Wiley-Blackwell, a major academic publisher, is recalling copies of Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization and scrapping the print run after critics said the entries were "too Christian" and "too anti-Muslim."
The publisher was set to release the four-volume encyclopedia this month after it was completed last September.
But a small group of critics that included contributors and some members of the editorial board objected to the final version.
"They determined that the Introduction and many of the entries were 'too Christian, too orthodox, too anti-secular and too anti-Muslim and not politically correct enough for being used in universities," said the encyclopedia's editor, George Thomas Kurian, sounding angry in an e-mail sent last week to nearly 400 contributors.
The charge against the book was led by David Morgan, professor of Religion at Duke University, and Bernard McGinn, professor of Historical Theology and of the History of Christianity at The University of Chicago Divinity School, according to Kurian.
Blackwell subsequently decided to suspend the publication, recall copies already distributed, and destroy the existing print run.
Kurian called the move the "first instance of mass book-burning in the 21st century."
The book was intended to be a comprehensive work on the history and legacy of Christianity, looking not only at the religion but at the aspects of society, such as art, literature, architecture, music, politics, and scholarship, it has shaped.
Now, the book's publisher and editorial director want to "de-christianize" all 1,450 entries in the encyclopedia to make it politically correct before it can be reprinted, according to Kurian.
He also claimed the press is looking to delete words including, "Antichrist," "Enemy," "Beloved Disciple," "Gates of Hell," "Witness," "Virgin Birth," "Resurrection," "Evangelism" and any reference with an "evangelical tone." BC and AD, chronological markers for "Before Christ" and "Anno Domini," will also likely to dropped.
Kurian also said the press objected to "historical references to the persecution and massacres of Christians by Muslims, but at the same time wanted references favorable to Islam."
"To make the treatment 'more balanced,' they also want the insertion of material denigrating Christianity in some form or fashion. All these I have refused to do," stated the encyclopedia's editor.
He added, "This is the most blatant form of censorship in the history of religious publishing."
Susan Spilka, corporate communications director of Wiley, said Kurian's allegations were "completely without foundation."
"It would make no sense for us to sabotage a project to which we have committed long-term investment and resources, and which we think will be valuable addition to Christian scholarship," she said in a statement.
She contended that Wiley had learned that "few if any" contributions had been reviewed by the board as had been required.
According to Kurian, however, the work was edited, copy edited, fact checked, proofread and then approved by Blackwell's editorial team. Printed and bound copies launched at the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature conference, where it received high praise, he said.
Kurian has vowed to fight the censorship in court.
In his e-mail, he invited contributors to join him in a class-action lawsuit that seeks restitution for the lost income and charges Wiley-Blackwell of breach of contract. The suit seeks to have Blackwell publish the encyclopedia as originally approved and printed, without change and without censorship of its Christian content, tone and character.
"It will send a strong message to the politically-correct establishment that we will not allow the freedom of Christian expression to be abridged, muzzled, denied or trampled upon," said Kurian, who will also file a similar suit on his behalf.
Kurian has edited 60 highly successful reference works, including 27 encyclopedias. They include The World Christian Encyclopedia, Nelson's New Christian Dictionary, The Encyclopedia of the First World, and The Encyclopedia of the Third World.