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Minorities in the Middle East: History, Religion, Ethnicity

Course 2013-2014

Admission requirements

BA in Religious Studies, Semitic Languages, Art History or any other relevant discipline.

Description In addition to the large Muslim majority, there are a number of minority groups in the Middle East. This course focuses on the continued presence of Jews and Christians after the seventh century. After a general introduction on modern social scientific theories on identity, ethnicity, nationalism, and the role of religion within these, we will discuss the communal identities of a number of minority groups: the Jews and various Christian groups of Syria, Turkey, Armenia, and Iraq, as well as the Coptic Christians in Egypt as they developed in the past and are transforming in modern times.

One group of scholars traces the identity of these groups back to ethnic differences in pre-Christian times. Others contend that in the case of the various Christian groups, the doctrinal discussions of the fourth to the sixth centuries play a large role. In their view these groups are at least in origin religious rather than ethnic groups. Students will prepare presentations on the basis of selected primary sources and secondary literature, and thus define their own position in this debate.

Next we will analyse the transformation of the identity of these groups under the influence of modernity and life in diaspora situations, as many Jews and Christians have now settled as migrants in the West.

In addition to written historical sources, we will study virtual communities on the internet and we will explore the role of art and dress in the expression and transformation of communal identities.

Course objectives

• Knowledge of modern social scientific theories on identity, ethnicity, nationalism, and the role of religion within these.
• Insight into processes of identity formation and transformation of a number of Middle Eastern minorities.
• Insight into the role of art and dress in these processes.
• Ability to assess the contribution of a particular text or work of art to this process.


See Time table

Mode of instruction

Literature seminar

Assessment method

Presentation on the basis of an individual assignment: 50%
Short paper (10 pages A4, line spacing: single), subject to be selected by the student: 50%

Course Load


Yes, Blackboard

Reading list

R.B. ter Haar Romeny (ed.), Religious Origins of Nations? The Christian Communities of the Middle East (Leiden: Brill, 2010).

Additional literature will be listed on Blackboard.


Via uSis
In addition to the registration in uSis, students are also expected to self-enroll in Blackboard a few weeks before the course starts.


This course is compulsory for people specializing in Christianity in the Middle East; others can take it as an elective.
Research Master students get additional assignments.