Ormsby, Eric (Linn) 1941-

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ORMSBY, Eric (Linn) 1941-

PERSONAL: Born October 16, 1941, in Atlanta, GA; son of Robert Linn (a college professor) and Virginia (an author and teacher; maiden name, Haire) Ormsby; married Dorothy Louise Hoffmann, July 22, 1967 (divorced, 1995); married Irena Murray (an architectural historian), September 30, 1995; children: (first marriage) Daniel Paul, Charles Martin. Education: Attended Columbia University, 1959-60, 1963-64; University of Pennsylvania, B.A. (summa cum laude), 1971; Princeton University, M.A., 1973, Ph.D., 1981; Rutgers University, M.L.S., 1978; also attended University of Tübingen, 1973-74. Religion: Roman Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Natural history, cooking, photography.

ADDRESSES: Home—2600 Ave. Pierre Dupuy, Apt. 207, Montreal, Quebec H3C 3R6, Canada. Office—Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University, 3485 McTavish St., Montreal, Quebec H3A 1Y1, Canada. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Writer. Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, Near East bibliographer, 1975-1977, lecturer in Near Eastern studies, 1981, 1983, curator of Near East Collections, 1977-83; Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, director of libraries, 1983-86; McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, director of libraries, 1986-96, associate professor, 1986-96, professor at Institute of Islamic Studies, 1996—. Princeton Adult School, instructor, 1978-80; Washington Consortium, chair of continuing education committee, 1983-86; Sous-Comité des Bibliothèques, president, 1989-91; Center for Research Libraries, Chicago, IL, board member, 1989-95; member of Canadian Centre for Architecture and Conseil des recteurs et des principaux des univs. du Québec; former consultant to New York University Al Akhawayn University, and Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency.

MEMBER: Canadian Association of Research Libraries (vice president, 1988-89), Middle Eastern Libraries Association (vice president, 1981-82, president, 1982-83), Hölderlin Gesellschaft, Association pour l'Avancement des Sciences et des Techniques de la Documentation, Société des Amis de Jean de La Fontaine, Phi Beta Kappa.

AWARDS, HONORS: Fellow of German Academic Exchange Service in Tübingen, Germany, 1973-74; citation for "outstanding academic book," Choice, 1984, for Theodicy in Islamic Thought: The Dispute over al-Ghazali's "Best of All Possible Worlds"; QSPELL Award for Poetry, 1991, for Bavarian Shrine and Other Poems; Ingram Merrill Award, 1993.



Bavarian Shrine and Other Poems, ECW Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1990.

Coastlines, ECW Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1992.

For a Modest God: New and Selected Poems, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Araby, Signal Editions (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2001.

Daybreak at the Straits, Zoo Press (Lincoln, NE), 2004.

Work represented in anthologies, including The Arvon International Poetry Competition Anthology, 1987; Narcopolis and Other Poems, Hell's Kitchen (New York, NY), 1989; The Priory Book of Christian Poetry, Collins (London, England), 1990; Literature: The Human Experience, 7th edition, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998; and The Best American Poetry 1998, edited by John Hollander, Scribner (New York, NY), 1998. Contributor of poetry to periodicals, including Acumen, New Criterion, Literary Imagination, America, Gastronomica, Descant, Fiddlehead, Malahat Review, Poetry Canada, and Salmagundi.


Theodicy in Islamic Thought: The Dispute over al-Ghazali's "Best of All Possible Worlds," Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1984.

(With R. Mach) Handlist of Arabic Manuscripts in the Princeton University Library, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1986.

(Editor) Moses Maimonides and His Time, Catholic University of America Press (Washington, DC), 1989.

Facsimiles of Time: Essays on Poetry and Translation, Porcupine's Quill (Erin, Ontario, Canada), 2001.

Contributor to books, including God and Creation, edited by David Burrell and Bernard McGinn, University of Notre Dame Press (Notre Dame, IN), 1990; Islamic Studies Presented to Charles J. Adams, E. J. Brill (Leiden, Netherlands), 1991; From Africa to Zen: An Introduction to World Philosophy, edited by Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen Higgins, Rowman & Little-field (Lanham, MD), 1993; Readings in World Philosophy, edited by Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen Higgins, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1995; and The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature: The Literature of Al-Andalus, edited by M. R. Menocal and others, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2000. Contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including New Republic, New Yorker, Shenandoah, Journal of Islamic Law and Society, Middle East Journal, Catholic Historical Review, Journal of Religion, Essays in Canadian Writing, Southwest Review, and Yale Review.

Some of Ormsby's writings have been translated into Czech and Serbian.

SIDELIGHTS: Religious scholar and poet Eric Ormsby combines the many facets of his experience and scholarship in his collection of poetry titled For a Modest God: New and Selected Poems. The poetry, according to Library Journal contributor Thomas F. Merrill, takes a look at ordinary items and draws deeper impressions about the broad universal order that we all occupy. The author succeeds, according to Merrill, and uses an abundance of detail and description. While a Publishers Weekly reviewer responded negatively to Ormsby's frequent switches from esoteric to very ordinary language, the critic noted the author's ability to "render detail richly and in the language of decay." Ormsby manages to depict "rot" poetically, employing such images as Lazarus "dressed in delicate ruffles of fungus," observed that reviewer, adding that it is the author's ability to describe decay that gives the collection its strength.

Ormsby demonstrated his comfort with both Christian and Islamic religion and history in Theodicy in Islamic Thought: The Dispute over al-Ghazali's "Best of All Possible Worlds." The book examines a little-known Islamic theological argument of the twelfth century that originated with the theologian al-Ghazali, who maintained that "this is the best of all possible worlds." The argument was proposed as a parameter for belief in God and suggested that such trust in God included acceptance of this world as the best place possible. The remainder of the book lays out the historical arguments presented to this point of view. W. Montgomery Watt of Religious Studies credited Ormsby for his "logical" approach to the argument, rather than a chronological or historical viewpoint. Montgomery also cited Ormsby's efforts in uncovering the subject matter, and looked forward to future works. Gerhard Boewering of the Catholic Historical Review, although noting that the analysis by the author was not as sharp as he desired, complimented Ormsby on the source material presented which had been previously unavailable. B. B. Lawrence of Choice called Theodicy in Islamic Thought "intellectual history at its best."

Ormsby also edited a collection of essays titled Moses Maimonides and His Time, which surveys the life of this unique and multifaceted personality significant in religious history. Maimonides lived between A.D. 1138 and 1204 and performed a variety of roles, including political activist, court physician, author, and codifier of Jewish law. According to Gad Freudenthal in Isis, understanding Maimonides is akin to understanding the shaping forces in Jewish culture, especially before the nineteenth century. Freudenthal observed that a historical interpretation of Maimonides is difficult since much of the information about him is contradictory. At least one essay in the collection tries to unearth the essence of the man and attempts to answer the question of whether Maimonides was able to put his values and beliefs into everyday practice. An essay in the collection describes Maimonides as "a committed religionist and a committed philosopher," an example of his all-encompassing approach to thought. Freudenthal found it "striking" that the remaining records of Maimonides's thinking reflect little of then-contemporary social happenings, such as politics or war. Freudenthal found it positive that students of Muslim culture and history were able to contribute their viewpoints to the collection. David R. Lachterman of the Review of Metaphysics called the collection "well-conceived and well-executed" and appreciated the inclusion of names and topics indexes.



Hollander, John, editor, Best American Poetry 1998, Scribner (New York, NY), 1998.

The Norton Anthology of Poetry, 4th edition, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 1996.

The Norton Introduction to Literature, 5th edition, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 1991.


Books in Canada, May, 1998, pp. 8-11.

Boston Review, October-November, 1998, p. 53.

Catholic Historical Review, April, 1987, Gerhard Boewering, review of Theodicy in Islamic Thought: The Dispute over al-Ghazali's "Best of All Possible Worlds," pp. 296-297.

Choice, January, 1985, B. B. Lawrence, review of Theodicy in Islamic Thought, p. 700.

Isis, March, 1993, Gad Freudenthal, review of Moses Maimonides and His Time, pp. 139-141.

Library Journal, April 1, 1997, Thomas F. Merrill, review of For a Modest God: New and Selected Poems, p. 98.

Montreal Gazette, May 3, 1997, pp. 13-15.

New Criterion, September, 1998, pp. 65-67.

Publishers Weekly, March 31, 1997, review of For a Modest God, p. 70.

Religious Studies, March, 1986, W. Montgomery Watt, review of Theodicy in Islamic Thought, pp. 153-154.

Religious Studies Review, July, 1985, p. 312.

Review of Metaphysics, September, 1990, David R. Lachterman, review of Moses Maimonides and His Time, pp. 157-160.