02 August 2022

Two new publications arrived
in the post last week

Two new publications arrived in the post last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Covid-19 put an end to many book launches, and academic journals seldom get the same ‘launch’ as books when they are published.

Book launches are a good way of drawing a new publication to the attention of relevant magazines and the book trade. But they are also a good opportunity for contributing writers and authors to get to know one another and to discuss their shared fields of interest.

In recent months, I have been among two groups of academics who have contributed to one new book and to a new volume of a very eminent theological journal.

Reading my contributions to these publications has been a joy, but has been no substitute to receiving the actual publication into my hands, and having the pleasure not only of reading my own contributions, but also finding out who the other contributors are learning more about their specialist areas of interest.

I was away for part of last week at the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire, taking part in the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

So, when I arrived back to Stony Stratford later last week, it was delightful to be with the arrival of my copies as a contributor of both a book published just before last Christmas, and a learned journal published in May.

I had received online versions of my own contributions, but I had not held either the book or the journal, nor had I had the opportunity to see who the other contributors were or to read their papers.

Birth and the Irish: a Miscellany, published just before Christmas, is edited by friend and colleague, Salvador Ryan, Professor of Ecclesiastical History in Maynooth. It follows the success of two earlier volumes he has edited and to which I also contributed: Death and the Irish: a Miscellany (2016) and Marriage and the Irish: a Miscellany (2019).

This third volume in the series on Birth, Marriage and Death among the Irish explores the experiences of birth in Ireland, and among the Irish abroad, from the seventh century to the present day.

The new book includes 78 short papers or chapters by scholars and practitioners from a range of academic disciplines and professions including anthropology, Celtic studies, folklore, history, linguistics, literature, medicine, obstetrics, pastoral care, and theology. They reflect on pregnancy, birthing, and the early period after birth over almost 1,500 years.

My two contributions to this new book, Chapters 23 and 32, are: ‘Albert Grant, the Victorian Fraudster Born in Poverty in Dublin’ (pp 104-107); and ‘Six Boys from Ballaghadereen with the Same Parents … but who was Born the Legitimate Heir?’ (pp 144-148).

The other topics discussed by the contributors include shameful birth in early Irish religious communities; pregnant behind bars in medieval Ireland; preventing and coping with unwanted pregnancies in nineteenth-century Ireland; mother and baby homes, foreign adoption in Ireland; LGBTQ surrogacy; and birth customers among the Traveling Community.

Already I have started dipping into the contributions of the other writers, and look forward to reading all of them over the next few weeks. The publishers Wordwell promise this anthology is going to be an indispensable resource for anyone interested in the social, cultural, religious, and legal history of pregnancy and birth in Ireland and among the Irish from the earliest times to the present day.

The other publication to arrive in the post in recent days is the current edition of Studies in Christian Ethics. This is the leading, peer-reviewed English-language academic journal devoted exclusively to theological questions arising in the field of Christian ethics and moral theology. The journal is published in conjunction with the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics based in the UK, whose annual conference furnishes the themed material for the first issue of each volume.

This latest edition is a special issue, with a collection of papers by mainly Orthodox theologians assembled by the guest editors, Perry Hamalis and Gayle Woloschak, and devoted to For the Life of the World: Toward a Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church. This document, issued in 2020 by the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the social ethos of the Orthodox Church, provides guidance for catechesis and ample material for moral, doctrinal and scriptural debate.

The editors say the ‘breadth and seriousness of reflection manifest in these papers will surely inspire the most searching scholarship and dialogue both within and beyond the Orthodox communion.’

The papers may have an added poignancy created by the tensions between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, worked out in some of the current divisions in Orthodoxy in Ukraine and exacerbated by responses throughout the Orthodox world to the support of the Russian Orthodox leadership for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

I was invited to contribute the major review article of 8,000-9,000 words and 18 pages in the current edition of Studies in Christian Ethics, critiquing the published edition of this ground-breaking document: David Bentley Hart and John Chryssavgis (eds), For the Life of the World: Toward a Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church.

This special issue of Studies in Christian Ethics has the theme, ‘A Fresh Vision for Orthodox Social Ethics: Responses to For the Life of the World.’ The topics are introduced by Perry T Hamalis of North Central College, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Naperville, llinois; and Gayle E Woloschak of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Department of Radiation Oncology, Chicago.

My fellow contributors include: the Revd Alexis Torrance, Department of Theology, University of Notre Dame; the Revd Dr Vasileios Thermos, Graduate Ecclesiastical Academy of Athens; Dr Stephen M Meawad, Caldwell University, Caldwell, New Jersey; Dr Carrie Frederick Frost, Western Washington University, Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Seminary, Bellingham; Dr Elizabeth Theokritoff, a colleague at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge; the Revd Dr Philip LeMasters, McMurry University; the Revd Dr John D Jones, Marquette University; and the Revd Dr Demetrios Harper of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary, New York.

The Editor of Studies in Christian Ethics, Dr Susan Frank Parsons, is Director of Pastoral Studies at the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology in Cambridge. The Reviews Editor is Kevin Hargaden of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, Dublin, who commissioned my paper and sent the journal to me in the post last week.

I look forward over the next week or two to reading the other contributions to this latest edition of Studies in Christian Ethics.

Birth and the Irish: a miscellany, Salvador Ryan (ed), Wordwell Books, Dublin, 288 pp, ISBN: 978-1-913934-61-3; €25.
● David Bentley Hart and John Chryssavgis (ed.), For the Life of the World: Toward a Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church (2020), reviewed by Patrick Comerford, Studies in Christian Ethics 35 (2), May 2022, pp 342-359, ISBN 0953-9468

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