The old writers’ adage “write what you know” is certainly applicable to Darrol Bryant’s latest book.
Launched this week, Out of Galilee: The History of Christian Thought as a Great Conversation is an ambitious exploration of Christian ideas stretching over two millennia. The subject is both familiar and fertile ground for distinguished religious studies professor.
The book deals with the diverse ways that philosophers, monks, mystics, men, and women have sought to understand the religion.
So what does Bryant hope that readers take away from the book?
“A different understanding of what Christianity is all about,” said Bryant. “It’s not one thing; if there’s anything that they will learn is that they should be amazed and realize how differently different Christian thinkers thought about Christianity.”
The inspiration for his latest work came from some common misperceptions of Christianity he’s long encountered in his daily life.
“People have the notion that Christianity is a harsh religion,” said Bryant. “When I ask ‘what’s Christianity all about?’ The most common response I get was ‘it’s a way to avoid hell.’ I was like, ‘what?’ That is so strange to me.”
As a professor of religion and culture at Renison University College of the University of Waterloo since the 1970s, he’s got more than a little additional insight on the topic. Having taught courses on religion in politics, religion and science, and religious literature for some 40 years, you could say Bryant is somewhat of an expert on the subject.
Along with bringing some clarity to the topic, he was also moved to share his personal take on the issue after studying so many religion-themed texts.
“The book is all based on the text that I’ve studied,” said Bryant. “That’s one of the things that’s interesting about teaching the course: every time I would teach it, I would add some new figures, spend some time on some new people that I haven’t covered before. So over time, everyone who’s in this book got considerable attention.”
While his interest spans across all kinds of religions, this book keeps the focus on the dialogue surrounding Christianity as a whole, rather than any specific denominations.
“One of the things important to me was that I didn’t follow the history of Catholic or Orthodox or Protestant theology; I just covered Christian thought, and don’t pay too much attention to the particularities of all the different themes,” said Bryant. “I didn’t want it to be a denominational kind of history that just paid attention to one stream.”
This is not Bryant’s first book: he has written many works covering various religions. His previous novels include but are not limited to World Religions: A Canadian Perspective, Religion and Politics, and Canadian Anglicanism at the Dawn of a New Century.
His interest in the topic harkens back to his second year of college – the former long-time Elmira resident studied at Concordia College, Harvard Divinity School, and the University of St. Michael’s College.
He also studied philosophy – after a 12-hour conversation with a friend majoring in the topic, he decided to consider it as well. His approaches to religion were particularly formed throughout his travels.
“A big event in terms of my life in relation to the world religions, a sabbatical I took with my family in India,” said Bryant. “When the kids asked me ‘what are we going to do all year, or eight months,’ I said, ‘basically we’re just going to hang out in different religious communities.’”
The sabbatical in India shaped his approach to Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and Sikh traditions, while travels to China transformed his approach to Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist ways.
All of what he’s learned and the perspective it’s given him is reflected in Out of Galilee, which is now available in bookstores.