The Copts of Egypt are the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. In recent years they have often figured in the news as victims of bloody attacks by Islamic militants.
Christians versus Muslims in Modern Egypt is the first study of Christian identity politics in contemporary Egypt. S.S. Hasan begins by looking at how the Coptic generation of the 1940s and 1950s remembered, recovered, and imagined the ancient history of Christianity in Egypt in order to weld the Copts into a unified nation, resistant to the growing encroachments of Islam. She argues that this interpretation of history, in which Egyptian martyrs figure prominently, made possible the rebirth of the Coptic church and community-in much the same way as the preservation of Hebrew and the historical memory of Jewish tribulations served the purpose of national reconstruction of the state of Israel.
The bulk of the book focuses on the period beginning with the consecration of Pope Shenuda in 1971. Drawing on extensive interviews with church leaders, clergy, and others Hasan finds that during this period the responsibilities of the church for the welfare of the Coptic community grew immeasurably. Church leaders arrogated to themselves the exclusive right to the political representation of their community and reconceived their role from the narrow care of souls to the promotion of economic and cultural efflorescence of the entire Coptic community. The leaders of this revival, she shows, have nurtured a potent and distinctive religious culture with a sense of communal pride and identity in an environment in which they were increasingly exposed to discrimination and outright hostility.
S.S. Hasan is an independent scholar and the author of Enemy in the Promised Land. She has reported on Israel and Egypt for The New York Times. A graduate of Harvard University, she was later an Associate of Harvard's Center of Middle Eastern Studies, where she completed the writing of this book.
"Hasan's candid and well-researched work is an important contribution to understanding the church in today's Egypt."-- International Bulletin of Missionary Research
"Hasan provides the best possible introduction to the experience of religious minorities in the contemporary Arab world: an insightful and illuminating analysis of the internal politics of the Coptic community in Egypt. The reconstruction of Coptic identity over the last half century, in response to growing Islamic hostility, makes a fascinating story."--Michael Walzer, Professor of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study
"Hasan once again explores the complexities of religion and modernity, this time through a thorough and provocative examination of the twentieth century reform movement within the Egyptian Coptic Church. In simultaneously locating the impulse to reform in an internal dynamic within Coptic history and society and in the wider social change in the largely Muslim society of Egypt, Hasan provides a comprehensive and accessible history of the modern Coptic Church and its role in Egyptian society. In that historical interpretation, Hasan embeds a subtle and intriguing contribution to the larger, more general literature on religion in the modern world--a literature that has too long ignored the experience of the Christian communities of the Middle East. This book deserves a wide audience, not only among readers who want to understand modern Egypt but those who want to comprehend the many ways in which religious beliefs and institutions respond to modernity."--Lisa Anderson, Columbia University