Drawing on themes outlined in Candace Lukasik’s recent review of the Copts in Modernity Conference, this brief essay seeks to expand the conceptualizations of Coptic reform in the modern period. Examining a Coptic organization’s growth following their non-cooperation with Protestant expectations represents an interesting alternative to dominant teleological narratives of aligning Coptic ‘renaissance’ to a Western missionary or colonial source. The story of Al-Asdiqa’ allows us to consider how such groups may have co-opted the language of modernity to define reform on their terms.
On the surface, St. Athanasius comes across as a figure of resistance, keeping the faith against unfaithful emperors and heretical Christians. Yet, much of his legacy is missing from such accounts and may be revealed in the nuances of his story. One piece of his legacy that I aim to highlight and to show as relevant to Copts today is his responses to calls for unity; when he chose to join hands and when he chose to walk away.
My first book, which grew out of my PhD dissertation, is called Living with Colonialism: Nationalism and Culture in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (University of California Press, 2003). It is as much a history of modern Africa and the British Empire as it is of the Middle East. People often ask how I became interested in a subject like this one. I think it all started when, as a child, I would pore over the maps in my father’s National Geographic atlas. The maps for Africa and the Middle East always mesmerized me because I knew so little about what they contained.
From July 13-16, St Athanasius College (SAC) and the University of Divinity (UD) co-hosted an international symposium themed COPTS IN MODERNITY in Melbourne, Australia. The symposium focused on the history of the Coptic Church and community between the 18th and 21st centuries. Below are my thoughts, and some highlights. of the discussions we shared day-to-day.
On Friday March 2nd, 2018 scholars of Modern Coptic Studies gathered at the University of Pennsylvania to discuss the state of the field and new directions in historical and ethnographic research around Copts in Egypt and its diasporas. Briefly, I would like to highlight some points that struck me as central to current discussions around Modern Coptic Studies and its future. These points are not exclusive to Modern Coptic Studies, but are also integral to larger debates around religious difference, secularism, and minorities.
While it is often the case that researchers, journalists, and visitors would be interested in going to the visible places of worship during St. Mary’s time (i.e. the official parishes), I was eventually driven to other invisible spaces that, paradoxically, are very important for the Copts. Building on Miray Philip’s photo essay about urban places of worship, my story aims to shed light on less visible places where Copts navigate their aspirations, pressures, and desires.
Religious buildings in Egypt tell a complex and rich history of religious life. A once thriving cosmopolitan country, Egypt was home to its local Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities. It also became a site of refuge for many (im)migrant communities, such as Greeks, Armenians, Syrians, and others. The visibility of religious buildings belonging to various faith communities evoke a sense of nostalgia of a perceived pluralistic past.
We hope you find this discussion educational and are motivated to help preserve the history and heritage of your communities for future generations. Archival preservation offers many benefits to you, your family, your community, your city, and to our collective understanding of diverse immigrant communities that have, and continue to contribute to these many places we now call 'home.'
My story is not unique. Identities are complex, constantly changing, morphing to our circumstances. They can anchor us to a glorified past or romanticized national experiences we have no tangible connections to. They are built up, torn down and put together in varied ways, by diverse people. They are formed, reformed and deconstructed. Perhaps the only constant is that identities are never constant.
Fieldwork is expensive. It's imperative to do extensive research long before booking a flight, hotel, and embarking on that delightful journey to Egypt. If this will be your first trip, I have compiled a few tips and tricks to get you started. If you're a veteran at this, perhaps some of these could save you time and money. Happy Holidays!