Galal, Lise Paulsen, 2018, ‘”If I want to travel, I just travel.” Travel and Dwellings among Assyrians and Copts in Denmark’, In Middle Eastern Christians and Europe: Historical Legacies and Present Challenges,edited by Andreas Schmoller. LIT Verlag, pp.125-146.
This chapter explores negotiations of identities and belonging among Assyrian and Coptic Christians in Denmark. Drawing on Levitt and Glick-Schiller and Clifford, the question is how experiences and practices of travelling and dwelling among Assyrian and Coptic Christians are multi-directional and situational and how they are ascribed meaning through ethnic and religious identification. The article asks how identification comes from everyday encounters and personal life trajectories; political events in both the region of origin and in the receiving country, Denmark; and from opportunity structures empowering Assyrians and Orthodox Copts as collective and individual actors. Based on findings from qualitative interviews, four overall modes of transnational experience are proposed: ‘dwelling-in-displacement’, ‘dwelling-in-transnationality’, ‘dwelling-in-internationalization’, and ‘dwelling-in-Denmark’. It is furthermore argued that within each of the four modes, individuals make different sense of religious and ethnic aspects of transnational travels and dwellings. The findings show, not surprisingly, that generational differences as well as the history of immigration play an important role in how the interviewees relate to places of travel and settlement. Thus, the relations to their country of origin is different between Copts who arrived in Denmark as work migrants and Assyrians who came as refugees. More surprisingly, other differences appear when comparing younger generations. Whereas ethnicity and religiosity of the younger Copts are disentangled, ethnicity and religiosity of the younger Assyrians have become domesticated within Danish society.
McCallum, Fiona, 2018, ‘Shared Religion but Still a Marginalized Other: Middle Eastern Christians’ Encounters with Political Secularism in the United Kingdom’, Journal of Church and State.
This article explores the negotiation of political secularism by a migrant group who have a shared religious heritage with the majority population in their new country but are identified as a minority Other due to their ethnic and national origins. Middle Eastern Christians like other religious minorities in the Middle East, have tended to favour “secular values” in politics as a means of attempting to acquire equal rights as citizens and limiting the public role of Islam. The UK can be seen as providing new opportunities for Middle Eastern Christians given its Christian heritage and support for religious tolerance and equality. For many of these migrants, there were multiple reasons for leaving the Middle East including economic, societal, family and religious factors. The paper argues that assumptions of shared Christian identity as a basis of practising belonging to their new state has not enabled them to becoming part of the majority. Instead, political secularism has led to a situation where they consider that they are still a marginalised ‘Other’ due to their ethnic/national background. Furthermore, community members highlight the lack of privileges given to the dominant religion and the perceived challenges they face in practising Christianity. This paper locates the case study in a discussion on secularism, church-state relations and migration before presenting the narratives of encounters with political secularism. These are: perspectives on the idea of Britain as a Christian country; the impact on political and societal interactions and the implications for younger generations. Based on qualitative research with Egyptian, Iraqi and Assyrian Christians residing in the UK, the paper argues that direct and indirect experiences in the Middle Eastern homelands directly affect understandings and reactions to political secularism in the UK.
Sparre, Sara Lei and Galal, Lise Paulsen, 2017, ‘Incense and holy bread: the sense of belonging through ritual among Middle Eastern Christians in Denmark’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.
This article investigates how two Middle Eastern Christian churches in Denmark are constructed as particular sensorial spaces that invite attendees to participate in and identify with specific times and spaces. As with other Christian groups, rituals of the Sunday mass constitute a highlight of the activities that confirm the congregations’ faith and community, but for members of a minority faith, these rituals also serve other functions related to identification and belonging. Inspired by a practice-oriented (Bell 1992) and phenomenological approach to place-making (Cresswell, 2002) Tim. (2002) through sensory communication (Leistle, 2006; Pink 2009), the article examines constructions of religious identity and belonging through ritual practices. The findings stem from fieldwork carried out in 2014–2015 and are part of a larger cross-disciplinary study of Egyptian, Iraqi and Assyrian Christians in Denmark. We argue that in various ways, the ritual forms a performative space for memory and belonging which, through bodily practices and engagement with the materialities of the church rooms, creates a memory that reconnects the practitioners with places elsewhere. More specifically, we argue that the Sunday ritual facilitates the connection with God and the eternal, a place and time with fellow believers, and a relocation to remember and re-enter a pre-migration past and ‘homeland’.
Wozniak-Bobinska, Marta, 2017, ‘Big fat Assyrian/Syriac weddings: rituals and marriage traditions among Middle Eastern Christians in Sweden’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.
Weddings can be seen as ‘rites of passage’ and also as ‘symbolic struggles’ since their glamour appears to be a new indicator of status for many families, especially migrant ones. A mixture of traditional as well as reinvented wedding customs serves a community searching for ethnic identity markers that can help it to embrace all of its descendants. This article presents a case study of how Assyrian/Syriac wedding rituals and marriage traditions that are being performed and transformed in the migratory context of Sweden over the last 50 years. Among the Middle Eastern Christians, who have been emigrating from Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq since the 1960s, and which today numbers 120,000 individuals, marriage is a very serious business – a permanent union between spouses and their respective families. The purpose of the article is to analyse Assyrian/Syriac wedding rituals and to discuss how they have shaped the modern Assyrian/Syriac identity. It also explores how local marriages connect and reconnect migrants of this ethno-religious group(s) and how it differentiates them from their peers in the surrounding Swedish society – religiously, socially and even aesthetically.
Sparre, Sara Lei, 2016, ’(U)synlighed og den muslimske anden: Narrativer om flugt og religiøs identitet blandt irakiske kristne i Danmark’ [(In)visibility and the Muslim other: Narratives of flight and religious identity among Iraqi Christians in Denmark], Journal of Islamic Research 10(1)
The article explores religious identity and Muslim-Christian relations among Iraqi Christians in Denmark. Iraqi Christians’ narratives of flight and the encounter with Denmark reflect a constant oscillation between, on the one hand, safety, equal rights and religious freedom, and, on the other, minorisation due to experiences of being made invisible as Christians and visible as Muslims. I argue that these Iraqi Christians interpret and navigate their experiences of minorisation and (in)visibility by rewriting narratives of flight and persecution and thus their relationship to the Muslim other.
Gala, Lise Paulsen and Sparre, Sara Lei, 2016, Kirkens hjemliggørelse: mellemøstlige kristne i Danmark. In Kristne migranter Norden, edited by Anders Aschim, Olav Hovdelien, Helje Kringlebotn Sødal. Portal Forlag,, pp. 52-67.
Hunter, Alistair, 2016, ‘Staking a Claim to Land, Faith and Family: Burial Location Preferences of Middle Eastern Christian Migrants’, Journal of Intercultural Studies, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp. 179-194.
In order to get a more profound understanding of the relationship which Middle Eastern Christians develop both with their homelands and their countries of residence, we asked project participants about where they would like to be buried. The question of where to be buried may confront migrants and their descendants with a stark existential choice which reveals much about how identities are negotiated in and through place. This article explores this relationship between identity and place. More concretely, it sets out a typology of motivations for preferred burial location in a diasporic context. The paper also investigates the hypothesis that burial in the country of residence constitutes a straightforward indicator of migrant integration. Based on 67 interviews with Christians of Middle Eastern origin in Britain, Denmark and Sweden, the paper underlines the sometimes ambivalent relationship which migrants and their descendants negotiate between place and identity.
50 free Eprints of this article are available.
Galal, Lise Paulsen; Hunter, Alistair; McCallum, Fiona; Sparre, Sara Lei and Wozniak-Bobinska, Marta, 2016, ‘Middle Eastern Christian spaces in Europe: multi-sited and super-diverse’, Journal of Religion in Europe, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp. 1–25.
Despite little scholarly attention, Middle Eastern Christian Churches are a well-established element of the European religious landscape. Based on collaborative research, this article examines how three mutual field visits facilitated a deeper understanding of the complexity that characterises church establishment and activities among Iraqi, Assyrian/Syriac and Coptic Orthodox Christians in the UK, Sweden and Denmark. Exploring analytical dimensions of space, diversity, size, and minority position we identify three positions of Middle Eastern Christians: in London as the epitome of super-diversity, in Copenhagen as a silenced minority within a minority, and in Södertälje as a visible majority within a minority.
Galal, Lise Paulsen, 2016, ‘Kirkens betydning for koptiske kristne i Danmark: Et spørgsmål om ritualer?’, Religion. Tidsskrift for Religionslærerforeningen for Gymnasiet og HF, 2016:1, pp. 26-37.
This article presents different approaches among Copts in Denmark to church rituals and how they negotiate belonging to Christianity, Egypt and the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Jørgensen, Anne Rosenlund, 2015, ‘Reframing Interfaith Boundary Crossing and Maintenance: Middle Eastern Christians’ Narratives on Intimacy with Muslims’, Journal of Islamic Research, 9:2, pp. 28-47.
By exploring narratives of Middle Eastern Christians (MECs) in Denmark I want to open an important, yet overlooked, window on invisible intra-ethnic relations in an immigrant context in Denmark. The subject of research is negotiations of boundary maintenance and strategies for recovering from boundary crossings in cases of interfaith intimacies between MEC women and Muslim men in Denmark. The research focuses on different contextual aspects of intimate boundary crossing and argues that already at the stage of dating, the relationship challenges boundaries and erodes families and communities. In order to explore some very diverse narratives, I ask: How do MECs in Denmark, who carry experiences of intra-ethnic interfaith intimacies with Muslims, negotiate boundary maintenance at the levels of the individual, the family and the MEC community?
Sparre, Sara Lei; Hunter, Alistair; Jørgensen, Anne Rosenlund; Galal, Lise Paulsen; McCallum, Fiona and Wozniak, Marta (University of St Andrews, St Andrews), 2015, Middle Eastern Christians in Europe: Histories, Cultures and Communities (PDF 21 Mb)
This multilingual publication provides a short overview of the case study communities and is aimed at community members and other actors interested in these topics. The themes covered in this publication are: the origins of Middle Eastern Christianity, Facts and Figures of the communities, community activities, engagement in the countries of residence, connections with the countries of origin, challenging times and contributions and aspirations.
The booklet was launched at various events including the end of project conference at St Andrews in May 2015, a presentation organised by CCME in Brussels in July 2015 and meetings aimed at the communities and interested observers in the different fieldsites in UK, Denmark and Sweden in summer 2015.