Professor presents paper before international Coptic conference

November 28, 2012

By Clarrissa McWoodson ’14 

Dr. Jason Zaborowski, associate professor of religious studies, traveled to Rome this fall to participate in a conference on Coptic studies held near the iconic St. Peter’s Basilica.

At the International Congress of Coptic Studies, Dr. Zaborowski presented a paper on his translation of a Coptic hagiography, or writings about a saint, at the Vatican Apostolic Library, an important center where Coptic manuscripts are kept. His paper also received a constructive critique from a panel of experts who attended his presentation.

“The Coptic congress is a great benefit to our scholarship because, otherwise, it is rare for people to be able to read and understand the text that you presenting,” said Zaborowski, who was recently named Bradley’s Outstanding Academic Advisor of the Year.

Members of the International Association of Coptic Studies (IACS) established the conference and scholars who study Coptic Christianity host it every four years in cities around the world. Coptic is the ancient language of Egyptian Christians and, while some scholars focus on the language, the discipline of Coptic studies also includes experts on the Arabic language, cultural artifacts, Greek language, biblical studies and archaeology.

This year marked the congress’s 40th anniversary and a moment when it gained a bit of international recognition. One of the more provocative lectures that generated news coverage was a presentation by Dr. Karen King, a historian at Harvard Divinity School, on a faded papyrus fragment that allegedly reads “Jesus said to them, 'My wife ...’ ”

Besides daily lectures, the six-day conference included discussions on international projects as well as a number of panel discussions on topics such as the reconstruction and editions of Coptic biblical manuscripts and the study of monastic culture. Zaborowski said the atmosphere at the conference was a vibrant one.

“Many of us knew each other,” he said. “People talked about the projects that they were working on with each other. Some of the people were working on the same linguistic questions, so they had something in common.”

Zaborowski said he learned much at the conference and added that even though the study of Coptic Christianity is small (IACS membership is less than 300 members), it’s growing field and one of great importance.

“There is so much from the conference that to sum all of it up would be nearly impossible. I can say that the field of Coptic studies is only expanding in its relevance. It is relevant to those interested in the Bible, to the modern Coptic community that makes up 10 percent of the Egyptian population and to the current political upheaval of the Arab Spring,” Zaborowski said. “The Copts play an important role in Egyptian society and their heritage is rich.”