.- The scholarly publisher Blackwell is being accused of censorship for suspending the publication of the âtoo Christianâ Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization and seeking to destroy existing copies pending a full revision of the text. The encyclopediaâs Editor-in-Chief is filing two lawsuits against the company to require the encyclopedia be published without removing its âChristian content, tone and character.â
George Thomas Kurian, Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization (ECC), has circulated a letter protesting Blackwellâs actions, which he calls a âlooming crisisâ 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.
âIt was edited, copyedited, fact checked, proofread and finally approved by Blackwellâs editorial team,â he wrote, saying the completed work was launched at the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature where it received âhigh praise.â
Kurian said the EEC was âlauded and praisedâ 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 âpromises to be an exceedingly valuable reference workâ and is ânearly exhaustive in scopeâ providing articles on broad topics like the âRoman Catholic Churchâ and giving âsuccinct analysisâ of themes such as âChristian existentialism.â
He writes that the ECC also provides a âcornucopiaâ of maps, charts and appendices.
According to Amazon.com, Prof. Noll said the âthoughtfully conceivedâ ECC presents âauthoritative articles, sensible bibliographies, and consistently illuminating treatments.â
Kurian claimed that some members of the ECC editorial board determined that the encyclopediaâs introduction and many of the entries were âtoo Christian, too orthodox, too anti-secular and too anti-Muslim and not politically correct enough for being used in universities.â
He alleged that âunder mounting pressure from the powerful anti-Christian lobbyâ Blackwell Religion publisher Rebecca Harkin and Editorial Director Phillip Carpenter agreed with the criticsâ 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 âjust because there are a dozen references to which they do not subscribe and which ran counter to their philosophy and agenda.â
Kurian said that Carpenter and Harkin want to delete words or passages such as âAntichrist,â âBeloved Disciple,â âVirgin Birth,â âResurrection,â âEvangelism,â the chronological markers BC/AD, and any reference with an âevangelical toneâ or a tone citing the âuniqueness of Christ and Christianity.â
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.
âAll these I have refused to do,â Kurian said.
His letter announced a class action suit against Wiley-Blackwell will be filed on behalf of the ECCâs nearly 400 contributors. If successful, the suit will require Wiley-Blackwell to publish the book âas originally approved and printed, without change and without censorship of its Christian content, tone and character.â
Susan Spilka of Blackwellâs parent company John Wiley & Sons, Inc. responded to Kurianâs 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 âleading reputation as a publisher of high quality scholarly content.â
âIn 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 publicationâthe task they were originally recruited to perform-- and the majority of the board has accepted this appointment.â
It described as an allegation âcompletely without foundationâ Kurianâs claim that the review is being driven by an âanti-Christian lobby determined to âde-Christianizeâ and censor the Encyclopedia.â
âWe 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.â
CNA spoke with Kurian by phone on Wednesday. He said the publisher received complaints about the ECC because it presented a âChristian worldview.â
He also confirmed that the charge that the ECC was âtoo Christian, too orthodox, too anti-secular and too anti-Muslim and not politically correct enoughâ was âthe gistâ of the complaints and not an original quotation of a critic.
Such complaints âhappen all the time,â he claimed, saying changes are typically made in second editions.
âInstead of doing that, they went ahead and suspended publication, and they desired to pull thousands of copies before all were sent.
âThis 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.
âThe stand may not be popular with a certain segment of people but these things need to be heard.â
âMore 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,â he told CNA.
Kurian said it should be expected that the writers of an encyclopedia on Christianity would âlook upon the positive things in Christianity rather than the negative things.â
âYou donât write a book on a subject when you are hardly interested in exploring it,â he added.
âTo 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.â
After publishing, he said, âthey had second or third thoughts.â
âThat is not accepted protocol in publishing. If you publish a book, you edit the book and then publish. You donât publish a book and then edit.â
He characterized the publisherâs response as a âclassic maneuver,â charging that they didnât answer whether they are trying to de-Christianize the work.
âWhat they say is âwe are a major company, so we are above these things, we donât do those things.â But that is not an answer to my question.
âThey have prevented [publishing] the work until and unless the âoffensive Christian elementsâ can be removed. Thatâs the core of the complaint.â
âWe already know they are a big company. The question is, can even a big company indulge in this kind of censorship?â
âWe are beyond the Middle Ages where you could censor books.â
âWe are involved in a society which really needs to know all sides. The Christian side is not being properly heard, thatâs my contention. And it needs to be heard even by those who donât like it,â Kurian told CNA.
CNA also contacted Wiley-Blackwell for comment but did not receive a response by press time.