The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Study Day - Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity: an African Cultural Repertoire

Ralph Lee, Tom Boylston, Eloi Ficquet

Saturday 20th May 2017

The seminar has been organised by Dr Cressida Marcus and is being held at the St Theosevia Centre for Chritian Spirituality, St Theosevia House, 2 Canterbury Road, Oxford OX2 6LU.

10:30am to 4:00pm, Free for students with card, non-students £5 on door, no booking required.

Ralph Lee (Centre of World Christianity, SOAS, London) speaks on Historic and Contemporary interest in The Book of Enoch: Its literary contribution to the Ethiopian Orthodox Faith and Cosmology, presenting the place in Ethiopian Orthodox tradition of 1 Enoch - a Second Temple Jewish text attributed to the great-grandfather of Noah, preserved in full only in Ethiopic. Presumably translated in the C5th, its acceptance into the canon was emergent. It is revered by Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, in cosmology and thought, as bringing together all salvation history. Its presence in the canon provides a significant source of identity for contemporary Ethiopian Orthodox Christians.

Tom Boylston (School of Social and Political Science, Edinburgh Univ.) speaks on Orthodox Education Today: traditional scholarship and the 'New Theology'. Tom has researched on the use of media by young orthodox Christians. The Mahebar Kiddusan is a youth organisation that uses media and has flourished in the past decade or so, establishing itselfon the national scene. Young people have flocked to the Church, and are involved in the spiritual and practical work of makilg a space of their own. As well as para-church activities, such as Bible classes, liturgical performance and theatre, and festival events they are also shaping thought for their generation. A new generation of urban youth, many without jobs and with some education are seeking out extra education and social, sexual and spiritual deliverance. Their place is historically unprecedented. Boylston explores this in relation to their intellectual take on the tradition of the fathers of the Church.

Eloi Ficquet (EHESS-Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales, CEIFR (Centre d'études interdisciplinaires des faits religieux), Sorbonne) speaks on Flesh Soaked in Faith: orthodox dietary rules, and the embodiment of faith. Ficquet examines a new aspect of a topic at very core of the Ethiopian Orthodox faith and practice. His acclaimed essay concerns the marker that divides the Muslim and Christian populations of Ethiopia, who live side by side, and some intermarry. Meat is the marker of that boundary, and is also a shared substance. Meat symbolism in everyday life infuses the profane with a sacred embodimont. To this is added the sustenance of coffee, long associated with pagan spirit possession, but which is commonplace for orthodox Christians. Coffee is provided as a substitute for a proper meal in poor households. Is coffee therefore, a symbolic form of food, or broth, to be interpreted as an extension of the food consumption practices of orthodox Christians?

Two additional papers, probably to be given after 4 pm:

Diego Malara (a PhD candidate at Edinburgh University, and field researcher in Ethiopia, who works with Tom Boylston) presents a paper entitled, On the Everyday Work of Holy Water: containment, reciprocity, and ecstasy because, basically, he intends to talk about how holy water is carried from churches into houses. He then traces the bottles of blessed water that circulate amongst households; given, shared, and exchanged. Holy water is thus entangled in networks of kinship and neighbourhood and its transportability and partibility are a particular valuable form of spiritual communalism.
His research offers an insight into ways in which ordinary lay Christians share and possess the Holy. Holy water is commonplace, and saint's waters are used as talismans above door lintels. It is used for ritual ablutions, for curative and prophylactic treatment of the evil eye, and for malaises commonly associated with devils and evil spirituality. Holy water accompanies the liturgy in its blessing and is distributed after the qeddasse and kuban (liturgy and communion). It is potable there, and can be either from holy water springs, or tap water. Its household use is an aspect of its spiritual utility that has not been attended to before now. Malara offers us insight into its customary uses that join the individual to the orthodox communion of the faithful. This is especially significant because the majority of Christians do not partake in Holy Communion, for orthodox reasons.

Siena de Menonville, (Universités Paris Descartes, Sciences Humaines et Sociales, Sorbonne; a doctoral student who works with Eloi Ficquet) presents her paper entitled Continuity and Rupture: a general overview of contemporary church painting, painters, and a case study of an innovator. Her ongoing, original, and ground breaking field research focus reflects a renaissance of interior church painting in all the new Ethiopian orthodox churches; that continue to be built in synch with the population explosion and rapid urbanisation Ethiopia is undergoing. Author of The Priest and the Painter: the ambivalent role of Orthodox painting in Ethiopia today: this presentation at the study day will combine the mass phenomenon of church proliferation and contemporary forms of religious representation with the illustration of how one painter sees for religious expression as an artist. She has one in mind, a painter who is intriguing because of his simultaneous adherence to the imagery in the tradition, and his modern role and desire to change those norms through his own artistic expression.

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