Religious Origins of Nations?

The Christian Communities of the Middle East

Though nations are nowadays seen as the product of modernity, comparable processes of community building were taking place even earlier. Thus the history of the Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syrian Christians shows that close-knit ethnic groups already existed in Late Antiquity and early medieval times. These communities have endured to the present day. However, there is much debate as to how they came into existence and defined themselves. The role of religion is central to this debate. A major interdisciplinary research project conducted at Leiden University investigated the identity formation of the Syriac Orthodox. It is argued that they started as a religious association.
This volume presents the results of the Leiden team together with reactions from a number of other specialists. The cases of the East Syrians, Armenians, Copts, Ethiopians, and Byzantine Orthodox are discussed in five additional contributions.

Contributors include: Naures Atto, Annemarie Weyl Carr, Muriel Debié, Jan van Ginkel, Wim Hofstee, Mat Immerzeel, Steven Kaplan, Theo van Lint, Glenn Peers, Richard Price, Gerrit Reinink, Bas ter Haar Romeny, Uriel Simonsohn, Bas Snelders, David Taylor, Herman Teule, Jacques van der Vliet, and Dorothea Weltecke.
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Biographical Note

Bas ter Haar Romeny, Ph.D. (1997), Leiden University, is Professor of Old Testament and Eastern Christianity at Leiden University. He has published extensively on Syriac Christianity, Late Antiquity, and history of biblical interpretation, including From Rome to Constantinople (Peeters, 2007).

Review Quotes

"The editor and contributors are to be congratulated, for they have produced a volume which is sure to be foundational to future study." – Bradley Marsh, University of Oxford, The Journal of Theological Studies (2012)
" eye-opener for the complexity of today's nationalism." – Chris Vonck, European Observatory of Religions and Secularism, in: Acta Comparanda XXI
"I am genuinely impressed by this volume; the individual authors have engaged well with the subject. This book will be a very rich contribution to the field." – Robert Hoyland, University of Oxford
"[This] volume is both stimulating and worthwhile; the contributions, all by leading scholars in their respective fields, are consistently of a high quality." – Sebastian P. Brock, Oxford University Oriental Institute, in: Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies 52/1-2, pp. 125-128

Table of contents


Presentation of the results of the Leiden project
The Formation of a Communal Identity among West Syrian Christians: Concluding Essay of the Leiden Project, Bas ter Haar Romeny, et al.

Reaction from a social scientist
Ethnicity and Ethnogenesis: Anthropological Perspectives, Wim Hofstee

Reaction from a specialist in Syriac exegesis
Daniel of Salah and Identity Formation in the Earliest West Syrian Exegesis, David Taylor

Reactions from specialists in Syriac historiography
Syriac Historiography and Identity Formation, Muriel Debié
Michael the Syrian and Syrian Orthodox Identity, Dorothea Weltecke

Reactions from art historians
Iconography and Identity: Syrian Elements in the Art of Crusader Cyprus, Annemarie Weyl Carr
Art and Identity in an Amulet Roll from Fourteenth-Century Trebizond, Glenn Peers

Other sources for our knowledge of the identity formation of the Syrian Orthodox
Syriac, Arabic, Muslim – Bar Salibi, Bar Shakko, and Bar Hebraeus, Herman Teule
Seeking Justice among the ‘Outsiders’: Christian Recourse to Non-Ecclesiastical Judicial Systems under Early Islam, Uriel Simonsohn

Cases that may be comparable
Tradition and the Formation of the ‘Nestorian’ Identity in Sixth- to Seventh-Century Iraq, Gerrit Reinink
The Formation of an Armenian Identity in the First Millennium, Theo van Lint
The Copts: Modern Sons of the Pharaohs?, Jacques van der Vliet
Dominance and Diversity: Kingship, Ethnicity, and Christianity in Orthodox Ethiopia, Steven Kaplan
The Development of a Chalcedonian Identity (451-553), Richard Price



All those interested in Late Antiquity and early medieval times, Eastern Christianity, as well as identity formation and ethnicity (as evidenced in historiography, biblical interpretation, and art).


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