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Project Researcher Coptic Christianity

In ontwikkeling (In development)*


The Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, affiliated with Radboud University Nijmegen, NL, currently pursues the idea of establishing the position of a researcher (PostDoc) within its structures. The activities of the researcher shall be devoted to modern Coptic history, culture, and theology – a subject otherwise rarely represented in the current academic world.

Profile Research position
Coptic and Arabic Christianity in Modern Times (18th- 21st cent.)

The researcher will be affiliated with the Institute for Eastern Christian Studies (IvOC – closely associated with the Faculty of Philosophy/Theology/Religious Studies at Radboud University Nijmegen, NL), and be imbedded in an international network. Main features of the profile are the following:

1. Scientific focus, commission:
The guiding task of the researcher will consist in exploring history, cultural and theological developments of Coptic, Arabic Christianity within the (changing) framework of Egypt in the modern period (roughly 18th – 21st cent.). This primary focus is yet not meant to be strictly exclusive neither geographically nor institutionally, as there are obviously links and interactions with other branches of Christianity in the Arab world.

There is an obvious need for such a position in the academic world. Currently the academic landscape in not only Dutch speaking countries, but probably even more generally in Western Europe provides rather limited, if any expertise on this field. A certain specialized competence, on the other hand, can be regarded as indispensable in order to adequately voice recent developments in this large Christian community hitherto widely neglected, and to relate them to other discourses out of the same field, i.e. concerning modernity, pluralistic society, interreligious dialogue, human rights and the like. Additional importance this project gains with regard to a growing emigrant community of Copts in Western countries, both in Western Europe and the US.
There is innovative potential to this approach. To date, expertise and research on Coptic Christianity is still predominantly focused on earlier, partly pre-Islamic periods, and ancient times. In terms of methodology, patristics, philology and historical theology play a major role, while excursions into more recent developments, and informed by methods of comparative history, religious science or anthropology (etc.) remain either sporadic or a rarity in themselves.

2. Function
The researcher is supposed to fulfill a bridge function in many respects. Within the academia, expertise about modern Arabic, in particular Coptic Christianity can be linked to more overarching discourses, concerning the role of religion, Christianity, and Eastern Christianity in modernity. Research on modern developments implies, with in a changing historical framework, a focus on the status as a non-mainstream religious community (numerically partly a minority) in a predominantly Islamic, but also colonial/post-colonial environment.

This bridge function presupposes competence. It further implies questions of theology both in terms of ecumenism and relations towards other Christian confessions or other religions and in terms of what is otherwise framed as “social teaching” (or “practical theology”). The two themes unfold in questions of coexistence with Islam, but more generally in reaction towards modernity, in particular to questions concerning religious pluralism, “human rights” (emancipation processes), civil society (social participation, lay initiatives etc.). Research with a corresponding set of questions, as needs to be emphasized, shall not be carried out with any ideological prejudices (be they pro- or anti-Western, pro- or anti-Arab, pro- or anti-Muslim etc.). Rather the search for common ground between diverging modes of thinking will be part of the task.

Of particular interest, also with regard to overarching themes of religious pluralism and interfaith relations, ought to be the Christian-Islamic dialogue, or conflict and interaction in a more general sense.
In a second sense, with regard to a broader audience in the Netherlands and Western Europe, maybe beyond that in the English speaking world, the researcher takes the role of a competent ambassador of Coptic Christianity. In the public of more than one Western country, there is little, if any knowledge about this branch of the Christian community, which on the other hand regards itself as one of the oldest. An obvious gap of information needs to be filled with regard to Western media, but also for Western churches, civil society entities like NGO’s and, last not least, diplomacy and politics itself. It needs to be filled competently, also in order to avoid distortions that otherwise easily emerge from superficial knowledge or even interest-guided propaganda.

3. Sources and Resources, Coordination:
The researcher will work in close cooperation with the Cairo based Centre for Intercultural Dialogue and Translation, Ltd. established in 2005 by Eng. Sawsan Gabra and Cornelis Hulsman (Dialogue Across Borders - [DAB/CIDT]), and now run by Matthew Anderson PhD (affiliated with Georgetown University) and the Cairo based Centre for Arab-West Understanding, an Egyptian NGO established by leading church and Azhar dignitaries in 2007. As in previous periods, the centre regularly hosts students and researchers with particular projects, both from Western countries and from Egypt itself. The researcher will help facilitate the work of the center and its affiliates. While basically based in the Dutch and Western European academic community, parts of the function of the researcher clearly relates to this aspect.

He will also make use of, supply and administrate the Database set up and maintained by this centre since 1994, which contains an abundance of scientific studies, but also press materials, with translations and critical evaluations, minutes of meetings and consultations, lecture texts etc. The Database is about to be hosted at Brill Publishing House, Leiden (NL), in order to be made commonly accessible. Its technical upgrade, in the long run the digitalization of its content and the organization of its effective exploration are part of the researcher’s profile. (Covering the costs for the effective embedding of the Database, with regard to both technical aspects and to competent administration for scientists is the subject of a project application within the EU Twinning program.) While managed at Brill, coordination tasks will also be affiliated with the Institute for Eastern Christian Studies. Despite this being already an extensive storage and base for serious research, the network’s and researcher’s activities will also consist in detecting and exploring further sources.

Cooperation further includes coordination of activities with the Cairo based centre and its head, and, according to necessity, with part time affiliates/fellow researchers (students, PhD-candidates). In practical terms, this might include regular visits and consultation on research and current events, joint organisation of workshops and conferences, the recruitment of suitable students and fellows for internships and the like.

4. Provisional Profile, required Qualifications
The position, seen the qualifications probably required, is suitable for a researcher on PostDoc level, with testified (via PhD or comparable achievements) expertise in more recent Coptic/Egyptian religious history and culture. Suitable disciplines might be (Eastern Christian) theology, religious science, sociology/anthropology of religion, history of the Christian East. Language competences should include English, Arabic, and also a sufficient level of Coptic.

5. Costs
According to preliminary calculations, the costs for such a position (at the extent of 1.0 fte) will amount to roughly 65.000 Euros [gross] per year (salary, taxes and social services, material costs) for a candidate who just finished his/her PhD, or roughly 70.000 Euros [gross] per year for an advanced scholar. This is an average indication. In case of the establishment of a part-time position (0,6-0,8 fte), costs will be accordingly lower.

The indicated sums are assessed – summarized – in accordance with the salary tables of the CAO (Centrale Arbeidsovereenkomst) for Dutch universities, with some minor costs in addition for work environment, travel expenses, conference fees and the like. Details can be explained on demand.

This profile represents the state of discussion by September 2023. Further fine tuning discussions concerning research agenda and embedding within academic structures, with both experts and possible sponsors are supposed to follow starting from August/September 2023.

*For questions about the status of the project or prospects, you can direct your inquiries to the director of the Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, prof. dr. Alfons Brüning – alfons.bruening@ru.nl.

For further information you may also contact the Institute of Eastern Christian Studies (IvOC) via secretariaat@ivoc.ru.nl.

Alfons Brüning
Director IvOC