#34 Rewriting Global Orthodoxy: Oriental Christianity in Europe between 1970 and 2020

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Last week, my project Rewriting Global Orthodoxy: Oriental Christianity in Europe between 1970 and 2020, has been granted funding by the European Research Council. This ERC-Advanced project (#ERCAdG) is scheduled to start in October 2019, at Radboud University Nijmegen, Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies in cooperation with the Institute of Eastern Christian Studies. The project team will consist of three phd’s and two postdocs who will work with the PI. It may take a bit of time before hiring procedures will start, but for those interested in the project, here’s a short summary of what the project entails, including a brief description of what kind of researchers we welcome to apply. If you’re interested to join, or know people who might fit the project, let us know.

Over the last fifty years, Oriental Orthodox Christians (Armenians, Copts, Syriacs/Arameans, Ethiopians and Eritreans) from the Middle East and Africa have settled in Europe, fleeing war-related violence and societal pressures. One of the prominent aspects of religious practice of these transnational Oriental communities is their strong emphasis on the writing and publishing of texts. These include traditional religious texts (from liturgy to history), re-translated and re-contextualized texts, and completely new texts. From simple leaflets and books to sophisticated internet productions where text is persuasively embedded in sound and image, these textual practices aim to transmit the religious heritage to a new generation in an increasingly globalized context.

Scholarship has largely ignored these texts, being too popular or too modern for scholars of the written religious traditions and too textual for social scientists working on these transnational communities, even though they make up a crucial source for the study of these communities’ European integration, especially as to the hybrid character of many of these traditions, among Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Christianities, and among European and global Christianity. Unfortunately, the popular nature of these texts, whether published on paper or digitally, threatens their long-term survival. 

The project Rewriting Global Orthodoxy takes these textual practices as its main source to understand how these Oriental Christians inscribe themselves in European societies and so contribute not only to the transformation of their own transnational churches but also to that of Orthodoxy worldwide. It hypothesizes that diachronic and synchronic comparison among Oriental and Eastern Orthodox churches will show that this rewriting includes the actualization of their religious heritage vis-à-vis ethnic and national self-definitions, vis-à-vis European society, and vis-à-vis other churches, particularly Orthodox ones.

These assumptions translate into the following questions:

  1. What texts have Oriental Christians in Europe produced and transmitted over the last fifty years? What genres, what numbers, what languages, what media, what actors? What changes over time?
  2. What do these textual practices tell us about how Oriental Christians interpret their move to and integration into European societies, esp. as to communal, ethical and ecclesial debates?
  3. What do the transnational textual practices of Oriental Christians, in diachronic and synchronic comparison, tell us about the role of writing and texts in the practicing of Global Orthodoxy?

The project consists of three subprojects:

  1. Four-Corners-of-the-World Library: a public portal for the contemporary literary heritage of Oriental Christians, based on an extensive database of books, pamphlets and magazines;
  2. Three Case Studies of the textual practices of Oriental Christian churches in Europe: the (i) Syriac Orthodox, (ii) Coptic Orthodox, and (iii) Ethiopian and Eritrean Tawahedo churches;
  3. Three comparative and interpretative studies including additional Orthodox traditions from the Middle East and Africa (such as the Assyrian, Chaldean, Antiochian, Maronite and Armenian churches) and Eastern Orthodoxy: (i) ‘What You See’: textual practices as visualized practice; (ii) ‘European Orthodoxy’: Oriental Churches inscribing themselves in European societies; (iii) Rewriting Global Orthodoxy: Oriental Churches contributing to new forms of ‘global Orthodoxy’

For the three case studies under 2 we will be looking for prospective phd students (4 yrs, ft) who come with thorough training in one or more of the languages and literatures involved, and who are committed to work on the contemporary manifestations of these literatures. Though the phd’s are to focus primarily on their distinct case studies, they are expected to participate in and contribute to the overarching comparative aims of the project, by adding to the database, by participating in the regular meetings of the research group, and by contributing to joint activities and publications.

For sub-projects 3i and 3ii we will be looking for two postdocs (3 yrs, ft) who will work comparatively over the three case studies and include materials from relevant additional cases; the first (3i) to focus mostly on the visual aspects of these new literary productions, the second (3ii) to work especially on the issues relating to the European context of these texts and textual production. In addition to their personal projects, the postdocs are expected to take up co-supervising and guiding roles as to the joint projects of the research group, in support of the PI, as to organizing group meetings, conferences and joint publications.


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