• Between Israel and the Holy Land, between the Global and the Local: The Role of African Initiated Churches within African Transnational Migration to Israel

    In this paper I examine, in the context of transnational migration, the role of African churches that were initiated and operated by African labor migrants in Israel between the late 1990s and 2008. The focus is on the expanding sociopolitical arena of the churches, paying special attention to the bridges they tried to create between their members and Christianity in the Holy Land, sister churches back home, and similar churches in other, non-African countries (mainly in Europe and North America). On a more theoretical level, I show how focusing on the expanding role of the churches—an expansion that was both inward, to satisfy the ever-increasing needs of the churches’ members, and outward, to the “world”—offers a unique contribution to our understanding of transnational diasporic Christianity. It also enables us to better understand African labor migrants as active agents in the complex processes of shaping their own religious identity, thus creating what I term “transnational mobile Christianity,” or “transnational Christianity in motion.” The paper is based on qualitative ethnography, including over two hundred open-ended, in-depth interviews held in Israel, Europe, and West Africa, conducted mostly in English, as well as over a thousand hours of observations of different church-related activities.

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  • The Imagined Christian Ecumene and the Quest for Return: Christian IDPs in Israel and the 2009 Visit of Benedict XVI

    Soliciting transnational Christian authorities, such as the Holy See in Rome, and reaching out to an imagined global Christian ecumene are conventional strategies among Christians in the Middle East in their struggle to obtain benefits and negotiate their minority status at the local level. However, in the case of an internally displaced Greek Catholic village community in Israel—the people of Iqrith—when the quest for return to their destroyed 1948 village brought them into direct contact with the embodied representative of the Catholic ecumene—the pope—the practical goal of return became entangled with a more abstract and perhaps less conspicuous objective. The Christian ecumene became a field of imagination from which the people of Iqrith could challenge the restrictions experienced by Palestinian citizens of Israel and strive for global visibility. In May 2009, Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Israel provided an opportune occasion for the materialization of an imagined Christian ecumene. This opening field of the imagination offered the people of Iqrith a way of short-circuiting the national, of inscribing the local within the global, and of “re-placing” their village on the imagined map of the world. Expressed from within the Christian ecumene, the quest for return became a means of circumventing Israeli policy and denial regarding their communal past, present, and future and of penetrating what Jean-Loup Amselle has called the “global market of identities.”

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  • A Center of Transnational Syriac Orthodoxy: St. Mark’s Convent in Jerusalem

    This article highlights the role of St. Mark’s Convent in Jerusalem as a center of transnational Syriac Orthodoxy. Beginning with Manuel Vásquez’s discussions of transnational religion, it underlines the processual aspect of the transnationalism that characterizes contemporary Syriac Orthodoxy in the Holy Land, as it emerged from a mixture of pilgrimage, genocide, and diaspora as well as the combined forces of ecclesiastical expansion and changing political contexts. A complex web of relationships thus connects the community of Jerusalem to the other Syriac Orthodox groups in Bethlehem and Jordan, to the Syriac Orthodox center in Damascus and Ma‘arat Saydnaya, to the monasteries in Tur Abdin, to the faithful in India, and to the many communities in the diasporas of Europe, the Americas, and Australia. In Jerusalem this network is maintained by a narrative expressed in texts and images that combines the ancient connection to the holy places with the nationalist narrative of the lost homeland, brought together in the profuse use of Classical Syriac, the symbolic language of both church and nation.

    While this community in many ways resembles the other small orthodox churches of the Holy Land, especially the Armenian and Ethiopian churches—whose members, like the Syriac Orthodox, tend to see themselves as ethnically different from the majority of local Christians—the Syriac Orthodox differ in that their homeland is a virtual one, existing primarily in the transnational network that ties all the different locations together. In the creation of this virtual homeland, Jerusalem plays a crucial role as the least political, most ecumenical, and most international of all current Syriac Orthodox centers.

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