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.
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.
I have learned a lot about servant leadership, and now practice it as the operations director of SALT, a non-profit missionary organization founded in 2012 in Minnesota. Today, SALT develops youth through mission work and helps them to understand their role as leaders. We help them to recognize that, as “the salt of the earth,” God has equipped them with unique talents and gifts to influence the world around them; whether on a local or international scale, by adopting a missional mindset to serve others.
In this episode, Joseph Youssef (PhD candidate in Anthropology, University of Toronto) kindly shares his history and his experiences with us, as an Egyptian immigrant to Toronto and an anthropologist of Coptic monasticism in Egypt and its diasporas. His fascinating research sheds light on the pitfalls of mythologizing and romanticizing monks. Rather, as he argues, we must understand their humanity and appreciate how modernization continues to affect their spiritual lives.
In part 2, our guests begin with the contested topics of Coptic identity and the political involvement of Coptic populations in Egypt, Canada, and the United States. They then delve into the challenges of emotion and subjectivity in conducting fieldwork, the obligation of scholars to become engaged in ongoing violence against Egypt's Coptic communities, and the effects of such developments on the collection of data and access to research materials in Egypt and its diaspora. Candace and Michael conclude by offering advice to those interested in pursuing similar research.
Welcome to the first episode of "Scholars Discuss Coptic Studies," presented by the Coptic Canadian History Project (CCHP). This audio blog series aims to bring together junior and established scholars from across North America and to offer insight on the research being conducted on Coptic populations around the world. Our host and facilitator for this episode is Essam Iskander, translator and interpreter for the Diocese of New York and New England. He is joined by Candace Lukasik (PhD candidate in Anthropology, UC Berkley) and Michael Akladios (PhD candidate in History, York University).
Bahjura has a sizeable Christian population. For Copts - as for many Egyptians - emigration out of the village is an economic necessity. Yet, the descendants of Coptic land-owning families continue to share stories of their families' former prestige in Egyptian religious, social, and political life. A discussion of recent encounters I have had in the field will weave a rich tapestry of land, migration, and memory in this upper Egyptian village.
Then, rather unexpectedly, my advisor suggested I commit the next few years of my life thinking, engaging with, and writing about the Copts. He was asking me to return home: to theorize and assemble data out of my community, family, and friends. I stared at him wide-eyed.