Dr. Christopher Rowland is one of the most important academic chroniclers of radical Christianity alive today. Through his career at Oxford he has attempted to highlight the history and ethics of this tradition, past and present. I was honored to write a chapter in his recently published Festschrift, entitled Radical Christian Voices & Practice: Essays in Honour of Christopher Rowland (you can download my piece here). Chris recently emailed me about receiving the volume:
“I received my copy of at a party in Queen’s College on what was a rare sunny afternoon on 18 June. It was such a special occasion for me after forty years in academic life. A heart-felt thank you to you for what you contributed. As you know, although I contributed to the volume by responding to the main essays, I had not actually seen the book itself until that moment. What struck me on the day, as I had the book in my hands, was what a beautiful book. It is such an apposite image on its cover – one of my favourite Blake images, of Ezekiel’s merkabah, so appropriate for many reasons connected with my research and writing ever since I started my graduate study in 1970. More//
"The many faces of the human figure spoke to me of the many parts of my life and the varied, sometimes competing, facets of my intellectual interests – biblical studies, especially apocalypticism, liberation theology, Blake, Winstanley, and the history of Christian radicalism, all of which are covered in this book. Catherine and our children, Christopher, Rebekah, Ben & Tom, were all at the party and the dinner afterwards. In addition to David and Zoe, and their families, Tim Gorringe, Chris Joynes and Peter Garnsey were there, as well as many colleagues from the Faculty, and one or two former colleagues from Cambridge, and the editorial/production team from OUP. It was a memorable event which I shall treasure for the rest of my life.
“As I have been reading through the essays in their context in the book, along with the preface and introduction, I have been better enabled to appreciate the ways in which the whole coheres. I am profoundly grateful for what all the contributors have given me picking up as they do on the different aspects of my work over the years.
“As I read your interpretation of the ‘De-fective manager’ I was transported back to that conversation, now almost a decade ago when I shared with you the difficulties, compromises, and attenuated space for doing things differently in Oxford, and read in the interpretation of this amazing story an account of the struggle of the Oxford (and before that the Cambridge) years. I cannot claim to have got it right during my time here. I suppose much of what has happened has been the improvisation of the manager who finds spaces within the dominant system, whether it be economic, educational or whatever, either to practise a different kind of politics, or to resist that of which he has hitherto been an agent. So, I found what you had written to be a profoundly affirming essay in which I heard someone understand the life of protest, of survival and of meaningful ‘Sabbath economics’ in the midst of a world order that is passing away (sometimes of late, it seems, before our eyes). I recall something that Ivan Petrella wrote about liberation theology in the context of global capitalism in his Future of Liberation Theology,how that exploitation of the spaces, the cracks in the rocks, the crevices in the cliff face of capitalism, to use Adorno’s phrase, enables us to get a handhold on another system the Gemeinschaft of humanity rather than the abstractions of the ‘market’ – as if this was some supernatural entity rather than embodiment of human self interest and aggrandisement.
“I was also reminded of John Ruskin’s epoch-making essay Unto this Last which was derided by the ‘lovers of money’ in his day but, as the copy in the Martin Luther King museum in Atlanta indicates, was important for him as it was for Gandhi before him. Although she did not write about it in this volume, Zoe’s writing on Ruskin has so many affinities with your interpretation of the parable. Perhaps we can see that the strategy of the defective manager makes more sense in a world where the apparent invincibility of the hegemony of global capitalism seems all the more fragile. Its supporters may retort that it is the only show in town but your essay indicates that there are spaces for acting out the drama differently.”
Congratulations, Chris, and thank you for your faithful research and writing over many years.