies that deepen the meaning of words, for example: person, which "comes from the Old French, per-sonare, which means 'sounding through'" (p. 11). We are most personal when our soul sounds through our words and deeds.

Nouwen does not conceal from us the "ungodly spirits that haunt our souls" (p. xxi), parading under a mask of goodness. He warns that our very efforts towards goodness may conceal lingering resentments. The spiritual life is not free of ambiguity. "Real ministers are powerless servants who offer gifts of availabilty and hospitality" (p. 91). At the same time, "ministers need training so they won't become victims of the selfishness of others" (p. 90). Nouwen's nuanced reflections on this point prompt the reader towards a keener self-discernment: in any given act towards goodness, am I being more minister or victim? Perhaps it is possible to be both at once.

In any number of different ways, this wise book will find its way to the reader's heart. For this reader, stories, images and ideas from the book interweave with memories of beloved spiritual classics, in a pattern of mutual strengthening. For instance, the story of the "old priest ... [who] complained for too long that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work" (p. 65) evokes George Bernanos' Diary of a Country Priest, where the young protagonist, also a priest, voices a similar complaint, but learns over time the same lesson.* Or again, Nouwen's notion of a beauty in ourselves we cannot see unless another sees it first (p. 13) recalls a character from Tolstoy's War and Peace, Princess Maria, whose own beauty shone forth only when she wasn't seeking it herself.** And anyone who has been to the movies recently, to see "Eat Pray Love", will recognize Nouwen's image of the "descent from the mind into the heart" (p. xxv), from having seen it pictured, in that movie, in a Bali work of art.

Henri Nouwen was a prolific writer. Some of his books gather in the library at the Dewey Decimal number 248.4, but, interdisciplinary as he was, no one classification number can hold the breadth of his work. Browse searches in the library catalog turn up 43 books by Nouwen and 19 about him, located at a variety of places in the library. In addition, Drew students will want to hear the 2010 Henri J. M. Nouwen Lecture in Classical Spirituality, "The Road to Peace: The Wisdom of Gospel Nonviolence from Jesus to Henri Nouwen," by Fr. John Dear, on Monday, Sept. 27, 2010, at 7:30 in Craig Chapel.

*"Yes I pray badly and not enough. Almost every day after mass I have to interrupt my thanksgiving to see some parishioner." George Bernanos, Diary of a Country Priest, tr. Pamela Morris (New York: Carroll and Graf, 1965), p. 102.

**"The Princess never saw the beautiful expression of her own eyes--the look they had when she was not thinking of herself." Tolstoy, War and Peace (Plain Label Books, 1952), p. 183.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Welcome, New Students!

The library joins the seminary in welcoming all new students in the Theo School and the GDR! The new academic year always brings together two different trajectories, a circular one and a linear one. Students are on a linear track, towards the goal of a degree, while staff, faculty and administrators are on a circular track that returns to its beginning each Fall. It's a good combination, because a (tiny) circle and a straight line together make an exclamation point, a feeling of excitement!, as this lovely little book shows.

Those of us who work for educational institutions hope we have something helpful to share: a body of knowledge, a way of thinking, a useful service, an attentive ear. But a fact in which we needn't hope, because the reality of it is sure, is that each fall the new and returning students restore hope in our work. You are the other half that makes us whole, and we like to think the reverse is also true, at least for now, while you are here, and to some extent.

Keats called Fall the "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness." Mists are a paradoxical thing. They can be agents of deliverance, as they were in the Trojan War, according to Homer, when, sent by a god, they protected a hapless mortal from harm (see question 4 on this quiz). But they can also work towards concealing something we would rather see. A dialectic of concealment and revelation informs some aspects of learning, especially where questions of deep identity are concerned. Our hope is that from this delicate dialectic a "mellow fruitfulness" will emerge in our conversations, our studies, and perhaps even our research in the library. The library staff is available to help in whatever ways we can.

As a start, we commend to your bookmark list this page from the library website, which links to several services we offer.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Browsing versus Keywording

A lament sometimes heard in the age of electronic research is that browsing is no longer possible as it once was, say, in library card catalogs. Fingering the rows of cards in the long wooden drawers, which might be devoted in one half of the catalog to authors and titles, and to the other half to subject topics, led to unexpected surprises. Many of these wooden catalogs were sold as collector's items, and now do indeed collect a variety of small things in private homes. Decades ago, the cards in the catalog were handlettered in a distinctive library script, which was taught in library schools. How sad to have lost even a simple but clear hand-lettering such as this. (Though several staff members in the Drew Library write a beautiful script.)

But in fact, the concept of browsing still exists in online library catalogs and periodical databases. A researcher browses, in this sense, when she locates herself in an ordered list of terms or numbers, in which she can move up or down. Anything so orderable is browsable: titles of books, names of authors, call numbers, subject topics. In catalogs and databases, the ordering is alphabetic in the case of author names, book titles, and subject topics, and numeric in the case of Dewey Decimal call numbers; it is alphanumeric in the case of scripture citations. For instance, if I browse-search in the Drew catalog for the title of a book, I find myself in a very long list of all the titles the library owns. So browsing can also be a way to take the full measure of a library or database, to see all the books it owns, or all the journals it indexes, or all the authors whose works it contains.

Most catalogs and databases offer a button for browse searching. If you click on that, you are primed to scan alphabetic or numeric lists. For example, if you are in Browse mode, and search for a subject term, you will be placed in the alphabetic list of subject terms that catalog or database uses to describe items, at just the point your search term occurs in the list. Or, if your term does not occur there, you'll be placed at what would be its alphabetic neighbor. From there, a single click on the term usually takes you to citations for whatever items (books or articles) are associated with that term in the catalog or database.

Browsing is useful when you aren't sure if a database recognizes your search term; or if you're unsure of a spelling (as in the case of author names). Browse searching can also give an overview of a topic, and show how it subdivides. This is especially useful when researching a broad topic like, say, Good and Evil. A browse-search for the subject, Good and Evil, within the Drew catalog shows it subdivided by: History of Doctrines, Psychological Aspects, and Religious Aspects. A browse-search can also locate a topic in a larger context. For example, browse searching the list of scripture citations in the ATLA Religion Database will retrieve articles that discuss your verse or pericope both by themselves and in larger contexts of verses. For example, if I browse-search for Genesis 1:1 in the ATLA scripture citation index, I learn that there are 30 articles on Gen 1:1, 7 articles on Gen 1:1-2, and 3 articles on Gen 1:1-10. Browse searching the subjects in the Drew library catalog shows me the complex way the library describes books about Genesis 1:1, like this: Bible O T Genesis I:1 (that's a Roman numeral for the chapter, and an Arabic numeral for the verse). The catalog shows me that there is one book on Gen I:1-3, but many commentaries and interpretations on chapter I as a whole, and still many more on larger sections of Genesis that include the first verse.

Keyword searching follows a different logic. In this case, I am simply matching a term I feed the database to terms already in the database. Keyword searches retrieve the records in the database that contain the search term I fed it. If I limit my keyword search by Author, I retrieve records that identify my search term as an author name; if I limit my keyword search by Subject, I retrieve records that identify my term as a subject topic. If I leave my search unlimited, I retrieve records that contain my term in any way at all, as author, title, subject, or in any other way (for example, as the name of a publisher, or the title of a chapter in the book).

The Drew catalog invites both browse and keyword searching. Keyword searching is the default mode. If you want to browse-search, click the Browse button at the top of the catalog. You can Browse-search Authors, Titles, Series Titles, Periodical Titles, and Subjects. If, from Browse-searching, you want to return to Keyword-searching, click the Keyword button along the top of the catalog. Within the Keyword mode, you can limit your search by Author, Title, or Subject, or, leave it unlimited, and search throughout all the records, by clicking on the second Keyword button that appears beneath the search box. It is important to distinguish between the two Keyword buttons. The one above the search box is in distinction from browse searching. The one below the search box presumes you are performing keyword searches, and simply executes an unlimited search (in distinction from a search limited by Author, Title, or Subject).

Be on the look-out for browsing options in the databases. ATLA allows many kinds of browsing--by author, title, journal title, subject, scripture citation, for instance. Access to these is via the Indexes button that appears along the top of the screen. You'll find a browse option in America: History and Life also via the Indexes button. The social science databases (PsycInfo and SocIndex) go one better than that, and offer a thesaurus of subject terms used in those indexes. In Soc Index, the button for that is Subject Terms; and in PsycInfo, it is Thesaurus.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Library Catalogs

Library catalogs are islands of socialist sensibility in a capitalist world. They are freely available to all, and more or less constructed according to the principle: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. A remarkable uniformity governs online library catalogs in the U.S.: the information they contain about books, journals, and webpages is structured in the same way across the many different catalogs. They all follow an alphanumeric structure of coding information called MARC, which stands for machine readable cataloging. A record for a book or journal in MARC format is so daunting to behold, however, that it rarely appears to the naked eye. To find one, you must follow a link that most catalogs provide. For instance, if, in the Drew catalog you are looking at a record for the book, From Corpus Christi to Spiritus Christi: The R/Evolution of an Independent Catholic Church, by Jody Caldwell (who is Head of Reference in the Drew Library)--you are looking at what we call the public access record--and you direct your eye to the little box over to the right, labeled "Item Resources" and containing a link called "MARC Record," and click on it, you will be taken to the alphanumerically coded MARC record for the same book. The MARC record sometimes has more information about a book in it, than its corresponding public access record, which is true in this case. From the MARC record, you learn that this is a Ph.D. dissertation written at Drew University. Just for fun (?), look this same title up in Brown University's catalog, Josiah. When the record appears, click on the link labeled "Coded Display" at the top of the screen. That will take you to the MARC record. You'll see it is identical to the MARC record in our own catalog. What makes the public access records look different are just the different softwares that mediate the same, identical MARC records to the users of these different catalogs.

Library cataloging is highly precise and follows the guidelines of a rule book that reads as a legal text. It is just this precision that allows for libraries to share so much of their cataloging with each other. But the precision can also complicate finding information, at the researcher's end of things. Is it an act of hubris for libraries to erect structures in which they imagine all knowledge can be contained? Perhaps the punishment for this is the difficulty reseachers often have with library catalogs. In our efforts to make knowledge accessible, we seem to render it inaccessible, as though in realization of some tragic potential of human existence; and sometimes libraries seem to inhabit their own little byway of human tragedy. (But, is Google really the answer?)

For help searching the Drew catalog, never hesitate to click the HELP button in the upper left hand corner of the screen. But here are a few handy tricks, in sum:

1. Though the catalog does not appear to allow you to search for a book by its author and title together, it allows you to circumvent that seeming deficiency by coding your search terms with these small prefixes: au for author; ti for title; (and su for subject). Sometimes the most efficient search for a book requires both author and title together, for instance, the search for the book by the prolific author, John Updike, titled simply "S". To find this book, enter au Updike and ti S in the search box. Click the box labeled Keyword, below the search box, and the lone record for that book will appear. Saves sorting through extraneous records.

2. Remember to browse! Click the Browse button which appears along the top of the screen. To browse in an online library catalog is to access an ordered list (usually alphabetic, but sometimes numeric) of the terms, phrases, or numbers it uses to designate the items in it. More clearly: to browse the titles in a library catalog is to access an alphabetical list of all the titles of all the books the library owns. This is often the best way to see if the library owns a particular book. For example, if you only had the title, "S" (and forgot the author was Updike), and you clicked first on Browse, along the top of the screen, then entered the letter S in the search box, and then clicked on the button labeled Title under the search box, you'd come to the precise place where that title falls in the alphabetic list of titles. (There are actually two books associated with the single letter S; click on that S, and a record for Updike's book will appear). See what happens if you did a keyword search for the title S: Click on the button labeled Keyword along the top of the screen, enter S in the search box, and click on the button labeled Title beneath the search box. See what results. Aaugh! (as Charlie Brown would exclaim).

Browse searching is especially useful when looking for books on a given topic. Here is the problem: the library has its own way of describing topics, which it takes from the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. To see how the Library of Congress thinks about topics, go to this page. When catalogers assign subject descriptors to a book, they take them from the Library of Congress. This means that a book about the Eucharistic rite is assigned the heading "Lord's Supper," whether the author uses that term or not. Search results are sometimes better if you're attentive to what we call these Library of Congress Subject Headings. On any given catalog record, these are given towards the bottom of the record in a field labeled Subject Term. But you can also browse them in an alphabetical list. Click on the Browse button along the top of the screen. Enter Eucharist in the search box, and click on the button labeled Subject, under the search box. The alphabetic list directs you from Eucharist, which the library does not recognize, to Lord's Supper, which it does. Click on Lord's Supper and you come to the part of the alphabetic list of terms that subdivides Lord's Supper into seemingly endless specific aspects of it, according to history, denomination, doctrine etc. The alphabetic list of subject terms is really the mind of the Library, which can help narrow down a topic too broad (for example).

3. Many records for books in the catalog contain a listing of the table of contents. These are especially helpful in keyword searches. Click on Keyword along the top of the screen. Suppose you want essays that address Augustine's view on sex, enter this string in the search box: su Augustine and sex. Now click on the Keyword button just below the search box (which is importantly different from the keyword button along the top of the screen). This retrieves books entirely about Augustine that contain chapters on sex. A likely prospect is James Wetzel's brand new book, Augustine: A Guide for the Perplexed, which contains the chapter, "Sex and the Infancy of Desire."

Note: the union catalog, Worldcat, contains many more tables of contents than our own catalog. To maximize your search of our catalog, select Worldcat from the list of library databases here. Once inside Worldcat, click on Advanced Search (along the top of the screen). Now enter Augustine in the first search box, and, from the drop down menu on the right, select Subject. In the second search box, type: sex, and leave the the drop down menu to the right at keyword. Towards the bottom of the screen, click on the box labeled: Limit Availability to Items in My Own Library. Now click search. You are in effect searching our own catalog via Worldcat. Your search in Worldcat retrieves an additional book, called Saint Augustine's Sin, by Gary Wills, which contains a chapter entitled "Sexual Offenses." This book did not appear when you performed this same search in our own catalog, even though we do indeed own the book. Why? Because our catalog does not contain the table of contents for this book, which includes a form of the word: sex. But Worldcat does!

Perhaps this is enough for one blog posting about the catalog, an exhausting topic whose depths are never fully plumbed. When the catalog frustrates you, never hesitate to consult a librarian.

Friday, August 6, 2010

New Book by Drew Faculty!: Seducing Augustine

The Library is pleased to announce that it is has received its copy of Seducing Augustine: Bodies Desires, Confessions, by Drew faculty member Virginia Burrus, in collaboration with Mark Jordan (Harvard Divinity School) and Karmen MacKendrick (LeMoyne College), and published by Fordham University Press. This "little book" (p. x--only 174 pages, sizing in at 6" x 9") is a shared reading of Augustine's Confessions, as illuminated by other writings of the great saint, including On Christian Teaching and The City of God, as well as other interlocutors of our own time--Margaret Miles, Michel Foucault, M. B. Pranger, and many more.

The title is even more seductive than appears for, as the authors emphasize, "seduction is necessarily reversible" (p. 32). That is, the seductions on display here are multiple and variously directed. Take the title alone: "seducing" functions as both an adjective describing Augustine, who seduces, and as a verb whose object is Augustine, the one seduced. Who is seducing whom? In fact, this book may be read as a kind of Pilgrim's Progress through the Valley of Seduction, seducers at every turn. They include: bodies, desires, sex, beauty, memory, Continence, Plato, Margaret Miles, these three authors themselves, and, of course, Augustine. How can the wary reader feel at ease? But s/he can, because with Augustine ultimately in charge, the seductions are all finally exercises in grace: what we delight in feeling led to, surreptitiously and, we hope, under cover of night, whether it be Augustine's own lurid sex life, other dark confessions too frightful fully to tell, or the naked but grotesque bodies of the heavenly Resurrection (these from Augustine's other famous text, The City of God), dissolve at our sight or touch, into our own experience of the divine. "While we were fixing our impatient gaze on Augustine, waiting for him to reveal just a little bit more of himself, he has slipped in his startling substitute, instead revealing God" (p. 124). Pretty tricky. But what would we expect of Augustine's beautiful prose, whose form belies its content, always pulling upward and away from the abasements it describes. Augustine's words do not lie flat and innocent on the page. They are "sticky words" and "tickling signs" (p. 48, 49), or so they are at the hands of these gifted interpreters.

To illustrate from the authors: Augustine drops enough hints about these supposed confessions, to suggest they may in fact not be strictly true. He may be boasting of greater sin than he actually enjoyed; he may be fabricating entirely, he who, after all, had, by his own admission, to discipline his native gift for deceiving theatricality. If he is indeed as prone to sin as he claims, then he may fail throughout to restrain that dubious gift, and be offering up a stage performance. Where does that leave the reader? With a lot of words about longing for God. But these words, as the authors observe, so often formulated in the second person--"you"--and addressed to God--"Late have I loved you" (from book 10)--cannot help but engage the reader, too, as alternative addressee and yet, also as joint speaker of them, with Augustine, addressing God. Suddenly the reader, thinking to satisfy prurient interests in Augustine, is caught up with Augustine in prayer.

Adding interest to the interpretations is that they are not in complete agreement over the attractiveness of Augustine. Two of the voices would lead us into Augustine's own seductions of us; but one of the voices cautions care. Yes, the seducer's lair may appear to be a launching station to God, but it is actually the confines of the church (Augustine was a bishop, after all), flattening the bounce of the metaphorically rich confessional language with its "authoritative exegesis" (p. 60). The very cover of the book hints at this divergence (and yes, contrary to popular belief, a well-designed book can be judged by its cover) for it comprises three views of a veiled dancer, a small bronze from ancient Greece, sinuously posed. The statue turns invitingly towards us in two of the poses, but directly and forbiddingly away from us in one.

The willing reader will gladly be seduced by these three authors, whether into embrace or repulse of Augustine. But wither might the reader seduce either Augustine or the authors? At least this reader would take us to Kierkegaard, that modern theological master of seduction, who gave us, under pseudonym, the Diary of a Seducer, and who theorized so beguilingly about Don Juan, especially as captured by Mozart's opera, Don Giovanni, where the character merges with the music and seduces us out of our minds. The modern opera house would indeed be a seduction for Augustine, but wouldn't the text of the Confessions, smuggled into a performance of the Mozart opera, and let to lie there on the listener's lap, begin of its own to vibrate in tune with the music?

There is much more to this book. The play of reversal to be found here intoxicates: to self-abase before humility exalts; to remember having forgotten restores to memory; to praise the other reveals the self. The authors indicate a place, via Augustine, where "transcendence and transience touch" (p. 98). The authors indirectly remind us that the most rigorous scholarship in spiritual matters partakes of what it describes and interprets. The reader comes away unsure whether she has simply read a book, or arrived at the end of pilgrim's path.

A librarianly coda: Students of Augustine, seeking further reading, will find books by and about him gathered at the Dewey Decimal number 281.4 A923 and at the Library of Congress number BR65 .A, both on level E of the Library. A useful reference source is: Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1999) (281.4 A923Y A9239a). Brief introductions include: Augustine: A Guide for the Perplexed, by James Wetzel (New York: Continuum, 2010) (BR65 .A9 W482 2009) and Augustine, by Gareth Matthews (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2005) (B655 .Z7 M18 2005). An introductory plunge into the scholarship is available in The Cambridge Companion to Augustine, ed. by Eleanore Stump and Norman Kretzmann (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001) (281.4 A923Y C178c ). Readers of Seducing Augustine may also want to read: Desire and Delight: A New Reading of Augustine's Confessions, by Margaret Miles (New York: Crossroad, 1992) (281.4 A923cY M643d); Augustine and Postmodernism: Confessions and Circumfession, ed. by John Caputo and Michael Scanlon (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2005) (281.4 A923cY A9232a ); and the soon-to-appear Eternity's Ennui: Temporality, Perseverance and Voice in Augustine and Western Literature, by M. B. Pranger (Brill, scheduled to appear October 2010).

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Since when does Bibliography take an exclamation point?! Since the commandment to include one in most research papers and theses. But the ! also marks the excitement there can be over discovering a particularly relevant bibliography. Bibliographies are one of the few remaining graces in a copyright obsessed world. They are the traces a scholar freely leaves of her thinking and research, for others to follow at will. They symbolize the scholarly world at its collegial and cooperative best. And they sometimes contain gems that do not turn up on even the most thorough searches of databases and catalogs.

In our digitial age, "bibliography" is a misnomer, since it implies that the resources we list as informative on any given topic are all books (biblos=book). But a bibliography will typically include digitized journal articles and possibly webpages, blog entries, or online videos as well.

Most academic theses (D.Min, M.A., Ph.D) and research papers for courses require a bibliography of items consulted during research. It is wise to begin keeping a record of these at the start of research. An excellent place to begin: subject encyclopedias on your topic. A subject encyclopedia (as opposed to a general encyclopedia like the Britannica or Wikipedia) comprises short-ish articles on a specific topic (e.g. Spirituality, Pastoral Counseling, the Reformation) written by specialists in the field. Each article typically includes a bibliography of items that the author considers essential reading on the article's subject. It is like calling up a friend you trust and know to be an expert on something and asking them, "What should I read on this topic?"

Some online encyclopedias, such as the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (find it here) provide clearly identified links to bibliography. Others, like the Encyclopedia of Religion (also here) comment on the books in their bibliographies, identify classics in the field, or recommend translations of key texts originally written in Latin, Greek or another language other than English.

Some books in the library collection consist of nothing but bibliography. Find these by joining to any keyword search you initiate in the catalog the expression su bibliography. For example, if you search for spirituality and su bibliography, a record for this book appears: On Spirituality: A Feminist Perspective, by Clare Fischer. which is simply a list of books on its topic, categorized by various subdivisions (Goddess Spirituality, Feminist Theory, etc.).

Annotated bibliographies are especially useful finds, as they summarize and often evaluate the books they list. Students of Hebrew Bible should enjoy the engagingly written and delightfully opinionated annotations in the British publication, Book List, which is found online through the library catalog. For the most recent example, search for the periodical Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, follow links to the online version, and select the issue for July 2010.

To find bibliographies in the ATLA Religion Database (here), add to whatever search you are doing the term, bibliography, in a separate search box and select from the drop-down menu to its right, Subjects. This search will retrieve articles on your topic that are nothing but bibliography. For example, a search for Spiritual Life, as a topic, and Bibliography, as a subject, retrieves a lovely article from the May 9, 2009 Christian Century comprising recommendations of scholars and pastors on the best books to read on spirituality. The article is simply called, "Books to Start With."

The folks who actually index articles for ATLA Religion Database are trained in religious studies and attuned to the needs of researchers. If they come across an article or essay that includes a particularly rich bibliography in it, they make a note of that. To find these notable bibliographies within articles, add to your subject search, in a separate search box, the term: nt bibliography. The "nt" here does not stand for New Testament, but for Note. This search will retrieve articles on the subject you are searching that contain significant bibliographies. For example, if within ATLA we search for Spirituality as a subject, in one search box, and nt bibliography in another, this article appears: "The Body Between Religion and Spirituality," by Giuseppe Giordan. This article discusses the importance of the body to any discussion of spirituality. And the database notes that it has a 2-page bibliography, on pages 234-236. For a guide to searching ATLA Religion Database generally, click here.

Once you have a list of sources, be sure to arrange them for your paper or thesis in prescribed bibliographic format, which is often according to Turabian or the University of Chicago (which are the same). There are many online guides to Chicago style, click here for one. For especially challenging cases of citation, consult the online Chicago Manual of Style, which files alphabetically here.

In despair, consult with your theological librarian.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Welcome DMin Students!

The Library joins the Seminary in welcoming DMin students to campus. Your work fills a very important role in the literature of theology: you connect theoretical concepts and models to the practical challenges of ministry. You apply critical intellect to what the Hebrew language calls: tikkun olam.

Our first advice to all Drew students: Enjoy the beauty of the setting here. The trees at Drew, which dominate the campus, have personalities of their own and, as Jewish philosopher Martin Buber taught about trees generally, enter into I-Thou relations with those who stop to notice them. Walk the campus, the many paths, and especially The Path, which connects the main campus to Green Villa apartments--it is an ideal, wooded path that gently undulates and fosters walking-meditation. You may encounter friendly deer!

Our second advice: Be prepared in your studies to have long-held assumptions questioned. The Library participates in this self-questioning daily. We, as most libraries, think of ourselves as a sanctum of learning and discovery. But where do all the books we house come from? Most of them derive from those very things we venerate on our campus: trees. Books are in that sense corpses of the once-living, or, as they have been called, "Felled Trees and Toxic Ink."1 The Library nonetheless persists in hoping that this shame does not discourage use of the books. We do, however, hold it up as the kind of contradiction that besets all serious thought.

We know that many of our students come from afar and do not have ready access at home to university libraries. Thankfully, more and more reliable scholarship is available online to aid distance students in their research. Here is a brief beginning bibliography of online sources. Two key databases for DMin students will be Research in Ministry, which indexes most DMin dissertations written in the U.S. and Canada, and Dissertations and Theses (find it listed alphabetically on this list), which offers up the fulltext, online, of many D.Min theses (and most of the Drew theses). Academic theses of any kind (Ph.D, M.A, D.Min, PsyD) are excellent sources of bibliography. Of course, students will want to consult the old, reliable ATLA index--always the starting point for religious research. The Library suggests a number of other useful online resources, including several online encyclopedias. Note especially Oxford Scholarship Online,which contains the fulltext of hundreds of books in religious studies.2

While on campus, visit the Baldwin Room in the Library, in the northeast corner of Level E (a flight up the steps when you enter the Library). That's where all the past D.Min theses are filed, by year, and within year by author last name. You can borrow these, if you like. But do not think to slavishly copy one! Each author's inspiration is her or his own.

Students new to recent methods in research may like to take our online tutorial. Anyone who takes time to complete the tutorial will be ready to go with their research! A brief review of the research process is also available. Here is a summary of available library services. And here is the page we'll follow in the library orientation sessions on the afternoon of Monday, July 19, which the library staff anticipates with pleasure!

1. Rachel Donadio, "Saving the Planet, One Book at a Time," New York Times, July 9, 2006, Book Review section.

2. When accessing Library databases from off campus, you'll be prompted for your Login ID and password.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Studying in the Library

For some of us, whether working alone or in a small group, it is easier to study in a common, communal space devoted to that purpose. The Library offers spaces for both solitary and group work, for silence and speaking, for focused attention and relaxed conversation. The space you encounter on entering the Library (level C--refer to this map throughout this posting), between the Circulation Desk and the Atrium (where the current periodicals are shelved) is a "noisy" space. Students can gather at the study tables and work together on assignments. A more enclosed space for group study is the Rose Room, on level E, just off the large reading room (called Pilling). Here, a fireplace (nonworking) and curved, wood bookshelves, set into the walls, add atmosphere. The trees hug the windows and the tops of the Corinthian columns, which flank the old (now unused) entrance to the library, visible outside, enhance the sense of height.

In addition, two sizable rooms, numbered 205 and 212, both on E level, are available for group study. These are locked and require you to sign in and obtain a key, at the Circulation Desk. They are available in 2-hour slots. Room 212, in the Rose Library, contains a DVD and VCR player. Room 205 (in the Learning Center) contains just a DVD player. Room 205 was the former office of the theological librarian. Spirits of past theological librarians may hover there, but they are friendly.

For quiet study in a large, common space, choose the Pilling Room, on Level E along the north side of the Library. The windows here face out on Drew's "front lawn," more an arboretum, really. The tall ceiling lends grandeur to the space; dissertations lining the walls, pictures of cathdedrals, and busts of eminent writers all contribute a scholarly air.

Carrels are spaced throughout the library for individual, quiet study. In addition, 2 all-day carrels are available, in the Baldwin Room (level E, northeast corner). You just sign in at the Circulation Desk and pick up a key. Consult the policy on group study spaces.

The entire library is wireless, and many study spaces have outlets, in addition, to plug in your computer. A few spaces also offer cable connection to the Internet--the study tables in the Microform Reading Room (level C, northeast corner), and the carrels on Level E, in the Learning Center, that border the Atrium. You can borrow a cable at the Reference Desk.

For plush, living-room chairs, go to the Atrium and enjoy the natural light from above. Or, if you like sitting at a picture window, find 2 comfy chairs in the philosophy section of Level E, behind the stacks labeled 181.4 D, and facing out on the open lawn behind Mead Hall. Squirrels climb the trees and birds hang upside down on the eaves. Perfect for birdwatching.

Though the Library does not (yet) have a cafe, a soda machine is available on level C in the far northwest corner of the Learning Center (where you see the phone on this map). The entry space of the library, with garden chairs and tables, is set aside for eating, chatting, and visiting, but many students also like to study there.

As you explore the study spaces in the Library, take time to notice the art: older pieces and reproductions in the Rose Library; newer pieces in the Learning Center. Lutherans will enjoy the print, hanging in the Baldwin Room, of Luther burning the pope's Bull of excommunication.
For a meditation on the Rose Window, which is overhead as you enter the Library, see an article in the Library's newsletter, Visions.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Navigating the Library, 101

Why are introductory courses so often assigned the number, 101? Perhaps because this is a palindrome, the same frontwards and backwards, as though to suggest ease of access and assimilation. Unfortunately, the concept of ease does not apply to the topic of navigating the Drew Library. It is not clear which is front of the building, and which the back. There are really two fronts, on the model of a two-headed mythological beast. The building is a composite of two structures, one from the 1930s (the Rose Library) and the other from 1980s (The Learning Center). The entrance to the older structure, which is now closed, is beautifully columned and stepped, and leads onto a room, now largely vacant, but which will one day become a stunningly gorgeous reading room. The entrance to the new stucture (the current entrance) is beautifully glassed, and leads to a lovely atrium with tables and chairs that invite meeting, eating, and talking. Note the stained glass window over the entrance.

For left-brained visitors (if you click this link, see question #7), there are maps. It is always harder to be right-brained in this world. For such, the easiest thing is to ask a staff member for help finding your way. Librarians and staff are typically hovering about the circulation desk or the reference desk, which you encounter on entering the building. If you tell staff where you want to be, they will often personally accompany you to your destination.

Theo students will enjoy knowing that most of the theological books are in one place: on "Level E," which is upstairs, and towards the north end of the floor. However, Bible and biblical criticism are a stairway above, on level F. (The narrow stairway in Rose Library is navigable and the old elevator next to it is faithful and tireless.) For the directionally attuned: head to the northwest corner of "Level E" for the newer books, which inhabit a room called "The Cornell Room," after the name of the first Drew theological library, and its donor, which and who are no more. Theological reference books are on level C, in the stacks along the west wall of the main floor. Bound journals are in movable shelves on level A (basement).

Complicating navigation of the building are the two classification systems in play: Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress. We no longer classify any books in the Dewey Decimal system. And all books so classified are in stacks along the north wall of Level E. All newly acquired books are classified in the Library of Congress system and shelved in the Cornell Room (northwest corner of Level E).

None of this addresses the third building that belongs to the library: the Methodist Library, across from the Learning Center. Note the Methodist Librarian's blog.

A tip for theo students who find themselves in the library with a few spare moments: browse the D.Min dissertations, filed by year in the Baldwin Room, on Level E in the northeast corner of the library. The topics are practical, directly relevant to ministry, and a tribute to the many connections between academic study and real-life pastoring.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Libraries, Librarians, Research

Libraries and churches have much in common. Both can serve, in different ways, as sanctuaries (for the homeless, for example: library ministry to the homeless, church ministry to the homeless); both are interested in communication and service; both channel a sense of mission for those committed to them. Does your church have a library? If not, explore the possibilities of one, via the Church and Synagogue Library Association.

Remember that today, the word “library”—which is literally bookary (on the model of rookery!, a nest for books)—is a misnomer, since libraries collect all kinds of things, including access to online databases.

A stereotyped librarian is ISTJ on the Myers Briggs Indicator Test. But actual librarians fall all over the scale. They can be: extroverted, radical, occult-ish, chic. Never hesitate to contact one for: research help, open-mindedness, empathy.

Research has more in common with religion than first appears: by their shared use of the little prefix, "re," they both connote repetition. Why shouldn't research be prayerful? Sometimes the library will feel a little like a verse from Ecclesiastes: "[There is] a time to seek, and a time to lose" [Eccles 3:6]. And where is the time for finding (the book you need)? Pace Ecclesiastes, the librarians will help make that time.

Over the summer (Aug 6 - Aug 29) the Drew University Library is open:
Mon. - Fri.: 9 am - 5 pm
Closed Saturday and Sunday.
Regular hours resume August 31.

Make time to visit!