World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th – 24th 2010


CHRISTIANS IN THE MIDDLE EAST - 3/3: Middle Eastern Christians in a globalised world (359) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: THU 22, 2.30-4.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: University of Stirling (Scotland)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Dr. Michael Marten

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: The history and contemporary contexts of Christian communities in the Middle East over the last 200 years are emblematic of the balance between continuity and change faced by many within the region and throughout the world. Balancing tradition and modernity – in relation to liturgical practice, social and political engagement, missionary involvement, internal coherence, co-operation/conflict with other traditions and so on – are all topics of specific concern for these communities. We want to use our panels to explore the diversity of Christian communities in the Middle East, both historically and presently, through investigating the different responses to/engagements with change that these different communities represent.

In the same way that the concept of ‘the Middle East’ itself transcends strict definitions. We have created 3 panels from the submissions we have received, of which this is the second. The other two are entitled ‘Christian life in wider contexts’ (1) and ‘Political and social negotiations of spaces’ (2).

Chair: Dr. Christine Lindner (Balamand University)

Paper presenter: John Bradley (University of Edinburgh), “Assessing the Catholic Church’s impact as a Transnational Actor: Change and Continuity in the Role of a Global player in the Middle East”
In 1971, Jospeh Nye and Robert Keohane edited a special edition of International Organization entitled ‘Transnational Relations and World Politics’. They argued for a reassessment of the monopoly position that the nation-state played in the study of political science, and stressed the importance of ‘transnational actors’ (TNAs) in the workings of global politics. The Vatican was mentioned in their introduction to the journal, which made the study of TNAs mainstream, and has featured in writings on the subject ever since. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church’s role as a TNA remains understudied, especially with regard to its involvement in the Middle East. This paper seeks to chart the evolution of the Catholic Church as a TNA by using it as an example to illustrate changes and continuities in the theory of TNAs since 1971. This paper will argue that unlike the 1970s, there is now a reasonable academic consensus that TNAs have an impact on international politics, but that due to the focus of research being examples of successes, we know very little about the failure of TNAs to influence in a given situation. The paper will seek to establish whether it is possible to counter this issue by looking at variance over time in the influence of the Catholic Church in Lebanon over the last forty years. Crucial to this question is whether it is possible to measure the influence of the Catholic Church as a global actor; whether it is possible to identify how and when the Catholic Church has had an impact on the politics of Lebanon. This assessment of the change and continuity in the role of the Catholic Church as a TNA in the Lebanon will conclude by considering whether influence in this instance is identifiable, or if the political scientist must be content with an historical account of the Catholic Church as a TNA in the region.

Paper presenter: Lise Paulsen Galal (PhD. Roskilde University, Denmark), “Transnational Coptic Spaces: negotiations of a minority identity”
The Coptic Orthodox Church has since national independence in Egypt cleverly positioned itself as a mediator between the Egyptian State and the Coptic community in Egypt. During a period of far-reaching social and political change the Church has in several ways succeeded in winning the power of definition of what it means to be a Copt while embracing change as well as continuity as part of a community revival. But, with increasing numbers of Coptic communities outside Egypt the Church faces new challenges when it comes to defining Coptic identity and minority position. Being a conservative and national Church the spread to countries of immigration seems potentially to challenge the Church’s well-established authority leading to internal resistance towards and negotiations of the Coptic minority identity as defined by the Church. Whereas the Church in public rejects or silences the Coptic position as a minority, part of the Coptic diaspora seems to take the minority position as point of departure for its identity politics.
This paper will explore part of the relationship between the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt and the Copts in diaspora. On the basis of anthropological fieldwork in Coptic communities in Egypt, Great Britain and Denmark the main question is how the minority position of the Copts in Egypt is re-negotiated and mediated by Copts in diaspora. The analytical perspective of the paper is transnational with the aim to explore some of the implications for the Coptic minority when they no longer are restricted by the political and social authority within a rather limited national territory but are becoming participants in transnational social (and political) spaces. The field work data is analysed with the aim to uncover processes of contestant subject positioning by the Church and by community members especially concerning the positions as Egyptian, Christian and minority. The question is, among others, to which degree the Church succeeds in embracing the Copts in diaspora by offering meaningful subject positions or how the Coptic diaspora rather ends up challenging the position of the Church in Egypt thereby constructing new Coptic identities as Egyptian, Christian and minority.

Paper presenter: Dr. Karene Sanchez Summerer (University of Leiden, The Netherlands
« The Sisters of Saint Joseph’s schools in Palestine (1908-1967) »
This paper analyses the evolution of the policy of the Sisters of Saint Joseph schools in Palestine, from 1908 (at the end of the ottoman period, after the young Turks revolution, the schools still welcome the majority of Christians elites and middle classes) to 1967 (at the eve of the WWII, French becomes a minority language; the Hashemite kingdom promotes the arabization of the educational system). Arrived in 1848, pioneers of girls’ education, their schools, among the oldest educative institutions for girls in Palestine, welcome the majority of Catholic girls and other Christian communities during the Ottoman period. They are opened gradually to Muslim elites, and spread all around Palestine in few years.
Even during the British mandate, the French General Consulate continues to support the work of education and assistance of the Saint Joseph sisters. Those schools occupy an exceptional position as schools for primary and vocational education for girls. They continue to be a platform for the French cultural influence and an answer to the British linguistic and educative initiatives. The growth of the arabization and nationalism oblige the sisters and the parents to position themselves towards those two phenomenon and to adapt their curriculum and their strategy of recruitment.
The intervention will attempt to analyse the different educational and political modalities that allowed the continuation of the teaching of French as a mean of “evangelization”, the continuities and ruptures of British, French and Jordanian language policies on these institutions for girls, as well as the attitude of the sisters towards the process of emancipation of the Palestinian women, and towards arabization and nationalism. It will address the relationship between language and identity, language and religion.
The paper is based on the private archives and photographs of the schools, the French Consulate and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs archives and the Chief’s Secretary’s files of the Palestine Government.

Paper presenter: Dr. Ben White (Princeton University), “In loco sultani”: the death of a patriarch and the changing architecture of community in French mandate Syria”
The death of Syrian Catholic patriarch Ephrem II Rahmani, in May 1929, posed an awkward problem for the French mandatory authorities in Syria and Lebanon. Under existing (Ottoman) law, all property belonging to the Syrian Catholic patriarchate was considered for legal purposes as the personal property of the patriarch himself, rather than the patriarchate or the community as a whole. But Rahmani had died intestate, not leaving a will to distinguish clearly between what was his purely personal property and property actually belonging to the community, and thereby creating the risk, which the French hoped to forestall, that an unseemly struggle over the spoils would divide the community. This would not only look bad, but also hinder the succession of a new patriarch—and for the French, maintaining stable patriarchal authority within the Christian communities was a vital political concern for maintaining their control over the mandate territories.
This paper draws on material from the French diplomatic archives to show how the High Commission resolved the problem and secured the succession of the shrewd, broadly Francophile Archbishop Tappouni of Aleppo. The case provides a fascinating insight not only into the relations between the mandatory authorities and one of the Christian Arab communities whose support they tried to mobilize, but also into the continuities and changes in the legal constitution of Christian communities in the post-Ottoman Levant; and it helps us understand the changing relationship between Christian communities and the state, as the state in question moved from being a non-national dynastic empire to a nation-state under mandate.