Abstract: Among Syriac Orthodox Christian migrant communities in the Netherlands, liturgical performance is a site of controversy over where and how to draw a boundary between “religious” and “ethnic” identity. Tensions materialize in discordant singing styles and modes of performance, echoing complex historical encounters with Dutch, Syrian, and Turkish secularisms. These encounters, I argue, have refashioned the liturgical tradition’s role as a central axis of ethnoreligious social life and kin relations across the diaspora. Secular state practices shape a diasporic sensory culture that is met with a distinct form of vocal agency. Syriac Orthodox liturgical experiments show how the voice can transform the sensorial interface between human subjectivity and social intelligibility, in turn transforming how categories of secular modernity—whether ritual, art, ethnicity, or politics—are distinguished and lived.
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.
Abstract: In this paper, I explore the way in which examples are used in sermons among the pious followers of Our Lady of Soufanieh in Damascus, Syria. In the sermons, a particular logic of seriation functions to present specific models and exemplars as prisms of lives to be imitated. The framing of these lives takes place through entextualizations, whereby the life of some is made into texts that others are told to emulate. The process of making life into text and text into life is explored in the production of examples at the weekly Saturday sermons in Soufanieh. While directly related to life as lived, such sermons also stand for a broader class of life as forma vitae, that is, lives to be followed. I thus explore the example as exemplum, a particular moral story used for edification and didactic purposes, one which situates the listener at the centre of the story by integrating the miraculous happenings in Soufanieh with the response of the individual. The sermons thus serve to examine exemplification and the modelling of sainthood in Damascus in the years preceding the current civil war.
Abstract: Christians in the Middle East have traditionally clustered around cities. As minorities in a Muslim majority context, difference manifests itself in many ways. In recent decades, the sounds of the city, in the form of calls to prayer from minarets and church bells, have increased, while green and blue lighting likewise crafts a plural setting that is not only audible but visible to all. In this article, I explore Christian ways of inhabiting the city in Damascus, Syria. The orchestration of space is intensifying as the region appears to be becoming an ever more vulnerable place to live for a Christian minority. I argue that an anthropological engagement with Christianity may do well to listen to the particular refrains that are formed in and of the city. Such an engagement attests to the ways in which Christianity is lived in particular locations but also how Christianity is continuously made to matter.
Bandak, Andreas. 2014. “Making ‘Sound’ Analysis: From Raw Moments to Attuned Perspectives.” In Qualitative analysis in the making, edited by Daniella Kuzmanovic and Andreas Bandak, 176-191. New York: Routledge.
Excerpt: “Suddenly, I am unable to hear my own thoughts, far less the words of my interlocutor, as I sit at my usual Internet café, High Point, in Damascus. A deafening sound from the nearby Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, Kanisat Marimiyya, makes it nigh impossible to continue the conversation for several minutes. The sound is coming from the Church orchestra, consisting of vari- ous brass instruments and drums. Trumpets, cornets, trombones, and tubas mix with the sound of snare drums and bass drums. “Da daa daaa, da dada da daaa . . .” the brass instruments go, accompanied by the snare drums: “Tikiti tikiti tik, tikiti tikiti tik . . .” and the bass drums: “Dum dum duum, dum dum duum . . .” People from the Internet café leave their seats to look out onto Yohanna al-Dimashqi Alley, where the orchestra—assisted by uni- formed scouts—is marching by. The orchestra and the young girls and boys walk with rehearsed dignity down the narrow alley as the music resounds in all directions. The Syrian national flag is carried in front, followed by pennants from the Greek Orthodox Church. People smile and rejoice in the celebrations on this Christian feast day. Having been carried away for some minutes, we resume our conversation. I had been telling my friend and col- league about the intricacies of my fieldwork on Christians in Damascus and their perceptions of Christian-Muslim relations. Much to my frustration, I had been telling my interlocutor, I found a lack of consistency in responses, not just from different people, but from the very same ones, which was trou- bling my understanding of matters and, concomitantly, impeding my analy- sis. Someone would one minute recount how relations were, if not cordial, then based on a civilian understanding of being Syrian first and foremost, not Christian, and Syria was a country with room for all regardless of ethnicity or religious affiliation. The next moment he would, as we passed by a mosque in a Christian neighborhood, point to it and simply state that it was out of place in the area. And later again, the very same person would point to mosques and churches neighboring each other as signs of an historical co-existence that was possible and even desirable. How could one account for such seeming inconsistencies, I had asked my interlocutor? At long last, now that we could hear each other again, we both immediately returned to an old discussion we had had on the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari and, more precisely, their concept of the ‘refrain’ and sonorities in landscapes, and suddenly the material seemed to speak on an altogether different level.
I shall here treat this moment as a significant point of departure for the analysis; it was what Deleuze and Guattari have designated as a ‘raw moment’ ( 2004: 355) in terms of it being the critical point in my analytical labor, where a conceptual take renders another perspective possible from which the analysis can be made. In this chapter, I shall delve into the making of analysis where sound is allocated a much more critical and formative role both in terms of material and analysis. My argument is that ‘sound’ analysis rests on a critical engagement with the material at hand, but also a willingness to lis- ten to stories other than the standard ones, to trace the noise—which Michel Serres so eloquently captures in the epithet—and connect otherwise disparate areas of thought and practice. As argued by Steven Feld, sound in the social sciences and, more particularly, in the discipline of anthropology has often been relegated to mere material to be dealt with in writing, and sound has fur- thermore often been reduced to the words uttered and collected in interviews (Feld and Brenneis 2004: 471; see also Erlmann 2004). Here, my thinking about Christian Syrians was pushed by the massive noise produced by the orchestra marching by, forcing itself on me as the point from where I should start listening. This was, however, something quite different in practice. As Paolo Apolito has pointed out (1998), there is a difference between the work and thoughts possible in the field and the subsequent work with the material away from the field, and—I would add—the work on an analysis previously made, as is the case here. Past necessities can be sundered, dissolved, and reflected upon and the black box of the making of analysis approached. I shall here analyze how this analysis became both possible and preferable, what kind of connections were established, and, by extension, point to the potential for the ‘sound’ analysis to resound across domains ….”
Bakker, Sarah. 2013. Fragments of a Liturgical World: Syriac Christianity and the Dutch Multicultural Debates. Doctoral Dissertation, Dept. of Anthropology. Santa Cruz, CA: University of California-Santa Cruz.
Abstract: This dissertation explores the reconfiguration of Syriac Orthodox liturgical tradition among Aramaic-speaking Christian refugees in the Netherlands. Under the pressures of Dutch integration policy and the global politics of secular recognition, the Syriac liturgy is rapidly losing its significance as the central axis of social life and kinship-relations in the Syriac Orthodox diaspora. As such, it has become a site for debate over how to be religiously, culturally, and ethnically distinct despite the narrative binary of Christian Europe and the Muslim Middle East that dominates Dutch multiculturalism discourse. Every week, young Syriac Orthodox women and men congregate at their churches to practice singing the liturgy in classical Syriac. What they sing, and how they decide to sing it, mediates their experiments in religious and ethical reinvention, with implications for their efforts at political representation. Singers contend not only with conditions of inaudibility produced by histories of ethnic cleansing, migration, and assimilation, but also with the fragments of European Christianity that shape the sensory regime of secular modernity. Public debates over the integration of religious minorities illuminate this condition of fragmentation, as well as the contest over competing conceptions of ethical personhood inherent in the politics of pluralism in Europe.
This article examines the different effects Christianity has among Christians of Damascus. Instead of focusing on devout subjects, I trace out the ramifications Christianity has in different settings. Christianity sets different kinds of foregrounds and backgrounds which in this article are attended to during the Feast of the Holy Cross. During this Christian feast, a great variety of themes are brought into play with different kinds of relations to what it is to be a Christian in Damascus. I argue that what I term tonalities of immediacy is a fertile way to understand how contingencies and histories are played upon in concrete situations. The problem of belief, I argue, is not settled by pointing to a particular Christian and Western heritage or to default reactions against imagined certainties; rather the interplay between faith and scepticism may be a productive lens through which to grasp local Christian concerns.
Hindiyya al–’Ujaimi, a young eighteenth–century nun whose faith was matched by her ambition and intellect, lies at the heart of this absorbing history of Middle Eastern Christianity. At the age of twenty-six, Hindiyya left her hometown of Aleppo to establish a convent in the mountains of Lebanon. Her order and her growing public profile as a visionary and living saint met with stiff opposition from Latin missionaries and with mistrust from the Vatican. Church authorities were suspicious of feminine spirituality and independent religious authority, eventually subjecting her to two Inquisitions by the Vatican. Sentenced to spend her entire life imprisoned, Hindiyya died in 1798 in her cell, leaving a legacy that shaped the church for many years to come.
Compelling in its cinematic scope—resplendent with the requisite villains and mysterious events infused with sinister and sexual tensions, tragedy, and pathos—Hindiyya’s story holds within its folds a larger tale about the construction of a new Christianity in the Levant. Khater skillfully reveals what her story tells us about religious minorities in the Middle East, early modern cultural encounters between the West and the Middle East, and the relationship between gender, modernity, and religion.