Project Description

Middle East Christianity: A Historic and Living Tradition.

Depending on public health guidelines related to COVID-19, plans for a residential offering are subject to change.

This NEH Summer Institute studies contemporary Middle Eastern Christian life as connected to a very deep history. The Institute provides contact with the current dynamism of living Middle Eastern Christian communities, while equipping participants to interpret Middle Eastern Christianity’s longstanding traditions through the humanities disciplines they will bring to the Institute.

Scope of this NEH Institute

How is it that the Christians of the Middle East have long preserved their heritage while participating meaningfully in their diverse societies?

This NEH Institute will explore how Middle Eastern Christians have lived as a part of-, and yet apart from-, the societies they inhabit. Participants will develop academic vocabulary for speaking about Middle Eastern Christians’ fascinating ways of belonging to their parent societies, while preserving their own distinctive subcultures. The Institute’s activities will be structured by historical and cultural approaches.

Historical Scope

How Do Middle Eastern Christians Express their Own History?

The Institute’s sessions proceed historically to lead participants through the periods of Middle Eastern Christian history, with an emphasis on primary sources. The periods of Middle Eastern Christian history include: Pre-Islamic Roman Late Antiquity, about a hundred years before the Prophet Muhammad’s life (570-632), when Middle Eastern Christian churches came to be distinct from the rest of Western Christendom. Participants will revisit the Arab Islamic Conquests of the Eastern Roman Empire through the eyes of Middle Eastern Christians who not only survived the transition to Islamic rule (640s CE), but contributed immensely to the success of Arabic society. The Institute then engages Middle Eastern Christian primary sources relevant to the Crusades (1095-1270), the period of Ottoman dominance (1458-1699), and modern imperialism, nationalism, and globalism (1798-1952).

Cultural Scope

How have Middle Eastern Christians related to Others traditionally?

Interreligious Engagement

One particular dimension of Middle Eastern Christian culture is a tradition of interreligious engagement. At this NEH Institute, participants will analyze primary source texts (in English translation) that they can appropriate for their classrooms in comparative religion, Muslim-Christian-Jewish relations, philosophy of alterity, political science, and many types of history courses (such as late Antiquity, crusades, modern missions, imperialism, etc.). And the Institute will provide workshops that model interpretive exercises of the interreligious texts, which participants can practice under the pedagogical coaching of prominent experts in the field of Middle Eastern Christian interreligious literature.

Identity: Christian, Middle Eastern, Minority, Immigrant, Conformity?

The topic of identity is a nexus of scholarly interest across the humanities. Identity is a great puzzle for this NEH Institute. Middle Eastern Christianity provides a paradox of familiar-foreignness to Western academics that is fruitful ground for intellectual growth. The Institute includes sessions discussing how these traditionally patriarchal communities are talking about topics of modern life, such as politics, gender and sexuality, and technology in mass society. Participants in the Institute will be prompted to reconsider our language of alterity by recognizing the modern forces that have come to define geographic, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and religious labels of identity.

Objectives of this NEH Institute

Various humanities scholars (e.g., of Western civilization, classics, Islamic history, church history, Arabic studies, political science, and historians of many periods) will find the approach of this NEH Institute refreshing and informative for their own classrooms and research.

Firstly, participants will build new interdisciplinary, scholarly relationships with each other, fostering unpredictable insights that they can bring back to the classrooms at their home institutions. Secondly, the faculty affiliates of the Summer Institute will coach participants in developing sound curricula based on reliable sources for studying Middle Eastern Christianity. Thirdly, the Institute will cultivate a pedagogical community that encourages sharing and innovating methods for teaching Middle Eastern Christianity from a variety of academic disciplines. Faculty Affiliates of the Institute look forward to hearing your voice re-conceptualize the knowledge that is presented in our sessions.

The Principles of Civility for NEH Professional Development Programs

NEH Seminars, Institutes, and Landmarks programs are intended to extend and deepen knowledge and understanding of the humanities by focusing on significant topics, texts, and issues; contribute to the intellectual vitality and professional development of participants; and foster a community of inquiry that provides models of excellence in scholarship and teaching.

NEH expects that project directors will take responsibility for encouraging an ethos of openness and respect, upholding the basic norms of civil discourse.

Seminar, Institute, and Landmarks presentations and discussions should be:

  1. firmly grounded in rigorous scholarship, and thoughtful analysis;
  2. conducted without partisan advocacy;
  3. respectful of divergent views;
  4. free of ad hominem commentary; and
  5. devoid of ethnic, religious, gender, disability, or racial bias.

The Middle Eastern Christianity NEH Summer Institute has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.