Panel 3I

Middle Eastern Christians in Diaspora: Dialectics of Integration

16.15 – 18.15
Chair: Hugh Goddard, University of Edinburgh

Stick or Twist? The Tradition/Innovation Dilemma Facing Diasporic Middle Eastern Churches in Europe

Alistair Hunter, University of Edinburgh

A key question facing contemporary Middle Eastern churches in lands of immigration is whether to maintain traditional worship practices or adapt them to better integrate with the ‘host’ society. Drawing on the religious markets literature it is argued that this question is best conceived as a dilemma, since churches risk a drop in members whichever strategy is taken. The first option of maintaining traditional styles of worship as practised in countries of origin may be preferred by the first-generation congregants who were born in the Middle East. Furthermore, maintaining traditional worship practices can be a strategy to more clearly differentiate small Middle Eastern congregations from numerically more significant local competitors. The second option of adapting and innovating worship practices may come to the fore as the demographic balance in diasporic Middle Eastern churches tips in favour of younger generations raised in the lands of immigration. Younger generations may be moved to question which practices in their church have theological foundations and which are merely cultural by-products of the homeland context. Encounters with Christians from other denominations may also move congregants to lobby for adaptations in worship practices. Innovations in worship practices may also be a means to increase their relevance and attractiveness to potential new members and converts. Drawing on comparative qualitative fieldwork in Britain, Denmark and Sweden with Assyrian/Syriac, Coptic and Iraqi Christians, the argument is developed by focusing on liturgical language as the domain in which the tradition/innovation dilemma is most keenly felt.

Middle Eastern Christian Diasporic Humanitarian and Political Activism in the UK: Does the Allure of the Homeland still Resonate with the Diaspora Youth?

Fiona McCallum, University of St Andrews

The focus of diasporic humanitarian and political activism is often directed towards members of the community still residing in territory recognised as the ‘homeland’ (Bruneau 2010; Clarke 2010; Hammond 2013). Middle Eastern Christians who have migrated to the UK for multiple reasons (education, work, family reasons, security) are no exception and several organisations have been set up to assist Christians in the Middle East. Using case studies of charities and lobby organisations established by Coptic, Assyrian and Iraqi Christian migrants, this paper argues that these organisations not only aim to reinforce ties with the homeland but also serve to strengthen communal identity in the UK by focusing upon the suffering of co-religionists. However, this community-oriented approach is being challenged by younger generations who either question what they perceive as a narrow focus in terms of aims and objectives especially relating to wider UK society or else are seen by organisation leaders as being apathetic regarding more active involvement in the organisations and thus the situation of Christians in the Middle East. These intergenerational differences indicate wider tensions relating to the role of the community in the UK and understandings of communal identity, thus potentially impacting upon humanitarian and political organisations run by the diaspora. This paper is based on interviews conducted in 2014 with Christians of Egyptian and Iraqi origin residing in the UK including members of the case study organisations and is part of an interdisciplinary project comparing Middle Eastern Christian migrant experiences in the UK, Denmark and Sweden.

Consequences of Migrant Preconceptions: Integration of Syrian Armenians in the Republic of Armenia since 2011.

Daria Vorobyeva, University of St Andrews

Before the Syrian uprising, around 70,000-100,000 ethnic Armenians lived in Syria, mostly dating from the period of the Armenian Genocide (1915-1917). Since 2011, according to different sources, half or even more of these left the country. Armenia and Lebanon became the main two countries chosen to flee to. Armenia was attractive mainly due to its image as an ethnic Armenian homeland and the welcoming policies of the Armenian state. Despite the fact that both the Armenian state, and to a large extent Armenian citizens, have had a welcoming attitude towards their Syrian counterparts, the process of integration has still had complications. A number of factors can be identified including unrealistic preconceptions of Armenia and a lack of knowledge of the socio-economic realities on the ground. This paper looks at the role of the presumptions of common ethnic identity and its aspects on the process of integration of Syrian Armenians in Armenia. This will include analysis of two key aspects of the process: language barriers (Western vs. Eastern Armenian) and cultural differences (Middle Eastern vs. Soviet and state vs. diaspora influence). The analysis is largely based on the author’s fieldwork, which included interviews with representatives of NGOs, state, church and educational institutions, and Syrian Armenians themselves. The paper concludes that regardless of all the positive factors present, the integration of Syrian Armenians in Armenia is notably affected by social and cultural differences

Departures at the Arrival Gate: The Unexpected Contribution of German Missionaries to Christian Migration from the Holy Land in the Late Ottoman Period (1860-1920)

Gil Gordon, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

My paper deals with Christian migration from the Holy Land  during the 19th  and beginning of the 20th century due to Missionary activities.  It casts light on German mission organizations and focuses, as a case study, on the most successful of them all – the Schnellers’ “Syrian Orphanage” from Jerusalem. This institute, Swiss by origin and later German, was one of the oldest in the country, being active in the years 1860-1936. It was one of the very few institutions who offered  to the local Arab kids a combined  idea of vocational studies  and religious belief. Based on classic Pietistic ideology, the Mission hoped that its young pupils will form, after graduation, new Christian communities in their homeland in the Levant. My research found, though, that the real influence of the Mission was contrary to its intentions: In spite all the resources invested, the efforts made, the sacrifices done and the  prestige gained in Palestine – the fact was that they all  distanced the missionaries from their ultimate goal. It became clear  that most graduates, once receiving the official German vocational diploma, left the country to find their fortune in Europe and the Americas. This paradox turned the missionaries from being a bridge for  advancing  modernity from  West to East, into  a jumping-board for young Christians to immigrate and leave this Ottoman region. The forces behind this migration  and the results up to this day concerning their absorption abroad, will be dealt with in my paper.