Sunday, 19 February 2017

Book Review: Coptic Christianity in Ottoman Egypt By Febe Armanios

Coptic Christianity in Ottoman Egypt
By Febe Armanios
ISBN: 0190247223
Price: £17.27
Febe Armanios’ book is one that I had been looking forward to reading for (literally) years. Whilst writing my Mth Thesis on the development of the Coptic Papal Election system one of the great difficulties was a lack of academic writing on the Coptic community during the Ottoman Era, and this text fills in the gap nicely, using sources from both Ottoman and Coptic records to give a broader understanding of the historical period and the community relations therein.

Armanios’ writing takes a thematic approach to the topic, looking at specific themes and historical instances during the Ottoman Era in Egypt in order to gain an insight into the place of the Coptic Church in society as well as the allowances and practices of the community in the Ottoman yoke. The text starts with a look at the sources available to us to do this, and raising the issue of lack of available sources to academics. It goes on to look at martyrdom stories and their impact on the community, pilgrimage and the development of rights and finally to cover the use of sermons to define Coptic identity during conflicts with missionaries from the Catholic and Protestant communities.

The structure of the text and its great insight into a very loosely explored period in Coptic history allows this book to demonstrate some great and original research into themes which have not been looked at. As well as this, Armanios’ approach to the topic and the readability through which she expresses her research allows the reader to access a vast historical landscape in an easy manner. This readability and originality makes Armanios’ book a great read and certainly one to be recommended to anyone with an interest in Coptic history or general Ottoman studies.

As for any weaknesses, the main one is one which Armanios herself addresses in the book. In the introduction she states that due to prejudices with regards to the period and a general lack of scholarship as to Coptic communal history the text can only give a broad overview of the period without delving into any of the subjects in further detail. Therefore to any specialist reader looking into a certain aspect of Coptic history or Ottoman history in Egypt it can seem too loose in areas, though this is not the fault of the writer but simply a symptom of a lack of academic resources available.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. As mentioned, it is readable and original in its scholarship which allows it to be a text with a lot to offer the reader. I would recommend it to anyone looking to fill in this much misjudged gap in Coptic Historical studies and anyone with an interest in the development of modern Coptic society generally.

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