Among the broad religious spectrum of the Levant, the figure of Saint George/Al-Khader stands out. As the patron saint of Palestine, Saint George is one of the most popular saints among Palestinian Christians. Traditionally, the popular Saint George veneration has been associated with phenomena such as Canaanite rituals, shared shrines, blood sacrifices, and rural culture. This centuries-old practice survived and is still widely alive among local Palestinian Christians. Based on a critical study of textual sources and twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork in the West Bank, this article provides an ethnographic-theological account on the Palestinian Saint George veneration, focusing on the controversial political uses and the spiritual meaning of this figure in the Palestinian context. I argue that this popular faith expression has transformed from a cult focused on human flourishing to a platform for grassroots theological ideas, mainly concerning themes like martyrdom, liberation, and belonging to the land.
Elisha, Omri. 2016. Saved by a Martyr: Evangelical Mediation, Sanctification, and the “Persecuted Church.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion. doi:10.1093/jaarel/lfw016 [Early Pre-publication release]
Abstract: This article examines the significance of mediation in the public program- ming and activism of The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), an organization that offers international aid and advocacy to Christians identified as victims of persecution. Focusing on VOM’s efforts to rally Westerners, especially evangelical Protestants, I argue that the antipersecution movement urges supporters to share the mantle of martyrdom by engaging in purposeful acts of religious mediation, including the consumption and circulation of martyrological media. I explore a related tendency among evangelicals to valorize non-Western Christians in precarious circumstances as exemplars of self-sacrificing piety, whose suffering represents and inspires conditions of sanctification. Drawing on media analysis and fieldwork, I explore how practices of mediation, as forms of “witness,” invite evangelicals to embody otherwise elusive virtues and modes of agency associated with Christian martyrs, while reflecting ambiguous modern conceptions of the nature of embodied suffering and the relationship between vulnerability and power.
Abstract: Since 15 March 2011, Syria has seen a humanitarian crisis escalate and we are now witnessing outright civil war in many parts of the country. From a relatively peaceful start, the whole affair has turned ugly. Bombs are exploding not just in remote parts of Syria but in its largest cities. Death and dying has now become a salient feature of Syrian life, both inside and outside its national borders. It is this salience of death and dying that I explore in this paper. My focus will be on Syrian Christians and their ways of perceiving the materiality of death. Most centrally, I argue that the fear of extinction that death and dying evoke in the minority prevents them from embracing oppositional politics and is instead used by the regime to propagate the fact that it alone will be able to ensure a future for all of the country’s citizens.
In January 2011, Egyptian protestors arrived to Tahrir Square wearing stickers reading ‘a martyr is available here’ to highlight their willingness to die for the revolution. Many Coptic Christians also arrived to their own demonstrations wearing the same sticker. Drawing on a biblical verse ‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain’, they claimed they came ready to die, not only for their nation, but also for their faith. In this article, I examine martyr themes in a popular and Coptic religious song genre known as tarātīl. Specifically, I explore the ambiguity between dying for one’s nation and dying for one’s faith as reflected in these religious nationalist anthems. How do song motifs negotiate ambivalences and seemingly contradicting desires to belong to an Egyptian nation and a heavenly afterlife as pious Christians? This article analyses songs of death as modes of political belonging and civic (dis)engagement.