How Do We Tell the Story of Medieval Copts? Inspirations from Burton Mack

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
Monica Mitri PhD Student, Department of Religious Studies, University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA USA

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This paper experiments with Burton Mack’s invitation to rethink how scholars frame the past by examining two discourses in Copto-Arabic studies. First, I present the scholarly discourses of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries about the medieval Coptic past, and second, I examine how the traditional past is perceived in two medieval Copto-Arabic legal collections. I claim that closely reading these collections reveals the ways that their authors theorized and negotiated the authority of the past. There are marked differences between the two collections – differences that defined their intellectual contributions and their place in the tradition. More broadly, I demonstrate that Mack’s invitation to rethink and redescribe our subjects’ narratives about themselves can enrich Copto-Arabic scholarship by opening hitherto untapped areas, especially in the sociolegal realm.

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