December 12, 2010

Cavell, Companionship, and Christian Theology

My friend Peter Dula’s book Cavell, Companionship, and Christian Theology has just been published by Oxford. Pete, who teaches religion at Eastern Mennonite University, is one of the smartest and best-read people I’ve met. His reading seems to have no borders: he is versed in philosophy, theology, poetry, and fiction, as well as environmental and bicycling texts. He’s one of the few people I know who can put Tolkien, Tolstoy, and Wittgenstein into the same sentence.

I got to know Pete while serving as a peace worker with Mennonite Central Committee in Burundi. He later went to Iraq, as MCC’s peace worker there (taking over from my brother, incidentally). He subsequently published a number of articles in various Christian periodicals. One, "The War in Iraq: How Catholic Conservatives Got It Wrong," refuted claims that the Iraq war was just, and generated a heated online debate.

Pete was drawn to Stanley Cavell, who is regarded as something of an oddball in philosophical circles, partly because of his interest in literature: Cavell has a deep reverence for Shakespeare, Austen, and Emerson, among other writers. Cavell, Companionship, and Christian Theology is the first text to bring Cavell’s ideas into the realm of theology. Pete’s book is deeply literary, discussing, among other writers, W. G. Sebald (and I believe I was the first person to suggest Pete read Sebald – after reading about him in a James Wood volume Pete had sent me!) and Nabokov (Speak, Memory), and poets from Auden to Coleridge to Heaney. The book is scintillatingly well-written, in an accessible style that manages to be both conversational and densely literary. My favorite line: “The good critic is the one most adept at giving reasons for Tolstoy’s superiority over Dostoevsky.” I suggest you buy the book.

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