31 May, 2008

Eastern Christians

When I was in Spy School, I became interested in the Christian communities of the Middle East. People tend to think of Arab countries as being uniformly Muslim, forgetting that these places are often home to quite large non-Muslim minorities, many of whom are Christian. Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq all have significant communities of indigenous Christians, which have managed to co-exist with their Muslim neighbours.

I began to think about writing my thesis on Middle Eastern Christians, with a particular focus on the Christian Palestinian community (or communities). I was interested in how they relate to the wider Palestinian community, in a time when the Palestinian struggle is increasingly cast not in nationalist but in (Muslim) religious terms. I was curious as to whether that kind of narrative effectively excludes Christians from the Palestinian struggle, or whether the likes of Hamas have been able to seriously engage with their Christian co-nationals.

I left behind that potential topic partly because I was unable to narrow it down into a question that could be easily answered. Instead, I wrote about the fascinating subject of Palestinian semi-presidentialism. I nevertheless remain interested in the Middle East's religious minorities, and hope to eventually read myself into the subject.

One often recommended book on Middle Eastern Christians is From The Holy Mountain, by William Dalrymple. I have not read it myself, and I get the impression that this is more travel-writey than more scholarly works of his such as The Last Mughal or The White Mughals, but I gather it is nevertheless a fascinating portrait of Christian communities whose continued existence has become increasingly problematic.

Dalrymple himself is coming to Dublin to speak on the subject of Eastern Christians. He will be at the Royal Irish Academy, on evening of the 9th June. Admission is free, but I gather you need to mail them to reserve a place.


kvlol said...

Are you going to the lecture on the 9th?

Queenie said...

The book is really good. So is Colin Thubron's book on Damascus. Travel writing plus.

ian said...

I'll be at the lecture. See you there?

That Thubron book looks interesting, not heard of it before. The Lieve Joris book (that other people on Amazon also bought) seems to be promising, from my skim-read of Irene's copy.

There are times when I really cannot understand how I have not made it to Syria yet.

ian said...

I've only just registered how old Thubron's book is! Wow. He was there at the time when Assad sr. was getting ready to take over, deadly.

kvlol said...

I'm on the call back list. It looks like that thanks to demand the lecture will be moved to St. Anne's on Dawson Street. Hopefully see you there or in Dawson Lounge for a scoop beforehand.