Current Institutional Affiliation
Hunt Postdoctoral Fellow/Visiting Research Scholar, University of California / Berkeley

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2009
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, University of California / Santa Cruz
Ancient Moderns: Claiming Middle Eastern Christian Identity in the Netherlands

For thirty years Aramaic speaking Christians from the Middle East have been seeking asylum in the Netherlands. Christians of different national origins, from Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, have congregated around their common Aramaic language and religious institutions to develop a newly cohesive sense of identity around the church. Their efforts are complicated by tensions that arise from their encounter with a secular insistence on the separation of religious life from political identity. This tension produces fierce debates in the community about how to represent themselves in a secular, multicultural society when their identity is staked on an ancient, sacred past. Many Aramaic-speaking Christians are working through a range of different political activities and religious practices to bring these two newly separated notions of the religious and the political into some kind of relationship. As they struggle to become recognizable subjects in a secularized and nationalized world, their strategies are fraught with tensions between competing discourses of modernity and the complex genealogies of their identity-politics. My dissertation research will try to make sense of how Aramaic-speaking Christians draw on different realms of belief, language, church affiliation, and cultural performance to construct their identities within Dutch secularism. By mapping out competing claims to Aramaic Christian identity, my research illuminates the conflicting historical narratives from which they emerge. The fragmentation within the Aramaic-speaking community that plagues efforts at cohesion arises out of an earnest engagement with both their history in the Middle East and with the politics of an increasingly multicultural Europe.