CALL FOR PAPERS:
Syriac and its Users in the Early Modern World, c.1500-c.1750
A workshop at the University of Oxford, 15-16 March 2018*
The vast majority of scholarship on Syriac has focused on Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Yet Syriac continued to be used, as a liturgical, literary and living language, across the early modern period and beyond. Guides to Syriac literature sometimes give the impression that new textual production had effectively ceased by 1500. But new texts did continue to be produced, both in ‘literary’ genres, such as hymnography and poetry, and in other forms equally valuable to historians, including professions of faith, inscriptions, and letters. The majority of the churches and communities which still at this time used Syriac in some contexts, including the Maronite and Melkite churches, and, in particular, the Syrian Orthodox and East Syrian churches, were located within the Ottoman Empire or on its eastern frontiers. The story of early modern Syriac is thus closely tied to the history of Christianity within Ottoman society. Yet Syriac had a global reach. Perhaps the most under-studied body of Syriac sources in the world is the material from the ‘St Thomas Christians’, the Syriac-using Christian communities of India. And it was in this period, in the context of the Renaissance, Reformation and Counter-Reformation, that Syriac began to be a subject of scholarly study and (polemically-motivated) theological interest in western Europe. Contacts between European and eastern Christianity increased across the early modern period, with far-reaching consequences, including the splintering of many eastern churches into pro-Catholic and traditionalist parties. Other, less easily traceable, changes may also relate to these contacts, including the increasing turn towards Arabic as the dominant eastern Christian literary language, and, in the Church of the East, the first written use of the vernacular Neo-Aramaic. The evolving uses and role of Syriac are thus closely tied to questions of societal change, global connectivity, and religious and community identities.
- New Syriac literature
- The history of the Syriac churches and their communities
- The relationship of language and identity; the social position of Syriac in comparison with Arabic and neo-Aramaic
- Syriac among Indian Christians
- Contacts between Syriac-speakers and the West; Syriac scholarship in the West; the representation of Syriac by western writers
Although the predominant focus of the workshop is on the early modern period, proposals relating to earlier or later periods may be accepted if they relate their discussions to developments in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. The workshop is intended to result in a collected volume of essays on Syriac in the early modern world, the first such volume produced on this subject.
* To be held in association with the ERC-funded project ‘Stories of Survival: Recovering the Connected Histories of Eastern Christianity in the Early Modern World’ (see http://storiesofsurvival.history.ox.ac.uk/).