Just as their collection does in the year of his 70th birthday, the editors of Contesting Orthodoxies pay tribute to Diarmaid MacCulloch and the example he has set in his teaching and writing.
Contesting Orthodoxies in the History of Christianity: Essays in Honour of Diarmaid MacCulloch honours a pre-eminent scholar of the church by exploring the preoccupation with Orthodoxy – whether – determining, refashioning, or reprising it – amongst thinkers and practitioners in the various branches and centuries of Christianity. The contributors all share an intellectual and professional bond with the honoree as scholarly mentor or colleague. As Professor MacCulloch’s research has centered on developments during the long European Reformation, many of the essays in the volume explore aspects of orthodoxies made or broken during the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries. Yet his detailed and insightful historical work has also stressed the origins and development of Christianity as a global religion. Hence, several other essays span many other centuries and geographic areas of Christian history, thus enabling the reader to follow the volume’s theme throughout the church’s existence.
For a Reformation scholar, Diarmaid MacCulloch was born on an auspicious day: October 31, the date when, in 1517 – at least according to a legend too firmly established to be dislodged by historical doubts – Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the castle church at Wittenberg. The goal in compiling the volume was to present the book to him to mark his 70th birthday, which falls in 2021. Although the project began with a leisurely timetable to publication, the pandemic threatened to subvert it. Some contributors regrettably had to withdraw from the project due to their inability to access research archives that were closed during lockdown. Nevertheless, not unlike the honoree himself, the editors and contributors simply persevered, since his scholarly example and personal values have made an enormous difference in their lives and careers.
Speaking for those he mentored, many of us would not be the academics or the people of integrity we are today without his influence in our lives. From his teaching and writing, we have learned to temper our faith-based and secular perspectives with hard work in archives, digging deep for details, and engaging with scholarly debates in order to shed new light on unexamined aspects of historical Christianity. We have accepted his challenges of seeking truth with integrity, paying attention to diversity, and sharing in thoughtful discovery with fellow historians and theologians. At every turn, we have found new evidence that dogma and ideas matter deeply and in unexpected ways within the complex Christian traditions. Led by his example, we have found that loosening one’s own grip on dogma (whether faith-based or secular) for the purposes of scholarly research yields a wealth of dividends in the quality and relevance of one’s writing and in relationships formed in the academic and wider community.
This guest post was written by Ellie Gebarowski-Shafer, Ashley Null and Alec Ryrie. Ellie Gebarowski-Shafer is the author of numerous articles and book chapters on the history of Christianity. Ashley Null is a visiting fellow at the Divinity Faculty of Cambridge University and St. John’s College, Durham University. Alec Ryrie is Professor of the History of Christianity at Durham University.