Courses in Coptic Studies

Taught by Professor Gawdat Gabra (Abdel-Sayed), the Religion department has rich offering of courses in Coptic Studies. Below is a sampling of courses that may be taken by students interested in an MA or a Ph.D. with a concentration in Coptic studies.

Course Details

Egyptian Christianity and Monasticism under Islamic Rule

One of the oldest Christian communities anywhere is at home in Egypt. Communal monasticism represents Egypt’s most significant contribution to Christianity. The Arab conquest and the ensuing period of Islamic rule led gradually to the Islamization of many territories in the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa. While Christianity disappeared completely in some regions, it survived in Egypt down into the present. Today, the Copts comprise the largest Christian community in the Middle East. This course provides a comprehensive introduction to the history and legacy of Christianity in Egypt under Islamic dynasties. It focuses on the attitude of Muslim rulers towards the Copts and Egypt’s monastic heritage from the Arab conquest (639-641) to the present day.

Egypt: Five Millennia of Religious Heritage

Egypt’s religious legacy – pharaonic, Jewish, Hellenistic, Coptic and Islamic – is particularly rich. This course provides a comprehensive introduction to the history of this legacy which spans five millennia and of the cultures associated with it. Special emphasis will be placed on the history of Christianity in Egypt: its monuments as represented in the Coptic Museum, the churches of Old Cairo, the monasteries of Scetis (Wadi Natrun), the Monastery of St. Hatre of Aswan, and the Monastery of St. Antony by the Red Sea. The course is also intended to prepare those who plan to participate in the trip to Egypt (January 3-18, 2010) so that they can fully appreciate the sites on the itinerary and their relationship to Egypt’s religious heritage.

Coptic Hagiography

Coptic hagiographic texts represent an important part of the Coptic literature. Many of them are written in the Sahidic dialect. Some of the biographies or encomia on famous saints such as Antony, Pachomius and Shenoute provide a major source for the history of monasticism in Egypt and for its spirituality. Students will be introduced to Coptic (Sahidic dialect) with readings from several hagiographic texts.

Coptic Old Testament

The Coptic Church regarded the Old and New testaments as a single inseparable unit. The basis of the Coptic version of the Old Testament is the Septuagint. The oldest extant Coptic biblical text is preserved in a manuscript of the Proverbs that dates from the late third century. Unlike the New Testament the Old Testament did not survive intact.  The Psalms are best documented for they played an important part in the liturgy and were learnt by heart. Students will be introduced to the Sahidic dialect with readings from the Old Testament.

Coptic Literature Seminar

The Religious Heritage of Egypt

Egypt’s religious legacy – pharaonic, Jewish, Hellenistic Coptic and Islamic – is particularly rich. This course provides a comprehensive introduction to the history of this legacy which spans five millennia and of the cultures associated with it. Special emphasis will be placed on the history of Christianity in Egypt: its monuments as represented in the Coptic Museum, the churches of Old Cairo, the monasteries of Scetis (Wadi Natrun), and the Monastery of St. Antony on the Red Sea, as well as the famous Monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai. The course is also intended to prepare those who plan to participate in the trip to Egypt (January 3-18, 2009) so that they can fully appreciate the sites on the itinerary and their relationship to Egypt’s religious heritage.

Coptic Sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers

The fourth and fifth centuries witnessed the spread of monasticism in the Egyptian desert. Monks strove to live according to certain ideals of conduct which were given expression by many early monks. Initially, these “words” were passed on by way of mouth, very probably in Coptic; subsequently they were committed to writing. The entire corpus is known as the Apophthegmata Patrum. This collection represents a major source for the history of monastic spirituality and for the cultural and social milieu in which it flourished. Its influence on the development of monasticism in the west as well as in the east was considerable. Students will be introduced to Coptic (Sahidic dialect) with readings from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers (and Mothers).

Christianity in Egypt: History and Culture

The Christians of Egypt represent the largest Christian community in the Middle East. This course provides a comprehensive introduction to Coptic history and culture. Students will be introduced to the history of Christianity in Egypt in Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic times. Special emphasis will be given to the Coptic monuments exhibited in the Coptic Museum, the Churches of Old Cairo, the monasteries of Scetis (Wadi al-Natrun), and the Monastery of St. Antony at the Red Sea, as well as the famous Monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai. One aim of this course is to prepare those   who would like to participate in the trip to Egypt (December 30, 2007- January 12, 2008) so that they can fully appreciate the sites to be visited and their relationship to Egypt’s rich religious heritage.

Coptic Art and Archaeology

Art and architecture provide an important point of access into Christianity in Egypt, giving us a material record of several complex periods. This course will introduce students to the rise of Coptic art in the late Roman period; the influence of ancient Egyptian, Roman and Byzantine art on Coptic art; the development of Egypt’s Christian art from the fourth through the thirteenth century; and its revival in the eighteenth century.  These themes will be demonstrated through the study of sculpture and wall paintings as well as in the minor arts of metal work, ivory, bone, wood, textiles, and icons. Egypt’s church and monastic architecture will be considered as well.

Coptic New Testament and Liturgy

Both the New and Old Testaments were translated from Greek into Coptic in the third century. Sahidic was probably the first Coptic dialect into which the Scriptures were translated in Egypt. Almost all original Coptic literature was written in Sahidic, which was in continual use until the ninth century, when it began to be superseded by the Bohairic dialect. Students will be introduced to the Sahidic dialect with readings from the New Testament and the liturgy of the Coptic Church.

Egyptian Monasticism and Coptic Art

This course will provide a general survey of Coptic monasticism. Students will be introduced to Egypt’s strong monastic traditions, including textual sources, art, and architecture from the fourth through the thirteenth century. Special emphasis will be given to monastic art from the sixth and the seventh centuries.  The format of the course includes slide lectures and discussions. Regular attendance in class is essential and is considered a form of participation.

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