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Contemporary Coptic Nuns (Studies in Comparative Religion) [Hardcover]

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Item Specifications...

Pages   253
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.27" Width: 6.34" Height: 1.06"
Weight:   1.44 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Jun 1, 1995
Publisher   University of South Carolina Press
ISBN  1570030340  
EAN  9781570030345  

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Item Description...
Contemporary Coptic Nuns reveals a world rarely seen by outsiders - the world of the nuns who worship and serve as part of the largest community of indigenous Christians in the Middle East. One of the few people unaffiliated with the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church to observe these women, Pieternella van Doorn-Harder tells about the nuns who eschew secular pursuits to devote their lives to this extraordinarily conservative faith. Through the actions of leading Coptic women, van Doorn-Harder portrays their rich traditions and beliefs, and she examines the forces that compel these women to embrace such a demanding monastic lifestyle. In depicting the nuns' daily lives, van Doorn-Harder describes their work, their role in the Coptic resurgence, their influence on the laity, and their position in the larger Islamic society. In presenting the potency of their spiritual lives, she attests to the vigor of their prayer, fasting, and devotions as well as to the abundance of their spiritual gifts, which include clairvoyance, intercession, and healing. Through van Doorn-Harder's compelling portrayal, the Coptic nuns emerge as women who enthusiastically welcome their increased opportunities for service and leadership yet remain anchored to orthodox traditions and Egyptian culture.

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More About Pieternella Van Doorn-Harder

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Pieternella van Doorn-Harder is an associate professor of Islam and world religions at Valparaiso University. She is the author of Contemporary Coptic Nuns and the editor of Between Desert and City: the Coptic Orthodox Church Today.

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1Books > Subjects > History > Africa > Egypt > General   [1692  similar products]
2Books > Subjects > History > Middle East > Egypt   [1745  similar products]
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Reviews - What do our customers think?
outstanding  Mar 23, 2004
The general editor's preface to this volume states, "If books treating Christianity from a comparative religion standpoint are rare as hen's teeth, books in English treating Coptic Christianity from any perspective are far rarer" (p. vii). Pieternella van Doorn-Harder has thankfully reversed that trend. She reminds us of early lessons: listen to those who live their own history, write what they have said and meant to say, and write without casting too much of a personal shadow on the text.

Van Doorn-Harder's academic rigor sets her in critical solidarity with the subjects of her study and their ecclesiastical institutions. Her direct writing style joined with life experience sets a sympathetic tone for a text whose dissertational structure might otherwise have proven dull and pedantic. She aims at highlighting and describing how contemporary contemplative and active Coptic nuns have developed their place in their church and in the context of modern Islamic Egypt. The roots of this monastic tradition are found in the lives of the earliest monks, Antony (251-356) and Pachomius (292-346). The author points out without ambiguity that there is little written history of Egyptian convents, except for scant references to the twelfth century. She concludes that this "heritage is more or less confined to the centuries prior to the Arab invasion. What came after the invasion remains rather opaque" (p. 33).

The modern Coptic monastic rule of life is not a set document as it is in the numerous contemplative and active communities of Roman Catholicism. The singular rule for Coptic monastics does not yet exist. References to early patristic tradition and the needs of present-day bishops in consultation with convent superiors establish lines of authority, prayer life, ascetic practices, and bread-and-butter issues. In the case of the active convents, the type of social involvement also shapes both their ascetic life and the economic requirements of daily living.

The nineteenth- and twentieth-century revival of the Coptic Church is at the source of new religious lifestyles. Contact with European convent life and the Egyptian Islamic context have helped shape the lives of these Coptic nuns. Questions confronting all religious orders in Christianity are raised: authority and its exercise, the role of women as role models and leaders, the relations with the non-Christian community, and finally, the demands of the spiritual life in a modern society: "the key words for the situation of female monastics seem to be transition and redefinition" (p. 197).

The author neither shirks nor skirts the difficult issues. She shows a prudent restraint in being nonjudgmental with questions of possible conflict. One example is male authority and female competence, about which Van DoornHarder states, "This situation forms a potential source of friction within the highest levels of Coptic male hierarchy who on the basis of their interpretation of scripture, tradition, and culture, cannot tolerate self-reliant women" (p. 201). Photographs accompany the text. Notes, a glossary of Arabic words, a good bibliography, and an index complete a welcome and much needed study.

Women of the Eternal Listener  Mar 4, 2003
If a church is going to be discussed, it is less likely to be the Orthodox Church.
If it's an Orthodox Church, it's unlikely to be a Non-Chalcedonian Church like the Coptic.
If it's the Coptic Church, it's less likely to be the monastics.
If it's the Coptic monastics, it's highly unlikely to be a discussion of women.

So this is a rare book on a subject no one speaks of. When Abba Shenouda, the Coptic Pope, is asked about the number of monastics in his church, he lists only men. Pieternella performs a great ethnography on the Coptic Orthodox Nuns, discussing all aspects of their life in an extremely satisfactory etic study. She looks at the long history of monasticism in Egypt, and, because of the dearth of resources on nuns, we also get to learn a lot about Coptic monks and ecclesiology in the process. Pieternella lists the various forms of ministry that women have available to them in the Coptic Church- contemplative nuns, active ministry nuns, and quasi-deaconesses. She convincingly demonstrates how, in the Coptic tradition, contemplation is a more valuable pursuit for the monastic than is service for the poor and social justice work. She compares the monastic situation to the wider culture- the opportunities for women in Coptic Orthodoxy and the Muslim hegemony to show that monasticism is the best opportunity for religious advancement available to Egyptian women. It is only here, especially as Abbess, that a woman can become a spiritual authority figure, even to the point of performing the charisma of healing of men. And Pieternella doesn't just give a Western look at these monastics. She is to be highly credited for not falling into the myth of the excluded middle, in which the personal miraculous is ignored and does not exist. She looks in great detail into the supernatural, the mystical, prayer life, and saint hagiography. In this study, you get to learn all there is about a group that most don't even know exists. These are the women who have devoted their lives to love of others and serve through work and prayer to the Eternal Listener.


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