New Kenney book is ‘Christian Platonism’; Tolan ’13 contributes

Emeritus professor and eminent Augustine scholar co-edits volume, says former student in Cambridge PhD program had a role with it

January 21, 2021
Mark Tarnacki
Staff Writer
book 260

This is the cover of the new book co-edited by John Kenney from Cambridge University Press

John Kenney, a recently retired Saint Michael’s religious studies professor with an international reputation for his scholarship about Saint Augustine and how the philosophy of Platonism shaped Christianity, is co-editor of a new book titled “Christian Platonism: A History” — released by prestigious Cambridge University Press in January.

Kenney said the book that he co-edited with Alexander J.B. Hampton of the University of Toronto emerged from sessions sponsored by the Platonism and Neoplatonism Group at the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion [AAR] about three years ago.

He said a most welcome Saint Michael’s connection also helped advance the project. “It received impetus for this project from the Centre for the Study of Platonism at Cambridge University, of which I am a member,” said Kenney, “and Dan Tolan, a 2013 graduate of Saint Michael’s and my former student, is a fellow of the Centre. He is completing his doctorate at Cambridge and contributed to the volume.”

From the new scholarly book’s cover text, here are excerpts that help a layman understand its topic and why it matters:

  • “How one of history’s most influential philosophies shaped one of its most important religions. At times, Platonism has constituted an essential philosophical and theological resource, furnishing Christianity with an intellectual framework. Alternatively, it has been considered a compromising or distorting influence. In both cases the fundamental importance of Platonism, as a force which Christianity defined itself by and against, is clear. Written by an international team of scholars, this landmark volume examines the history of Christian Platonism from antiquity to the present day, explicates key concepts, and engages critical issues of contemporary resonance.”
  • ”…a bold and comprehensive study of the interaction of the Platonic tradition and Christian thought over the past two millennia. More than twenty essays by noted scholars explore the concepts, the history, and the implications of Christian Platonism in a stunning new contribution to a perennial issue.”
  • “Written by an international team of scholars, this landmark volume examines the history of Christian Platonism from antiquity to the present day, covers key concepts, and engages issues such as the environment, natural science and materialism.”

Kenney’s co-editor Hampton is assistant professor of religion at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Romanticism and the Re-Invention of Modern Religion (Cambridge 2019) and co-editor of the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Religion and the Environment.

Said Kenney of his editorial collaborator, “I met Alex Hampton some years ago when he lectured at the AAR. He did his doctorate in the Philosophy of Religion program at Cambridge … and concentrates on modern philosophy and theology, so he balanced my focus on ancient and medieval thought.”

Kenney also is the author of Mystical Monotheism: A Study in Ancient Platonic Theology; of The Mysticism of Saint Augustine: Rereading the Confessions; also, Contemplation and Classical Christianity: A Study in Augustine, and, On God, the Soul, Evil, and the Rise of Christianity.

John Kenney

John Kenney

The primary intended audience and readership for the volume, Kenney said, would be “undergraduates, graduate students, and scholars in the humanities who are interested in the history of philosophy and the development of Christian thought.” He’s been working on the project for about three years, “but intensively for the last year or so. Alex and I co-authored the introduction and split the editorial work.” Kenney also wrote a chapter for the book on ancient Christian Platonism.

As with most recent projects, the pandemic affected this one to a degree. “We would have had the book on display at the AAR annual meeting in November, but this took place virtually,” Kenney said. “Next year the volume will be the focus of a session at annual meeting. This coming April the program on ancient philosophy at the University of Turin will be hosting a virtual seminar with contributors to the volume and some external respondents.”

Even in such a time as an emeritus professor, Kenney accesses the campus library for his research, he said.

Though the book’s official publication date is January 2021, the press was trying to make it available for order by the November AAR meeting, and Kenney received his own copy on Inauguration Day.

Kenney said his previous four books are all still in print. “The first one on Platonism and ancient pagan monotheism came out 30 years ago and has been reprinted. The books I wrote on Augustine while at Saint Michael’s are also still available with Routledge, Oxford and Bloomsbury, both in print and as eBooks. There remains steady international interest in studies on early Christianity and ancient philosophy, even if the recent panic in higher education has led to the stripping of programs in these fields in the U.S.

His scholarship continues: “I have several recent papers forthcoming in various edited volumes, as well a chapter in the Routledge Companion to Early Christian Philosophy,” Kenney said. “I am now starting a new book, tentatively entitled The God of Augustine, which is intended to read Augustine in the context of ancient North African Christianity, rather than through the lenses of later thought.”



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