The scholarly publisher Blackwell is being accused of censorship for suspending the publication of the “too Christian” Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization and seeking to destroy existing copies pending a full revision of the text. The encyclopedia’s Editor-in-Chief is filing two lawsuits against the company to require the encyclopedia be published without removing its “Christian content, tone and character.”
George Thomas Kurian, Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization (ECC), has circulated a letter protesting Blackwell’s actions, which he calls a “looming crisis” in the publication of the work.
According to Kurian, the ECC was completed in 2008 a year ahead of schedule and in four volumes instead of the original three.
“It was edited, copyedited, fact checked, proofread and finally approved by Blackwell’s editorial team,” he wrote, saying the completed work was launched at the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature where it received “high praise.”
Kurian said the EEC was “lauded and praised” by Miami University Prof. Edwin Yamauchi and Notre Dame Prof. Mark Noll.
On the Amazon.com web page for the ECC, Prof. Yamauchi said the work “promises to be an exceedingly valuable reference work” and is “nearly exhaustive in scope” providing articles on broad topics like the “Roman Catholic Church” and giving “succinct analysis” of themes such as “Christian existentialism.”
He writes that the ECC also provides a “cornucopia” of maps, charts and appendices.
According to Amazon.com, Prof. Noll said the “thoughtfully conceived” ECC presents “authoritative articles, sensible bibliographies, and consistently illuminating treatments.”
Kurian claimed that some members of the ECC editorial board determined that the encyclopedia’s introduction and many of the entries were “too Christian, too orthodox, too anti-secular and too anti-Muslim and not politically correct enough for being used in universities.”
He alleged that “under mounting pressure from the powerful anti-Christian lobby” Blackwell Religion publisher Rebecca Harkin and Editorial Director Phillip Carpenter agreed with the critics’ assessment, suspended publication of the ECC, and began proceedings to pulp the entire edition of several thousand copies of the four-volume ECC set.
According to Kurian, they did so “just because there are a dozen references to which they do not subscribe and which ran counter to their philosophy and agenda.”
Kurian said that Carpenter and Harkin want to delete words or passages such as “Antichrist,” “Beloved Disciple,” “Virgin Birth,” “Resurrection,” “Evangelism,” the chronological markers BC/AD, and any reference with an “evangelical tone” or a tone citing the “uniqueness of Christ and Christianity.”
He further claimed that the two objected to historical references to the persecution and massacres of Christians by Muslims, also asking for references favorable to Islam and material denigrating Christianity.
“All these I have refused to do,” Kurian said.
His letter announced a class action suit against Wiley-Blackwell will be filed on behalf of the ECC’s nearly 400 contributors. If successful, the suit will require Wiley-Blackwell to publish the book “as originally approved and printed, without change and without censorship of its Christian content, tone and character.”
Susan Spilka of Blackwell’s parent company John Wiley & Sons, Inc. responded to Kurian’s allegations in a statement, claiming that concern about the content of the ECC had been raised in November 2008 prior to publication. Blackwell stated that the review was prompted by concern for its “leading reputation as a publisher of high quality scholarly content.”
“In the course of reviewing the situation with the editorial board (many of whom had similar concerns to those raised by the contributors), we learned that few if any of the contributions to the Encyclopedia were reviewed by the editorial board members as required both by high standards of scholarship and our agreement with Mr. Kurian. Instead, they were only reviewed (if at all) by Mr. Kurian himself. We have therefore asked the appointed editorial board to review the work for scholarly integrity and accuracy prior to publication—the task they were originally recruited to perform-- and the majority of the board has accepted this appointment.”
It described as an allegation “completely without foundation” Kurian’s claim that the review is being driven by an “anti-Christian lobby determined to ‘de-Christianize’ and censor the Encyclopedia.”
“We are sure that you will understand that it would make no sense for us to sabotage a project to which we have committed long-term investment and resources, and which we think will be valuable addition to Christian scholarship.”
CNA spoke with Kurian by phone on Wednesday. He said the publisher received complaints about the ECC because it presented a “Christian worldview.”
He also confirmed that the charge that the ECC was “too Christian, too orthodox, too anti-secular and too anti-Muslim and not politically correct enough” was “the gist” of the complaints and not an original quotation of a critic.
Such complaints “happen all the time,” he claimed, saying changes are typically made in second editions.
“Instead of doing that, they went ahead and suspended publication, and they desired to pull thousands of copies before all were sent.
“This is a very high-handed action that has no place in any publishing community or in any university environment where you have freedom of expression.
“The stand may not be popular with a certain segment of people but these things need to be heard.”
“More than 400 people worked on this for two years. To destroy that kind of work on the basis of complaint from four people seems contrary to the established traditions we have as a society,” he told CNA.
Kurian said it should be expected that the writers of an encyclopedia on Christianity would “look upon the positive things in Christianity rather than the negative things.”
“You don’t write a book on a subject when you are hardly interested in exploring it,” he added.
“To say that a Christian encyclopedia should not be Christian seems to me a contradiction in terms. I brought this project to Blackwell, not the other way around. We had discussed it, we defined what the encyclopedia would be and would try to achieve.”
After publishing, he said, “they had second or third thoughts.”
“That is not accepted protocol in publishing. If you publish a book, you edit the book and then publish. You don’t publish a book and then edit.”
He characterized the publisher’s response as a “classic maneuver,” charging that they didn’t answer whether they are trying to de-Christianize the work.
“What they say is ‘we are a major company, so we are above these things, we don’t do those things.’ But that is not an answer to my question.
“They have prevented [publishing] the work until and unless the ‘offensive Christian elements’ can be removed. That’s the core of the complaint.”
“We already know they are a big company. The question is, can even a big company indulge in this kind of censorship?”
“We are beyond the Middle Ages where you could censor books.”
“We are involved in a society which really needs to know all sides. The Christian side is not being properly heard, that’s my contention. And it needs to be heard even by those who don’t like it,” Kurian told CNA.
CNA also contacted Wiley-Blackwell for comment but did not receive a response by press time.