Ronald Suny on the anniversary of the Armenian genocide

Suny jacketToday marks the 100th anniversary of the first day of the Armenian Genocide. Beginning on April 24, 1915, up to 1.5 million Armenians would die in massacres at the hands of the Ottoman government. The executions took place during and after WWI, targeting able-bodied males, and sending women, children, and the infirm on death marches into the Syrian desert. And yet, as Armenians around the world commemorate the anniversary, and numerous nations offer condolences to the descendents of the victims, the use of the term “genocide” to describe these atrocities has been politically fraught. Turkey, as the successor state of the Ottoman empire, has taken a stance of denial; Obama stopped short of using the term, with Israel seeming to follow his lead. Ronald Suny, author of the new book “They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else”, argues that the fact of the Armenian Genocide is indisputable. In his op ed in yesterday’s New York Times, Suny writes about the “cost of Turkey’s genocide denial”:

…governments that fail to accept and confront the harsh consequences of historical truth are giving comfort to ultranationalist and anti-democratic forces that threaten liberty and democracy in Turkey.

Read his full New York Times op ed here, and his piece in The Daily Beast, in which he discusses the term “genocide” and its application. Suny recently took time to answer questions about the genocide, his book, and the inherent difficulty in explaining events that remain for many—at least emotionally—inexplicable.

What was the status of Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire before the Genocide began in 1915? Did the government openly discriminate against them?

RS: The roughly two million Armenians in the Empire were distinct — religiously distinct, as Christians in a majority Muslim society, as well as culturally and linguistically distinct in many cases. Most of them were peasants and townspeople in the six provinces of eastern Anatolia, often living in homogeneous villages and sections of towns, and occasionally dominated larger rural and urban areas. The most influential and prosperous Armenians lived in the imperial capital, Istanbul (Constantinople), where their visibility made them the target of both official and popular resentment. But they of course were Ottomans, so they were part of this society. Many Armenians even spoke Turkish and not Armenian and so forth, but at least you could identify who they were – they went to different churches and clubs, etc., and they lived in concentrated areas. At a certain point, resentment developed against Armenians who were better off, more closely tied to Europe, and better educated. Then as the propaganda about Armenians and Greeks, another Christian minority, developed suggesting they were linked to foreigners, that they were threat to the Empire, etc., more and more people begin to turn against them. So eventually fear, anger, and resentment became hatred.

The Assyrians are also part of your book – were they seen as a distinct group from the Armenians at that time?

RS: They saw themselves as distinct groups, but the Assyrians, who as another Monophysite Christian group, were often identified with Armenians. Some of them were part of ermeni millet, the official Armenian community, and they were also perceived to have links with foreigners. So the Assyrians were somewhat outcasts, both in Persia and in the Ottoman Empire, and they also suffered tremendously.

Why did the Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire perceive the Armenians and Assyrians as a threat, and why they chose such an extreme approach to handle them?

RS: That is the central question of this book. There is a tendency on the part of some scholars – particularly Armenians – not to try to explain the genocide because – “why do you need to explain it? These are Turks, this is what they do, and this is the kind of regime it was.” Or, slightly more sophisticated – “oh, it’s Christians and Muslims – they are inevitably in conflict.” Or — “it’s clashes of nationalism.” Now for me, religion, nationalism, the nature of Turkish culture, Ottoman society, the state – all of these are the questions to be asked, not the answers. That is, they need to be investigated. The way I would explain this genocide, and I think it has relevance for other kinds of ethnic cleansings and mass killings, is that the regime developed what I call an “affective disposition” – that is, an emotional understanding of who the enemy was. They constructed the Armenians as an existential threat to the Ottoman Empire and to the Turkish nation, what they conceived as the Turkish nation at that time. I try to explain the origins of this affective disposition – this mental universe – in which emotion, fear, anger, and resentment combined to create an image of Armenians. Armenians originally had been thought of as a loyal part of the empire, but by 1878 they became an instrument of certain foreign powers to intervene in the Ottoman regime and internal policy — the Ottomans began to see them as a threat.

Remind us what happened in 1878.

RS: This was the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-1878. The Russians beat the Turks, and they were going to enforce reforms on the Ottoman Empire, and that was the beginning of the new “Armenian question” that continued right up to the war. Now, some people would say “well, you don’t need to go into emotions – it was a perfectly strategic, rational choice. The Armenians were actually a threat in World War I, and the Turks decided to get rid of them for national security reasons.” My view is that’s an insufficient explanation. Why did they see them as a threat? A threat is always a perception. It’s about emotion, it’s about understanding, feeling, sentiment, and construction – both cognitive and emotional construction. I’m taking a step backwards to see how they got into the position that they could imagine people this way and then carry out the worst possible kinds of things. I’m bringing emotion into it.

By some accounts, Armenians sided with Russia at the beginning of World War I —was that something the Ottomans could point to that the Armenians were a threat?

RS: This is the problem. You can’t say the Armenians sided with Russia. That is what the Ottomans would say, and they perceived that. So there are people who try to justify what the Ottomans did to the Armenians by saying they were with the enemy. What I try to show in the book is that the overwhelming majority of Ottoman Armenians wanted to stay in the Empire and attempted to prove to the Turks that they were loyal, but they also wanted reforms to protect them and allow them to prosper. They wanted Kurdish predations against Armenians to be contained, for example. The Ottoman government was opposed to these reforms, but ultimately had to agree to them in February 1914. When the war came, though, they used the first opportunity to get rid of them. I’ll give you an example. As the Ottomans are going to war, they mobilize the population. Hundreds and thousands of young Armenian men are drafted and join the Ottoman army. A few desert and go over to the Russian side. Some prominent leaders go over to the Russian side. The Russians form Armenian voluntary units on the Caucasian side against the Ottomans, but the Turks see this as treachery and demobilize hundreds of thousands of Armenian soldiers, take their weapons and uniforms away, turn them into labor battalions, and eventually murder them. So it’s a very different thing. It’s not that there wasn’t sympathy among some for Russia, but there was also no particular love for Russia. Russians didn’t like the Armenian nationalist revolutionaries any more than the Turks did so they were persecuting them as well. The Armenians were in an unfortunate position – in Persia, in Russia, and in Turkey. They were like the Kurds today.

How did they try to prove their loyalty?

RS: They mobilized their young men to fight in the army, they raised money for hospitals and aid to the government, they spoke in favor of the war effort, and many other things. They told them – we’re loyal, don’t push us into opposition. But there was an imbalance of agency. You see this today in the Armenian and Azerbaijani conflict over Karabakh, or the Israel-Palestine conflict. One side has more power and has more cards to play: the Israelis in the case of Palestine, the Armenians in the case of the Armenian- Azerbaijani conflict, and the Ottomans in 1915. The Armenians had what I’d call a dilemma of the damned. As they were being constructed as the enemy, there was very little they could do. And then they were disarmed, their leaders were arrested, they were systematically deported, and many hundreds of thousands were murdered.

The Ottoman Turks mobilized the population, in a completely chaotic and disorganized way, and there was dislocation, food shortages, soldiers marching hundreds of miles to get to the front. They were inadequately equipped, and huge numbers of desertions took place. There were half a million deserters, Muslims as well as Christians and others. Many of those deserters would either pillage villages for food, rape women, or clash with the army, and the Ottoman government claimed these were Armenian revolts. A lot of soldiers deserted, and it was general chaos.

To what extent did ordinary people participate or was it mostly carried out by special military forces?

RS: Genocides are ordered from the top: secret orders go out that say “take care of these people” (start the deportations), but we don’t have very good records on that. The orders bring about massacres, and in a systematic way. In the Armenian genocide, the deportations and massacres were often carried out by nomadic Kurds, Circassians (or, Cherkess, as they’re also called), Chechens — many of them refugees from the Caucasus or the Balkans, so called mujahedeen, other refugees who were to be settled in the Armenian villages, and ordinary people, even women. We have reports of women cutting down people so there is some popular participation.

One problem I have is – how much did the Ottomans understand what they were doing, and how much did they believe in it? There were some Ottoman governors who refused to carry out the killings and the deportations. And there were Turks and Kurds who took Armenian refugees into their homes, sometimes forcibly making women part of their harem or family, converting them to Islam. But others believed in the necessity of the massacre. You can now access intelligence reports, and certain commanders were sending reports of Armenian insurrections. Some scholars have read these reports — a kind of new, sophisticated denialism — and taken the Ottomans at their word that there really was a revolt. While there were individual moments of resistance, as at Van or Musa Dagh, because they were being attacked. there was no coordinated, general insurrection of Armenians during the war.

Were the Chechens and Circassians specially sought out for the killings or were they already living in the Empire?

RS: There had always been clashes between Kurds and Circassians and Armenians about land so there was a base of hostilities and tensions. The Ottoman government would often recruit them into special organizations, which hired them as well as criminals and others into gangs, and these people carried out a lot of massacres. The Kurds today, in the Republic of Turkey, are one major group who recognize the genocide, who have apologized for what they did, who believe they were used by the Turks, and they are trying to make up for that now. For example, in the city of Diyarbakır where my grandmother is from, the local Kurds have opened churches and talk about living in the land together with Armenians.

So the Kurds have tried reconciliation?

RS: Yes, because they also feel persecuted by the Turks. Kurdish discourse is something like “they had you for breakfast, and they’re going to have us for dinner.” I really think Turkey is the country to watch. Something’s happening there, and we don’t know where it will go. We don’t know where Russia or Armenia will go either.

Armenians began to view themselves as a nation during this period – how did the genocide contribute to that process? What caused the growing sense of a nation?

RS: I’m a constructivist — I believe that nations are creations of human beings. At a certain point people begin to think of themselves as a nation rather than a religious group or other identity, and this happened for the Armenians in the 19th century. Turks began to think this way a bit later, more in the 20th century, and Kurds even later than that. The genocide happened at a time when some people were thinking in this nationalist idiom, but simultaneously, many others were thinking of themselves as Ottomans, with special Armenian characteristics. Armenian nationalism in a sense won the day in World War I, and the post-war period, until, of course, the Soviets took over the Armenian republic, and nationalism became an alien ideology that couldn’t be expressed openly. It then became the ideology of the diaspora.

Yes, the Armenian genocide was just that, says Ronald Suny’s new book

Suny jacketApril 24th marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Armenian genocide, the first genocide of the 20th century, though lesser-known, and more contested than other crimes against humanity that followed. Ronald Suny’s “They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else”: A History of the Armenian Genocide claims that the massacres did indeed constitute genocide, and chronicles the human catastrophe through eyewitness accounts and archival documents. The end result is a deeply researched narrative history of how and why the atrocities were committed. The Sunday Times writes, “Suny is admirably dispassionate in explaining the particular circumstances that led the Ottoman government to embark on a policy of mass extermination…”

Check out this video where Suny, Charles Tilly Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, gives an overview of the genocide’s history, Turkey’s denial, and his own Armenian family’s experience:

Christopher Bail on anti-Muslim sentiment

In this clip from the documentary aftertheshooting.com, sociologist and author Christopher Bail discusses whether the sea change in American public opinion about Islam over the past few years may have contributed to the recent murder of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. His recent book, Terrified, employs computer analytics techniques to show how anti-Muslim organizations have gained visibility in the public sphere. In this clip, Bail speaks with a close friend of one of the victims. You can watch the entire documentary here.

Last month, Bail spoke with Paul Rosenberg at Salon about his innovative new methodology for studying how fear is fostered in the broader cultural landscape. He was interviewed about the aftermath of the Chapel Hill shootings in the Guardian earlier this year.

Christopher Bail talks to Salon about “Terrified”

Christopher Bail, author of Terrified: How Anti-Muslim Fringe Organizations Became Mainstream, recently spoke with Paul Rosenberg for a feature in Salon on how anti-Muslim sentiment is fostered by the broader cultural landscape, and the innovative new methodology he has used to study that process. Paul Rosenberg at Salon writes:

It may be hard to fathom or remember, but in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 the American public responded with an increased level of acceptance and support for Muslims. President Bush—who had successfully courted the Muslim vote in 2000—went out of his way to praise American Muslims on numerous occasions in 2001 and 2002. However, the seeds were already being planted that would change that drastically over time.  Within a few short years, a small handful of fringe anti-Muslim organizations—almost entirely devoid of any real knowledge or expertise, some drawing on age-old ethno-religious conflicts—managed to hijack the public discourse about Islam, first by stoking fears, grabbing attention with their emotional messaging, then by consolidating their newfound social capital, forging ties with established elite organizations, and ultimately building their own organizational and media infrastructure.

How this all happened is the subject of a fascinating new book, “Terrified: How Anti-Muslim Fringe Organizations Became Mainstream,” by sociologist Christopher Bail, of the University of North Carolina.  The book not only lays bare the behind-the-scenes story of a momentous shift in public opinion, it employs cutting-edge computer analysis techniques applied to large archives of data to develop a new theoretical outlook, capable of making sense of the whole field of competing organizations struggling to shape public opinion, not just studying one or two the most successful ones. The result is not only a detailed account of a specific, significant, and also very pernicious example of cultural evolution, but also a case study in how to more rigorously study cultural evolution more generally in the future. In the process, it sheds considerable light on the struggles involved, and the difficulties faced by those trying to fight back against this rising tide of misdirected fear, anger and hatred.


Read the full interview with Christopher Bail that follows here.

Terrified, by Christopher Bail

Robert Wuthnow – Rough Country: How Texas Became America’s Most Powerful Bible-Belt State Winner of the 2014 Coral Horton Tullis Memorial Prize, Texas State Historical Association

Rough Country: How Texas Became America’s Most Powerful Bible-Belt State is the winner of the 2014 Coral Horton Tullis Memorial Prize. The Tullis Memorial Prize is awarded annually to the best book in Texas published during the calendar year. The presentation of a $2000 prize and certificate will be made at the Association’s annual meeting in March, 2015. More general information on the award can be found, here.

Congratulations to Robert Wunthnow!

bookjacket

Rough Country:
How Texas Became America’s Most Powerful Bible-Belt State

Robert Wuthnow

Religon News Service interviews Robert Wuthnow, author of Rough Country

RoughCountryRobert Wuthnow’s book Rough Country: How Texas Became America’s Most Powerful Bible-Belt State explains how Texas’ religion has played, and will continue to play an important role in the shaping of our lives. Religion News Service recently sat down to chat with Wuthnow about the importance of the Lone Star state and its influence in politics, understanding the religious right, and balancing American fundamentalism.

Religion News Service: Give me one good reason that the Texas’ religion should matter to me or the rest of the country?

Wuthnow:The first reason is politics. Rick Perry, Texas’s longest-serving governor, is gearing up for another run at becoming President. Ted Cruz has made more news than any junior senator from his party in recent history. Former Congressman Dick Armey’s Freedom Works significantly contributed to the Tea Party’s national success. These leaders credit religion with guiding their policies and furthering their careers.

Second, understanding the Religious Right requires understanding Texas religion. The story that features Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson misses a lot. Texas reveals a longer and more complicated trajectory. The Texas story includes prominent conservative preachers favoring Barry Goldwater in 1964, mobilizing opposition to abortion before Roe v. Wade in 1973, supporting Gerald Ford in 1976, giving Ronald Reagan a platform in 1980, and organizing the “bubba vote” for George H.W. Bush in 1988.

Third, the history of American fundamentalism is lopsided without Texas. The standard narrative focuses on northern developments with a few offshoots in the Deep South and Southern California. The Texas story brings the Scofield Bible, dispensational theology, the political activism of fundamentalist J. Frank Norris, and conflicts within the powerful Southern Baptist Convention into clearer focus. Twice as many evangelicals and fundamentalists live in Texas than in any other state.

For the of rest Wuthnow’s interview, click here.

 

The first reason is politics. Rick Perry, Texas’s longest-serving governor, is gearing up for another run at becoming President. Ted Cruz has made more news than any junior senator from his party in recent history. Former Congressman Dick Armey’s Freedom Works significantly contributed to the Tea Party’s national success. These leaders credit religion with guiding their policies and furthering their careers. – See more at: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/10/07/3-ways-texas-religion-affects-us/#sthash.TensmCfU.dpuf
Give me three good reasons that the Texas’ religion should matter to me or the rest of the country. – See more at: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/10/07/3-ways-texas-religion-affects-us/#sthash.TensmCfU.dpuf
RNS: Give me three good reasons that the Texas’ religion should matter to me or the rest of the country. – See more at: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/10/07/3-ways-texas-religion-affects-us/#sthash.TensmCfU.dpuf
RNS: Give me three good reasons that the Texas’ religion should matter to me or the rest of the country. – See more at: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/10/07/3-ways-texas-religion-affects-us/#sthash.TensmCfU.dpuf
The first reason is politics. Rick Perry, Texas’s longest-serving governor, is gearing up for another run at becoming President. Ted Cruz has made more news than any junior senator from his party in recent history. Former Congressman Dick Armey’s Freedom Works significantly contributed to the Tea Party’s national success. These leaders credit religion with guiding their policies and furthering their careers. – See more at: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/10/07/3-ways-texas-religion-affects-us/#sthash.TensmCfU.dpuf

Anna Suns’ Confucianism as a World Religion wins award at 2014 American Academy of Religion Book Awards

Every year the American Academy of Religion (AAR) recognizes “new scholarly publications that make significant contributions to the study of religion,” and awards “books that affect decisively how religion is examined, understood, and interpreted.”

We are proud to announce that Confucianism as a World Religion: Contested Histories and Contemporary Realities by Anna Sun has won the 2014 AAR Best First Book in the History of Religions award.  Sun will receive this award at the AAR Annual Meeting on November 23rd.

Again, congratulations to Anna Sun on a remarkable achievement!


bookjacket

Confucianism as a World Religion:
Contested Histories and Contemporary Realities
Anna Sun
Winner of the 2014 Best Book Award, Sociology of Religion Section of the American Sociological Association
Winner of the 2014 Best First Book in the History of Religions Award, American Academy of Religion
One of Choice‘s Outstanding Academic Titles for 2013

 

Throwback Thursday #TBT: Erwin Goodenough’s Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period (1992)


Throwback Thursday: Week 3


Goodenough, Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period

It’s Thursday again, folks, and you know what that means: time for a Throwback (#TBT)! This week’s #TBT honors Erwin Goodenough’s Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period (1992), another fundamental text found in the Princeton Legacy Library. Here’s a little bit of information on your favorite relic – both a literal and figurative designation, in this case:

This volume presents the most important portions of Erwin Goodenough’s classic thirteen-volume work, a magisterial attempt to encompass human spiritual history in general through the study of Jewish symbols in particular. Revealing that the Jewish religion of the period was much more varied and complex than the extant Talmudic literature would lead us to believe, Goodenough offered evidence for the existence of a Hellenistic-Jewish mystic mythology far closer to the Qabbalah than to rabbinical Judaism.

David M. Hay of Studia Philonia Annual 1 praises the volume, saying that, “[s]ince [Jacob Neusner’s one-volume abridgement] presents the fruits of Goodenough’s decades-long study of ancient Jewish art, climaxed by his study of the third-century synagogue at Dura-Europas, it is probably the best introduction to Goodenough’s mature thought. Neusner contributes a twenty-nine-page foreword that explains the enduring importance of the entire thirteen-volume work.”

And if we’ve peaked your interest with this book, you can find similar materials over in Mythos: The Princeton/Bollingen Series in World Mythology. We hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Throwback Thursday (#TBT), and we’ll see you next week!

Throwback Thursday #TBT: Gladys Reichard’s Navaho Religion: A Study of Symbolism (1963)


Throwback Thursday: Week 1


Reichard, Navaho Religion
Welcome, one and all, to our first-ever installment of Throwback Thursday – or #TBT, as the kids say. This week’s #TBT goes to Gladys Reichard’s Mythos Series classic, Navaho Religion: A Study of Symbolism (1963).

In this in-depth exploration of the symbols found in Navaho legend and ritual, Gladys Reichard discusses the attitude of the tribe members toward their place in the universe, their obligation toward humankind and their gods, and their conception of the supernatural, as well as how the Navaho achieve a harmony within their world through symbolic ceremonial practice. We’re happy to see this popular text revived through the Princeton Legacy Library, and we hope you are, too. And now, for a little shameless self-promotion:

“This book has been a classic in its field since it was first issued in 1950, and it still stands as uniquely authoritative and intriguingly instructive. . . . [It is] a monument of revelation and insight bridging anthropology, religion, sociology, and history.”–Publishers Weekly

Until next Thursday!

Quick Questions for Michael Cook

05-21 CookMichael Cook is a professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. He studied history and Oriental Studies at King’s College, in Cambridge, England, and completed his postgraduate studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, where he taught and researched Islamic history until 1986.

Cook’s research interests are largely concerned with “the formation of Islamic civilization, and the role played by religious values in that process,” particularly the strict value systems of Islam and the subsequent adherence to “al-amr bi`l-ma`ruf roughly, the duty of each and every Muslim to tell people off for violating God’s law.”

His latest book, Ancient Religions, Modern Politics: The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective (Princeton) was published in April 2014. Cook is also the recipient of the 2014 Holberg Prize. He continues to supervise graduate dissertations and contributes regularly to corresponding publications in his field of study.

Now, on to the questions!

PUP: What inspired you to get into your field?

Michael Cook: A dim awareness – I must have been only 18 at the time – that the study of Islamic history was vastly underdeveloped compared to the study of Western history. I figured that I’d get a higher yield on my limited abilities if I went into Islamic history – and I did.
What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?

It asks a big, obvious question about Islamic and politics that academics tend to avoid, and it makes a good-faith effort to come up with an answer.

What was the best piece of advice you ever received?

Mr. Unwin, my high school math teacher, once told me that as a mathematician, I was “OK – but nothing special.” The next day I became a historian.

What are you reading right now?

A book about the archaeological record of early Christianity. I’m curious how much we would know about the religion if Christianity had perished in the early fourth century.


Experiment till you’ve found what works for you.


Describe your writing process. How long did it take you to finish your book? Where do you write?

I have an idea at the back of my mind, so I start mulling it over and making random notes on scraps of paper. Then I sit down at home and write out a draft in one sitting. After that, I check the scraps of paper for anything I’ve forgotten. Finally, having set the draft aside for at least a few days, I come back to it and spend a lot of time tinkering with it. But you ask about a whole book – well, this one took me ten years.

PUP: Do you have advice for other authors?

Experiment till you’ve found what works for you. And if nothing works for you, find something else to do with your life – brick walls are not the best place to beat heads. If you’re interested in technique, pay attention to what other writers get up to, and not just writers in your chosen genre. I once learned a lot from reading an analysis of the craft of writers of crime fiction of the “hard-boiled dick” variety.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Michael is the author of:

05-21 Cook1 Ancient Religions, Modern Politics: The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective by Michael Cook
Hardcover | 2014 | $39.50 / £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691144900
568 pp. | 6 x 9 |eBook | ISBN: 9781400850273 |Reviews Table of Contents Introduction[PDF]

Quick Questions for David Gordon White

drishti-detailDavid Gordon White is the J. F. Rowny Professor of Comparative Religion at the University of California, Santa Barbara where he focuses on “delineating the parameters of Tantra as the most perennial and pervasive ‘great tradition’ of South Asia.”

His books include Yoga in Practice (Princeton), Sinister Yogis, and, most recently, The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A Biography, which Library Journal calls “a fascinating presentation of the rise, fall, and rediscovery of the Yoga Sutra [that] will appeal to those looking to expand their knowledge.”

Now, on to the questions!

What inspired you to get into your field?

A high school history teacher who had been to India showed us slides of the country and spoke with great emotion about the people and culture there. At about the same time, the Beatles began sporting beads and Nehru collars, picked up during their stay with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh.


These non-fiction subjects have been as magical and wondrous as anything that surrealist or magical realist authors have ever produced.


What would you have been if not a professor of comparative religion?

I long fancied myself as a novelist, and do have a completed novel, written in the 1980s, sitting in a drawer. Graduate school stifled my creative writing mojo, although I do work very hard at making my academic writing readable and enjoyable for a non-specialist readership. I hope to get back to writing fiction at some point, although it must be said that the non-fiction subjects I have written on over the past decades (Hindu alchemy, the lives of yogis, the mythology of dog-headed men, tantric sex, etc.) have been as magical and wondrous as anything that surrealist or magical realist authors have ever produced.

What was the most interesting thing you learned from writing a biography of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali?

Apart from the period between about 700 and 1200 CE, no one in South Asia was interested in the Yoga Sutra until the twentieth century. Other works, such as the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Yajnavalkya, and Yoga Vasistha, were the principal guides to yoga.

Who do you see as the audience for the book?

Any practitioner of yoga who is curious about the origins and history of their practice.

What is your next project?

A book on the spread of demonology along the Silk Road, in which one finds Buddhist demons in Manichean sources, Roman demons in Indian sources, and so forth. Demons and the spells and charms used against them were far more portable than gods or theological doctrines. Working title: Demons are Forever.

 


David is the author of:

bookjacket The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A Biography
David Gordon WhiteHardcover | 2014 | $24.95 / £16.95 | ISBN: 9780691143774
296 pp. | 4 1/2 x 7 1/2 | 1 table.
eBook | ISBN: 9781400850051
Reviews
Table of Contents
Chapter 1[PDF]
Bibliography
Notes

Peter Brown Wins 2013 Philip Schaff Prize

Peter Brown – Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD
Winner of the 2013 Philip Schaff Prize, American Society of Church History

The Philip Schaff Prize is an award in the amount of $2,000 to the author of the best book published in the two previous calendar years, originating in the North American scholarly community, which presents original research on any period in the history of Christianity, or makes a significant synthesizing scholarly contribution.  According to Dr. Keith Francis, Executive Secretary of ASCH, “The members of the committee described Through the Eye of a Needle as a ‘tour de force,’ a ‘magisterial study,’ and a ‘work of astonishing erudition.’  High praise indeed!  I was even more impressed by the comment that you had written ‘a brilliant synthesis of other scholars’ work as well as the harvest of your own five-decade career.” The prize will be awarded at ASCH’s next business meeting in Washington DC on January 4, 2014. For more information, click here.

k9807Jesus taught his followers that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Yet by the fall of Rome, the church was becoming rich beyond measure. Through the Eye of a Needle is a sweeping intellectual and social history of the vexing problem of wealth in Christianity in the waning days of the Roman Empire, written by the world’s foremost scholar of late antiquity.

Peter Brown, the world’s foremost scholar of late antiquity, examines the rise of the church through the lens of money and the challenges it posed to an institution that espoused the virtue of poverty and called avarice the root of all evil. Drawing on the writings of major Christian thinkers such as Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome, Brown examines the controversies and changing attitudes toward money caused by the influx of new wealth into church coffers, and describes the spectacular acts of divestment by rich donors and their growing influence in an empire beset with crisis. He shows how the use of wealth for the care of the poor competed with older forms of philanthropy deeply rooted in the Roman world, and sheds light on the ordinary people who gave away their money in hopes of treasure in heaven.

Through the Eye of a Needle challenges the widely held notion that Christianity’s growing wealth sapped Rome of its ability to resist the barbarian invasions, and offers a fresh perspective on the social history of the church in late antiquity.

Peter Brown is the Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University. His many books include The World of Late Antiquity, The Rise of Western Christendom, and Augustine of Hippo.