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Libraries & Culture 37.2 (2002) 188-190

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Book Review

Encyclopedia of Monasticism, vols. 1 and 2

Encyclopedia of Monasticism, vols. 1 and 2. Edited by William M. Johnston; photo editor, Claire Renkin. Chicago and London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2000. Vol. 1: xxxiv, 797 pp. Vol. 2: xii, 757 pp. $295.00. ISBN 1-57958-090-4.

Most librarians in their heart of hearts believe that the importance of monasteries is not primarily ecclesiastical but rather bibliographical. William M. Johnston, former professor of history at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst from 1965 to 1999 who has edited this formidable two-volume encyclopedia, and his "collaborators" would counter that monasteries' value is primarily historical.

This two-volume set claims to be the "first work in any language to examine monasticism past and present" (ix). The editorial staff and contributors focus on the three "great" strands of monasticism: Buddhist monasticism, Eastern Christian monasticism, and Western Christian monasticism (ix).

In his introduction, Johnston readily admits that this work does no more than minimally address "Hindu, Jain, Daoist, or Islamic monastics or confraternities," but that such omissions were intentional given the focus on the "religious traditions that most conspicuously foster monasticism: Buddhism and Christianity" (xi). Much of the information presented here on Eastern Orthodox and Buddhist monasticism is largely unavailable in other standard resources and is made even more valuable by its presentation in direct juxtaposition to the Western Christian traditions.

The individual entries are somewhat uneven. The entry on "Libraries: Buddhist" by Ian Harris, a reader in religious studies at the University College of St. Martin, Lancaster, is surprisingly short--barely two full pages (755-57)--with only two black-and-white photographs--one of two buildings identified as halls containing woodblocks, the other of a cabinet containing the Tibetan canon--with little explanation. However, the text of the entry, if scant, contains engaging items. We are told that "just in front of the library" in Chinese monasteries was "a Platform for Drying Sûtras in the Sun (shai jingtai) . . . on the sixth day of the sixth month" (756). Written texts were given such devotion in monasteries in Japan that the books "are placed on specially constructed stands for reading purposes, and women are forbidden from resting them in their laps" (756).

Robert W. Allison, associate professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Bates College, Maine, crafted a lengthy entry (757-65) on "Libraries: Eastern Christian" that for some inexplicable reason has no illustrations at all. Despite the lack of photographs, Allison has constructed a believable presentation of the Eastern struggles to sustain libraries: "During the Latin occupation (1204-1261), with its wholesale destruction of the capital's libraries, the concept of the public library was revived in Nicaea, with special emphasis on the collection and preservation of Hellenic and Greek Christian literature. According to chronicler Theodore Skoutariotes (B.C. 1230, metropolitan of Kyzikos 1277-1282) . . . this project [was] part of the restoration of the entire educational system" (759).

David Stewart, electronic services librarian at Princeton Theological Seminary, writes on "Libraries: Western Christian" (765-68). Stewart seasons his scholarly presentation with intriguing quotations, for example, a monastic adage that "a monastery without a library is a fort without an armory" (765) or Seneca's "Nowadays a library takes rank with a bathroom as a necessary ornament of a house" (765). Furthermore, Stewart uses the "See Also" and "Further Reading" sections to encourage readers to explore related topics. Two rich images of doors and doorways on the facing pages of 766-67 complement the entry. A photograph of a book cupboard in a curiously shadowed hallway and one of a stark [End Page 188] library anteroom seem to hint to the reader that encyclopedia entries, like doors or doorways, are meant to lead into a topic, not satisfy one.

Stewart's other "library" entry is on "Archives, Western Christian." Apparently, archives has no Eastern component, for this is the only archives entry in the set. This entry, too, is without photographs. Stewart ends this entry with the hope that the World Wide Web, which has provided "unimaginable" access...


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