DIMECCE team visit ‘Europe’s headquarters’: CCME event in Brussels, July 2015

by Marta Wozniak

When we arrived in Brussels, we were welcomed not only with tropical weather as part of the heatwave affecting Europe but also some rather interesting ironic cartoons in the magazines on the hotel’s coffee table. It was 1st of July and the DIMECCE team were meeting again, this time in Belgium, for the event organised by our non-academic partner The Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME). Continue reading

Our seminar ‘Middle Eastern Christians in Europe: Background, significance and policy implications’ had been planned for a long time as we wanted to reach out to stakeholders and ecumenical representatives based in Brussels.

The Brussels Times / Manneken Pis

The Brussels Times / Manneken Pis – symbol of Brussels

Encouraged by the ever helpful Doris Peschke from CCME, Dr Fiona McCallum and myself met early in the morning in our hotel to polish a handout which was to be given to the event participants. Interestingly, the same piece of advice – to prepare a short and clear handout for policy makers – had been given by Neil Crompton, Director, Middle East and North Africa at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, UK, during a plenary session we attended at the annual conference of the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES) in London the week before our Brussels trip. Following this approach, we tried to make our presentations as concise and intelligible as possible – not always an easy task for academics!

We took the short walk from our hotel to the CCME office – a pretty red brick townhouse. Our Danish partners – Dr Lise Paulsen Galal and Dr Sara Lei Sparre had already arrived having left Copenhagen early in the morning in order to fit in the event as a day trip from Denmark. I was pleased to meet Doris Peschke and Torsten Moritz again, both of whom represented CCME at the meeting and have attended various DIMECCE events over the project period. I was also happy to recognize Gunilla Moshi, a deacon from the Church of Sweden, who I interviewed as part of my fieldwork in Sweden – she had come from Stockholm just for our event. Then I noticed a neat pile of our DIMECCE booklets ‘Middle Eastern Christians in Europe: Histories, Cultures and Communities’ – fresh from print! Each of us grabbed a booklet and posed cheerfully – happy to present the fruit of our shared effort.

Dr Fiona McCallum with Torsten Moritz in front of the CCME office  / DIMECCE team

Dr Fiona McCallum with Torsten Moritz in front of the CCME office / DIMECCE team presenting the multilingual publication

Hearing Arabic language, I approached a grey-haired man in a blue shirt. He turned out to be Yonadam Kanna, an Assyrian politician, member of the Iraqi National Assembly as well as a founder and Secretary General of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (Zowaa). After chatting for a while, he gave me a leather pennant of Zowaa and an invitation to Baghdad! He was accompanied by a journalist Essa Santa, an Assyrian based in Brussels, who has just returned from Iraq reporting on the status of Christians there. I asked her about the Assyrian community in Belgium and she was eager to give me information on its size and churches. Joined by Fr. Nektarios Ioannou from the Church of Cyprus, we enjoyed a light lunch organised by our hosts CCME. By the end of the lunch, the seminar room had filled up with guests representing various churches and institutions.

Dr Fiona McCallum’s speech / Dr Lise Paulsen Galal and Dr Sara Lei Sparre in discussion with Yonadam Kanna, Iraqi MP

Dr Fiona McCallum’s speech / Dr Lise Paulsen Galal and Dr Sara Lei Sparre in discussion with Yonadam Kanna, Iraqi MP

The programme commenced with Doris Peschke delivering some welcoming remarks and then I presented a short project overview publicising our booklet and speaking about planned publications. Lise and Sara talked about Middle Eastern Christians being transnational actors and Fiona discussed the different interactions Middle Eastern Christians have within UK, Denmark and Sweden. Together the three presentations took under an hour but were full of facts, quotes and analysis, which were appreciated by the listeners who congratulated us on a well-structured discourse later on.

After a very short break, Doris invited guests to ask questions. Rob van van Drimmelen, retired General Secretary of APRODEV (the Association of World Council of Churches related Development Organisations in Europe) inquired about support given to Middle Eastern Christians at the local level and about converts into Middle Eastern Christianity in Europe. He was given several examples of assistance in the three countries and informed that conversions occur although they are not numerous. Doris remarked that it is far more common for Middle Eastern Christians in Europe to attend churches of other denominations (especially when there is no church of their rite in the neighbourhood) than change denominational belonging.

Yonadam Kanna then asked for a possibility to speak. After thanking team members for raising awareness about Middle Eastern Christians in Europe, he spoke about the difficult Assyrian past and present including Seyfo, Simele, and the current situation in Iraq particularly the expansion of ISIS. He mentioned that Iraqi Christians are helping non-Christians – especially minorities such as Yazidis and Shabaks – sharing with them humanitarian relief, i.e. much needed clothes. Kanna stressed the importance of maintaining European values at a time when he perceived them to be under threat. He argued that Western countries often fuel conflicts in the Middle East and urged EU representatives to strengthen protection of Middle Eastern Christians in the region.

The last intervention came from Rev. Joseph Bosco Bangura from Word Communication Ministries, Brussels, who wanted to know how the extent of access to church premises influences the spiritual life of faith-based communities; in particular the DIMECCE case study ones. Fiona, whose presentation at the DIMECCE conference in St Andrews in May 2015 covered this topic, was happy to give a comprehensive answer on the situation in the UK and I followed with some remarks on Sweden.

There was some time for mingling and networking after the event. It felt strange saying goodbye to Lise and Sara – it was our last meeting before the project’s end in autumn – when we meet again, the DIMECCE project will be over – officially at least (hard to believe!). However, our job in Brussels wasn’t over yet. Led by Torsten, Fiona and I walked to the European Parliament building for an informal meeting with Catherine Stihler, a MEP for Scotland and the Rector of the University of St Andrews. Catherine’s assistant, Vanessa Ivanov, met us in front of the main entrance protected by stalwart guards and made sure that we were given visitors’ badge stickers – of course we had to give our personal information in advance – it is not so easy to enter the European Parliament!

European Parliament / Dr Fiona McCallum in front of the European Parliament building

European Parliament / Dr Fiona McCallum in front of the European Parliament building

Catherine Stihler, who has been a Member of the European Parliament for Scotland since 1999, was a warm, easy-going person as well as an experienced politician with broad knowledge of international relations – after all she had studied in the School of International Relations at St Andrews! She was interested in the project findings and took one of our booklets. We discussed several issues with her including the history of UK-Assyrian relations, the present situation in Syria and different options of assisting Middle Eastern Christians in their homelands. When the one hour meeting came to an end, Catherine asked Vanessa to show us around the parliament building as she had to attend another meeting.

Catherine Stihler, an MEP for Scotland, holding the DIMECCE booklet (with Dr Fiona McCallum and Dr Marta Wozniak)

Catherine Stihler, an MEP for Scotland, holding the DIMECCE booklet (with Dr Fiona McCallum and Dr Marta Wozniak)

Vanessa was a wonderful guide – we really enjoyed our tour inside the enormous European Parliament building. With its half floors accessible only for authorised officials, it reminded me of Hogwarts from the Harry Potter tales. The building was not boring at all – apart from vast auditorium rooms crowded with MEPs, there were art exhibitions and sculptures sent by member states. We even watched a Buddhist monk sandpainting a beautiful Mandala on a table in the main corridor – apparently he was part of a bigger delegation from Tibet.

Sights from the European Parliament building

Some sights from our tour of the European Parliament building

After our tour came to an end, we thanked Vanessa, handed in our visitor badges and left the building. Returning to the hotel, we caught a quick glimpse of the European Commission windows reflecting the setting sun. We finished this long, fruitful and impressionable day with a typical Belgian dinner with Torsten in one of the many small Brussels streets, observing signboards and passers-by, thinking how multicultural the city is and reflecting on another successful DIMECCE event!

European Commission Building in the sunset and Robert Schuman monument in front of it

European Commission Building in the sunset and Robert Schuman monument in front of it


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Joining DIMECCE for the BRISMES conference in London – a guest blog from Austria

by Andreas Schmoller, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Salzburg

One month after the superb DIMECCE conference in St Andrews, I had the very welcome opportunity to meet the DIMECCE team again at the LSE (London School of Economics and Political Science) Middle East Centre. I gladly accepted the invitation to participate in a panel on Middle Eastern Christian Diasporas at the annual Conference of the British Society of Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES) with a paper from my current research on Austrian Diasporas that would fit under the general theme of ‘Liberation’. Continue reading

The panel also included Heidi Armbruster, an anthropologist at the University of Southampton and long-time researcher of Syriac communities, thus the DIMECCE-organised panel turned out to be a very strong and homogenous package of five presentations – three DIMECCE papers on their case studies (Fiona McCallum on the UK, Marta Wozniak on Sweden, Lise Paulsen Galal & Sara Lei Sparre on Denmark) and the two external contributions.

Panel at BRISMES. From left to right: Andreas Schmoller, Marta Wozniak, Sara Lei Sparre, Lise Paulsen Galal, Heidi Armbruster, Fiona McCallum

Panel at BRISMES.
From left to right: Andreas Schmoller, Marta Wozniak, Sara Lei Sparre, Lise Paulsen Galal, Heidi Armbruster, Fiona McCallum

Our panel was scheduled for day three of the conference, so before reflecting more on that, I better start at the beginning and try to recollect my BRISMES experience from June 23 to 26, 2015.

The conference which had more than 220 participants opened with a plenary session on the current Middle East since the Arab Spring in 2011. Peter Sluglett, renowned for his work on 19th and 20th century Iraq and Bilad al-Sham, gave some interesting historical perspectives on the issue of political change in the region which has become a topic of much speculation since the Arab Spring revolutions, counter-revolutions, conflicts and wars. The following three days contained in total 51 panels which represented a wide variety of subjects, methods and approaches in studying the Middle East. Not coming from the Middle Eastern Studies myself and having joined the sub-field of Middle Eastern Christians only recently, I benefitted from the opportunity to gain some insights on regions that are relevant for my current study of Syriac and Coptic Christians in order to broaden my background knowledge.



My personal highlights were two panels on the morning of the second day. Unfortunately, they were taking place simultaneously, so I tried to get the best of both by switching from one panel to another. The first was entitled ‘The Arab Spring to Arab Winter: Explaining the limits of post-uprising democratisation’ and started with Professor Raymond Hinnebusch of the University of St Andrews. Having read his book ‘Syria: Revolution from above’, I had high expectations of his analysis of different paths that countries have taken after the uprisings – and I was not disappointed! Hinnebusch somehow miraculously explained in a nutshell the events in the different case studies such as Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt or Syria and put forward a framework that allowed an understanding of why things proceeded differently in each of the cases.

The parallel panel dealt with ‘domestic perspectives on the Syrian uprising’ and as was the case with the previous panel, was dominated by panelists from the University of St Andrews. From what I remember, all four papers were based on dissertation projects which all appear to be fascinating. Ferdinand Arslanian analyzed the case of left-wing Syrian opposition activists who were very skeptical about the uprising from the beginning. Tamara Al-Om focused on the development of the Syrian civil society through non-violent movements created at the beginning of the uprising. Dara Conduit drew parallels between the unrest in Hama 1980-82 and the city of Homs in 2011 and argued that despite many differences in these two cases the ‘root causes of grievance were remarkably similar.’ Finally, Daria Vorobyeva presented her study on the Armenian Christians of Syria who since the uprising have left for Armenia. Beside our own panel, this was the only paper in the whole conference which focused on Middle Eastern Christians, which demonstrates once again that the subject is far from being studied extensively in the field of area studies.

The DIMECCE-organised panel addressed the challenges of liberation faced by Middle Eastern Christians after they migrate to Europe and how this is reflected in personal and in-group negotiations of identity. Heidi gave a concise synthesis of her multi-sited ethnographic research on Syriac communities. Instead of commenting on that, I strongly recommend reading her monograph ‘Keeping the faith’ which was a really important resource for me when I started working in this field two years ago. With regard to Middle Eastern Christians in the UK, Fiona analysed that their experience of secularism and declining religiosity might result in a general discourse about Christianity and/or religion and the societal role of religion. Marta examined the current visions of diaspora Assyrians/Syriacs in Sweden have regarding return to their homeland and provided us with an impressive overview of her research findings such as plans to create a free Assyria in the Middle East. What amazed me about Sara and Lise’s paper on Iraqi Christians in Denmark was their proposal to contextualise narratives of Islam as a threat that frequently came up in interviews by connecting them with resistance against experiences of domestication and minoritisation in the receiving country. I’m looking forward to reading more about that in the published paper. In my presentation, I looked at some interviews I’ve conducted with Syrian Christian refugees who arrived in Vienna in late 2013 arguing that aspects of disruption are manifest in all of the life stories I have collected.

DIMECCE Danish team Lise and Sara presenting their paper

DIMECCE Danish team Lise and Sara presenting their paper

Overall, I can frankly say that I very much admired our panel! It provided a lot of information from our research projects and it was inspiring for me to share insights and ‘fresh’ results once more, I’m lucky to add after attending the DIMECCE conference in St Andrews and the workshop in Lodz. The opportunity to share project findings and network is very important for a one-person-project like mine! I also felt that my DIMECCE colleagues were significantly less stressed compared to the previous meetings which were organized by them, which left lots of time for discussions apart from our panel throughout the whole conference. I would also like to thank Fiona for having the idea of organizing a DIMECCE dinner which I was also invited to where it was a pleasure to meet Frédéric Volpi and Anthony O’Mahony, DIMECCE Advisory Board members.

Embarrassingly enough I had never been to London before, and even more embarrassingly, after my four day visit for BRISMES, I have not seen much of the city other than the LSE, two restaurants and Heathrow airport! This underlines that the BRISMES conference was both full and attractive and could compete with the attractions of London I had read about in my guide book. Well, London, maybe see you next time!

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A personal take on a gathering of specialists on Middle Eastern Christians in the Diaspora

by Quinn Coffey

In late May, I was fortunate enough to attend the DIMECCE project conference, ‘Middle Eastern Christians in Diaspora: Past and Present, Continuity and Change’, at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. This conference was designed to not only give the DIMECCE team a chance to present some of their findings, but also for academics and community members to engage in thoughtful dialogue about the situation of Middle Eastern Christians, both in the Diaspora and in the Middle East. Continue reading

This conference was the culmination of nearly two years of effort by the DIMECCE research teams in Denmark, Sweden and the UK, and also several months of planning by the project leader Dr Fiona McCallum. In my capacity as research assistant for the UK DIMECCE team, I began in February to assist Dr McCallum in organising the project conference. With the help of the School of International Relations secretary Gillian Fleming, the patience of our university travel agents and numerous St Andrews guest houses, we (almost painlessly) arranged for more than 30 international experts and community members to travel to our little town by the North Sea. We are particularly grateful to Gillian, who was instrumental in this effort!

The conference began with a wine reception on the evening of the 25th in Parliament Hall. After having corresponded with conference participants for the better part of four months, it was good to put faces to names – a typical introduction that evening: ‘Welcome to St Andrews, I’m Quinn’… ‘Oh you’re Quinn – I’ve had many emails from you!’ After a lovely wine reception and visiting with colleagues, I took an evening walk around the cathedral and along the sea with the Danish DIMECCE team. Despite having worked on the DIMECCE project for the better part of a year, this was my first proper introduction to the rest of the team. Needless to say, it was great to finally meet them.

DIMECCE wine reception

DIMECCE wine reception.
Photo 1: from left to right, Alasdair Gordon-Gibson, Anne Rosenlund Jørgensen, Daniel Brock Mikkelsen
Photo 2: from left to right, Emma Douglas, John Anderson, Daria Vorobyeva

The conference included presentations and panel discussions from community members and academics from as far afield as the US and Australia. On Tuesday morning, the conference began with an introduction from the DIMECCE team, followed by the keynote presentation of Prof. Ghassan Hage entitled, ‘The Maronite Diasporic Condition: questions of specificity and universality’. Prof. Hage’s paper, which was a highlight for me, was illuminating in terms of novel ways to approach identity and disaporic studies. The DIMECCE team then presented their findings on internal dynamics of the case study communities, followed by a panel discussion from three community members. This was a valuable format in terms of creating an active dialogue between the DIMECCE findings and the case study communities themselves – particularly in terms of the more nuanced issues that the communities face such as their name, their political and social positions, language and generational issues, etc. Indeed, the participation of community members has provided useful feedback for the DIMECCE team ahead of publications and follow-up fieldwork.

Ghassan Hage (left) and Internal Dynamics panel (right)

Photo 1: Prof. Ghassan Hage presenting his keynote speech; Photo 2: Internal Dynamics panel – from left to right, Adnan Dahan, Fr Mark Aziz, Nuri Kino, Dr Fiona McCallum

Although the first day of the conference went rather seamlessly, Dr McCallum had tasked me with resolving any potential IT-related issues for the conference. Having some experience with this in the past, I did not expect any major issues to occur. Much to our surprise however, during the final presentation of the day, by DIMECCE team member Dr Sara Lei Sparre, the projector mysteriously switched from Dr Sparre’s presentation to an angry blue screen. Expecting to be able to quickly fix the issue, I rushed up to the lectern to see the projector control panel buttons blinking rapidly… this was more serious than I had thought! I tried a few different solutions to no avail. Beginning to panic, I looked back out at the audience as sweat began to bead on my forehead – out of options, I pressed the ‘off’ button. Suddenly the screen itself began to roll at a snail’s pace back up to the ceiling. I frantically hit ‘on’, ‘on’, ‘on’, but nothing happened. I glanced at Dr McCallum who looked unimpressed by my efforts and instead came up to join in the discussion. A few minutes later I managed to get the screen back down and the projector up and running, but not without damaging my ego. I don’t know that I’ll be pursuing a career in conference planning!

Photo 1: Trouble-free technology as Dr Sara Lei Sparre presents Photo 2: Quinn's IT rescue attempt!

Photo 1: Trouble-free technology as Dr Sara Lei Sparre presents.
Photo 2: IT rescue attempt!

After Dr Sparre’s enlightening presentation on Transnational Actors, we hosted a dinner in Lower College Hall, where we had a chance to meet and talk in more detail with our international colleagues. My table included, amongst others, Dr Marta Wozniak, the Polish Principal Investigator, Anne Rosenlund Jørgensen from the Danish team, Dr Carsten Walbiner, Dr Nicholas Al-Jeloo, and Daria Vorobyeva. One thing can be said about academics – we have no shortage of things to discuss, particularly after a glass of wine. It was fascinating to hear about Dr Wozniak’s fieldwork in Södertälje, Sweden, as well as Dr Al-Jeloo’s recent initiative in organising a tour to Hakkâri. Again in terms of nuance, the personal insights of Dr Al-Jeloo and Dr Wozniak in regards to both their research and my own research on Palestinian Christian identity were very useful.

The following morning the conference resumed with a fascinating panel discussion on Diaspora views of the homeland, in which the panellists discussed the duality between integration into European countries and the pull of the ‘homeland’. This was followed by a second keynote entitled, ‘Who will save the Christians of the Middle East?’, by Prof. Yvonne Haddad. This paper focused on the particularities of the American political response to the plight of the Christians of Iraq and Syria.

Photo 1: Diaspora views on the homeland panel – from left to right: Nicholas Al-Jeloo, Kristian Girling, Naures Atto, Annika Rabo (Chair); Photo 2: Yvonne Haddad

Photo 1: Diaspora views on the homeland panel – from left to right, Dr Nicholas Al-Jeloo, Kristian Girling, Dr Naures Atto, Prof. Annika Rabo (Chair)
Photo 2: Prof. Yvonne Haddad delivering her keynote speech

In addition to three presentations on the DIMECCE conference findings, the DIMECCE team also produced a multi-lingual booklet (English, Danish, Swedish and Arabic), which serves as an excellent overview of the Middle Eastern Christian Diaspora in Europe.

Although this booklet is a draft of a future publication, it was a great supplement to the conference presentations for attendees who were perhaps less familiar with Middle Eastern Christian communities.

I was impressed by the wide variety of topics presented at the conference – from the Lebanese Christians of Senegal (Dr Mara Leichtman), to the Chaldean community in Detroit, Michigan (Dr Erin Hughes). Although I wasn’t presenting any of my own findings at the conference, it was invaluable in terms of discussing my research with world experts on Middle Eastern Christianity. The DIMECCE project conference was the largest gathering of such scholars that I have attended and it was a great opportunity to both build relationships and broaden the field. I would like to thank Dr McCallum for including me in this conference, and the conference participants for their contributions.

Photo 1: Experiences and Interactions in the Diaspora panel - from left to right, Erin Hughes, Donald Westbrook, Dr Mara Leichtman, Dr Marta Wozniak (chair) Photo 2: The conference participants

Photo 1: Experiences and Interactions in the Diaspora panel – from left to right, Erin Hughes, Donald Westbrook, Dr Mara Leichtman, Dr Marta Wozniak (chair)
Photo 2: The conference participants

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Lodz as a milestone – an intern’s perspective on the second DIMECCE project workshop

by Anne Rosenlund Jørgensen

In-mid October I was delighted to be able to join the DIMECCE team in Lodz, Poland, for their second project workshop followed by two days of project meetings.

I work as an intern on the project with the Danish team at Roskilde University, and I received the invitation at the beginning of my internship in August – naturally, I immediately accepted. Continue reading

It was a milestone for me during my first months as an intern, not just because it was an honour to be invited and have the possibility to meet the other scholars working on the UK and Swedish case studies and to attend the project workshop and meetings there, but also because I was invited to take part in both writing and presenting the Danish team paper. This was quite an exciting challenge for me and occupied my mind quite a lot during my first two months of the internship.

DIMECCE’s second project workshop took place in Lodz (Łódź), the third largest city in Poland and formerly a very important place for textile industry. Today it still attracts businesses because of its location in the centre of Poland and being only two hours’ drive away from the capital, Warsaw. It is also a thriving centre of academic life, hosting the University of Lodz (Uniwersytet Łódzki) where the workshop took place.

Piotrkowska Street and Biedermann's Palace

Piotrkowska Street and Biedermann’s Palace
Photos: Witold Wozniak, see www.witoldwozniak.com

Alfred Biedermann’s Palace was the beautiful and ornate location of the workshop. To get there, the workshop participants met in the morning at our hotel and walked together through the city centre in the company of the DIMECCE Research Assistant based in Lodz, Dorota Scislewska. It was the first time my Danish colleagues and I had seen Lodz in daylight due to our late arrival the night before. There is no doubt that Piotrkowska Street (Lodz’s main street) is the most beautiful and well-maintained part of the city, but the less glamourous streets and neighbourhoods of Lodz also have their charms and historical presence.

DIMECCE team members in Piotrkowska street and Liberty Square, Lodz

Photo 1: Piotrkowska street – from left Fiona, Alistair, Lise, Sara and I
Photo 2: Liberty Square – from left Lise, I, Sara, Fiona and Alistair

After registration and a cup of coffee, where we had the opportunity to get to know some of the participants, we were all warmly welcomed by Prof. Tomasz Domański, Dean of the Faculty of International Relations and Political Science of the University of Lodz. The workshop organiser Dr Marta Wozniak then presented the aim of the workshop followed by DIMECCE Project Leader Dr Fiona McCallum who briefly introduced the project. There were three sessions in the workshop and luckily for me the Danish team were presenting in the first session. I was a little nervous about the presentation, even though we were well prepared, but was quite relieved by the thought that our contribution would be over before lunch!

Participants in Lodz workshop

Some of the workshop participants at Biedermann’s Palace. From left: Bachar Malki, Heidi Armbruster, Danielle Barsoum Malki, Michal Moch, Andreas Scmoller, Rubel Malki, Thorsten Moritz, Lise Paulsen Galal, Anne Rosenlund Jørgensen, Marta Wozniak, Sara Lei Sparre, Suha Shakkour and Fiona McCallum

The opening paper was given by the UK team, Fiona and her colleague Dr Alistair Hunter. They made a very interesting presentation about Middle Eastern Christians’ quest for equal citizenship in the UK, which was similar to our theme about practices of citizenship among Middle Eastern Christians in Denmark. For me to gain insight into the narratives about UK citizenship was a great opportunity – it became clear to me, that this transnational comparative study of minorities (and in this case Middle Eastern Christians) was more fruitful, than firstly observed. In particular the similarities of how the communities in the UK and Denmark articulate their understandings of the terms ‘Britishness’ and ‘Danishness’ was interesting. But equally significant was the discrepancies in these narratives and the questions that they raise. For example, why did some of the British interviewees born in the Middle East articulate relatively low expectations of their level of citizenship in comparison with citizens born in the UK yet the Danish interviewees rarely, if ever, referred to such views? What are the reasons for this difference? By comparing analytical results from the different fieldworks, we receive a fruitful insight into our own research field and new interesting and previously unknown questions are raised.

Members of the DIMECCE team presenting

Photo 1: UK team presenting – from left, Sara Lei Sparre, Marta Wozniak, Alistair Hunter, Lise Paulsen Galal and Fiona McCallum
Photo 2: My turn to present the last part of the Danish paper
Photo 3: Heidi Armbruster presenting her paper with Marta Wozniak on the left

Another presentation that I found inspirational, was the paper presented by Dr Heidi Armbruster, a Senior Lecturer in Modern languages, University of Southampton, UK. The method and theoretical frameworks used in her research were interesting and relevant for the DIMECCE project. She based her research on interviews with Syriac Christians of the same family but from different generations which allowed her to observe how narratives of persecution in their ‘homeland’, Turkey, became incorporated into the life stories of family members of later generations in Vienna. This focus on the micro level of data, as well as her problematisation of the ‘generation’ term often used in migration discourse research, was new to me and very inspiring for further research.

Generally all the papers presented provided some insight into the workshop theme of migration and citizenship experiences of Middle Eastern Christians in Europe. It appeared to me as if a new network of scholars working on Middle Eastern Christian migrants was initiated with this workshop and I felt fortunate to contribute to it.

The following two days consisted of DIMECCE project meetings. Already during the first day I felt like full and accepted member of the team. The rest of the DIMECCE team were welcoming towards me and made me feel at ease. With these meetings I was seriously incorporated into the DIMECCE project. In two long but productive days, we covered everything from Nvivo data coding to Booklet launch events to the project monograph and much else – the insights to even the minor items on the agenda in this multi-sited research project has given me a sense of ownership which has resulted in an even stronger commitment to the project after returning to my office. Therefore I will certainly see the trip to Lodz as a milestone in my internship.

Last but not least, I would like to mention my gratitude to Marta for making this week possible and for ensuring that all of us had a comfortable and rewarding week in Lodz.








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Our man in Madrid: representing DIMECCE at the IMISCOE Annual Conference

by Alistair Hunter

Due to being on paternity leave, I was not able to join the other DIMECCE colleagues on their visit to Ankara for the WOCMES congress (see previous blog post). Instead, two weeks later, I represented the DIMECCE project at the 11th IMISCOE annual conference in Madrid on 27th-29th August 2014. Continue reading

This was the fourth time I had attended the IMISCOE annual conference, and I was very much looking forward to meeting old friends and hopefully making some new ones. IMISCOE stands for ‘International Migration, Integration and Social Cohesion in Europe’, and is the largest network of scholars working on migration topics in Europe. Over 300 people presented their research at this year’s conference, which was held at the Universidad Pontificia Comillas, located very centrally in Madrid, just 20 minutes’ walk from the city centre.

My mission in Madrid was to present the results of our DIMECCE research on one rather sensitive – let’s say morbid – topic. Quite simply, where to be buried.

Earlier in the project I had managed to convince my DIMECCE colleagues to allow this question to be included in our interview guide. I know they did not always enjoy asking this question, so let me go on record to say how grateful I am for their forbearance! Having said that, I think my colleagues were also sometimes surprised by the positive reactions from interviewees when we raised this topic – ‘amazing question! whose idea was that?’ or ‘don’t worry to ask me – that is a part of life you know’.

As you probably guessed by now, funerals, burials, cemeteries – and other social phenomena related to death and dying – are a particular interest of mine! Indeed, questions of death and dying in contexts of migration have fascinated me since my PhD fieldwork in 2008/09, particularly how individuals and communities organise to commemorate those who have passed away far from their country of origin. The choice of where to carry out funerary rituals – be it burial, cremation, scattering of ashes or some other practice – is already a far from straightforward question for those of us who are to a greater or lesser extent ‘sedentary’ (i.e. not cross-border migrants). The options for how and where to carry out these rituals become even more complex in contexts of transnational migration. Such choices are also infused with questions of belonging and identity. Indeed, one may read the choice to be buried in the country of residence as an ultimate indicator of belonging and integration in the adopted ‘homeland’. Equally, the choice to be repatriated so as to allow funeral rites to be performed in the place of origin indicates enduring bonds with the land of one’s birth.

Such considerations were at the heart of the question we asked our DIMECCE interviewees, more specifically those who had been born in the Middle East: Where would you prefer to be buried? Here in Europe, or in your place of origin?

Not content with troubling my DIMECCE colleagues by making them ask such questions, I then proceeded to see if there were likeminded scholars out there who shared my research interests and fancied meeting to discuss them. Thus, with the close cooperation and support of an anthropologist colleague, Eva Soom Ammann at the University of Bern, I organised a double panel entitled Migrant End-of-Life Care and Rituals at the IMISCOE Conference in Madrid.

The first striking aspect of this year’s IMISCOE conference was the venue. As mentioned, the conference took place in the Universidad Pontificia Comillas in Madrid. In other words a Pontifical university with close ties to the Catholic Church. Unsurprisingly, therefore, Christianity was a constant visible presence at this conference – for example, crosses were prominently displayed in all the lecture rooms where the research papers were given. To give another example, during one lunch break I decided to tour the university buildings – turning off the main corridor from the university entrance I found myself – to my surprise – in a very large church!

Conference venue, Madrid

The conference venue, Universidad Pontificia Comillas – Madrid (photos by Alistair Hunter)

Given the topic of our panel, this religious ambiance was very appropriate. The paper which I presented, based on data from the DIMECCE project, featured in the second of two panels on the theme of death and dying in migration contexts: Migrant End-of- Life Rituals. This panel included two other papers in addition to mine: one by Nadja Milewski and Danny Otto at Rostock University, who presented quantitative data from a recent German survey ‘Generations and Gender’, showing the importance of a religious funeral among Turkish-origin communities in Germany. Interestingly, 2nd generation German-Turks gave as much importance to a religious funeral as their 1st generation parents, although other aspects of religiosity, such as mosque attendance, were less important for 2nd generation respondents. The other paper, by Osman Balkan of the University of Pennsylvania, also focused on the Turkish population in Germany. Osman’s paper offered fascinating qualitative insights into the politics of burial through interviews with Turkish funeral directors in Berlin: his paper was especially illuminating for linking discourse about funeral practices to discourse about the integration of German-Turks in society.

My own paper examined the significance of religious rituals, family location and place attachment in decisions about preferred burial location for Middle Eastern Christians in Britain. I presented DIMECCE data from the UK case, revealing that religious considerations are the most important justification for choice of burial location. Earlier research in France found that greater religiosity leads to preference for burial in the home country. However, among DIMECCE interviewees I noted that religious considerations are more likely to lead to a sense of indifference as regards burial location, with no strong preferences either for Britain or for Middle Eastern homelands. Without doubt further work is required to fully understand this indifference. However, it is likely that it is related to distinctive theological understandings in various Middle Eastern churches regarding the nature of the soul and the body after death.

In summary, Eva and I were very happy with the quality of the interventions and discussions which characterised our Madrid panels. The topic of death and dying in contexts of migration is relatively unexplored in academic scholarship, and we are both looking forward to developing a collaborative publication – perhaps a journal special issue or an edited book – from the set of papers which we were privileged to hear in Madrid.

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DIMECCE attendance at WOCMES at EDTÜ University in Ankara

by Lise Paulsen Galal

In August part of the DIMECCE team headed for Ankara and the World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies (WOCMES) to present some project findings. WOCMES is a huge five-day conference that attracts scholars from all over the world. Continue reading

In Ankara universities and institutions from 74 countries were represented and more than 1500 participants attended. The conference takes place every fourth year with the previous conference being held in Barcelona in 2010. At that event, Fiona, Marta and I met for the first time when we participated in two panels on Christians in the Middle East organized by CME (Christians in the Middle East research network). Thus WOCMES 2010 became the first chapter of the DIMECCE project, while WOCMES 2014 became one of several chapters presenting the project and some of its findings. In Ankara, CME had organized four panels on Christians in the Middle East; one of them constituted by the DIMECCE team presenting three papers on each case country (UK, Sweden and Denmark).

DIMECCE team members at WOCMES

DIMECCE team members. Left photo from the left: Dr. Marta Wozniak, Dr. Lise Paulsen Galal, Dr. Sara Lei Sparre and Dr. Fiona McCallum (photo by Marta Wozniak). Right photo from the left: Fiona, Sara and Marta (photo by Lise Galal).

The conference took place at EDTÜ, or METU (Middle East Technical University). The university was founded in 1956 and is placed a little bit outside the city center and can be approached by a recently opened metro. The campus area is green and spacious with all kinds of facilities. While the distances between the three venue buildings left us hiking between panels, it also gave us the opportunity to enjoy the sunny and warm weather. It was my first visit to Ankara and the city was a pleasant surprise to me. People were very friendly despite – or maybe because – of a general lack of tourists, and the city offered a well-functioning infrastructure and what seemed to be a high standard of living.


Ankara (photos by Lise Galal)

The five-day conference programme was huge and diverse. Not surprisingly many presentations were on Turkey, and a number of papers discussed the current political situation and conflicts in the Middle East. More surprisingly several papers had a focus on Shia’ rituals. Besides the four panels on Middle Eastern Christians, some of the most interesting panels in relation to the DIMECCE project which I attended presented different perspectives on Middle Eastern immigrants in Europe and the United States. Two sessions on conversion to Islam included several interesting country comparisons and discussions on religion and identity. Thus, one paper by Egdunas Racius explored converts in Lithuania, and another very interesting paper by Juliette Galonnier compared processes of racialization of converts in United States and France. The organizer Karin Van Nieuwkerk suggested conceptualizing conversion as moving, arguing that conversion is seldom the break or disruption that the term conversion connotes. Instead, we should rather look at how people move in and out of religion instead of religion as something that moves in and out of people.

The four panels on Middle Eastern Christians were organized according to different perspectives. The first panel included three papers on historical perspectives on Christians and not least Christian mission in Syria and Palestine. The discussion of Catholic language politics vis-à-vis the Melkite community (1920-1950) by Karene Sanchez made me reflect on the importance of language politics in the target groups of the DIMECCE project. Different language politics converge, as the language of the community, the language of God, the language of the majority community, and the language of the local context.

The DIMECCE panel was the second one in the series with a focus on Middle Eastern Christians in the three case countries and their relation to their country of origin (read more about the three presentations under ‘Outcomes’). The presentations were followed by time for questions and discussion and the team received useful comments and questions about identification with being Arab, gender specific narratives of Islamophobia, the influence of country specific asylum politics and much more!

The third panel examined changing identities among Palestinian Christians and Christians in Bethlehem respectively. Mark Calder’s focus on the meaning of place referring to Manger Square was interesting as it raised the question of how different religious and competing groups navigate their local environment by using place(s) in specific ways. This seems very relevant to the DIMECCE project, where Middle Eastern Christians in the case study countries use different ways to try to create their own places where they can practice or articulate their specific Christian identity.

The fourth and last panel on Middle Eastern Christians had two papers. One focused on Christians in Iran, another on Copts in Egypt after the 2011-revolution. Marcin Rzepka’s presentation on Christians in Iran demonstrated how Persian-speaking contrary to non-Persian-speaking Christians in Iran are unclassified minorities and as such they do not have any rights. The four panels complemented each other very well and gave wide and fruitful insights on the situation of Christians in the Middle East.

DIMECCE members presenting at WOCMES

DIMECCE team in action. From left: Fiona, Lise, Marta and Sara (photos by Marta Wozniak).

With most of the core team present in Ankara, we used the possibility to have a project meeting one evening which left us with still a few issues to discuss the following day after the conference finished. Two of the big issues were plans for publications and how to use the Nvivo software programme for analyzing interview material. Once again it made good sense to meet in person and elaborate on ideas and perspectives that we already dealt with via email. Since the conference took up most of our time with a very dense programme, sadly we didn’t really have time for sightseeing. However, the morning before the conference started, some of us managed to visit the citadel and some of the Roman remains. And, before going to the airport a few managed to visit Atatürk’s mausoleum which was impressive and perhaps more worthy of an emperor than the leader of a modern secular state!  Overall, WOCMES was another successful outing for the DIMECCE team.

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Nordic views on migration: a report on the 17th Nordic Migration Conference in Copenhagen ‘Flows, places and boundaries – migratory challenges and new agendas’

by Marta Wozniak

Polish and Danish members of the DIMECCE team met once more to participate in the 17th Nordic Migration Conference which was held on Copenhagen University’s campus, Emil Holms Kanal, between 13th and 15th August, 2014. The conference venue was very pleasant; water, trees, and numerous bikes used both by students and professors, brought to mind a holiday mood, however, the conference programme was very rich so there was no room for any unintentional slumber. Continue reading

Copenhagen University campus and registration sign

Beautiful campus of Copenhagen University / To the registration

The opening speeches by Hilde Liden, chairwoman of Nordic Migration Research, and Ulf Hedetoft, Director of SAXO Institute, introduced the theme of the conference – the status of both migration tendencies and migration research, especially in a Nordic context. The first plenary began with Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Oslo University, discussing the need to emphasise the ‘person’ when approaching the migrant issue. In a humorous way, he sketched out the differences between Nordic and Middle Eastern models of bringing up children to underline challenges faced by many second generation immigrants. The next presenter, and only female among the eight key-speakers, was Claudia Strauss, Pitzer College, USA. In her presentation on ‘Complexity in U.S. Nativist Discourses’, she argued that it is too simplistic to say that Americans are either for or against immigration as instead, people are exposed to a mix of conventional discourses, have multiple identities and therefore reproduce different discourses.

In the second plenary, Nicolas de Genova, King’s College, London, explored ‘Border Struggles in the Migrant Metropolis’, i.e. spatial practices of migrants and their urban struggles. It reminded me of Jennifer Mack’s ‘urban design from below’ concept[1] which I use to describe Assyrian/Syriac practices in Södertälje. The most controversial speech, however, was delivered by Philippe Legrain, London School of Economics, whose idea of ‘Border myths’ polarised the audience. Many praised the speaker for his bravery in advocating a total liquidation of state borders in order to ensure more justice and equal opportunities, but others found the talk demagogical and biased. It was certainly a vivid and thought-provoking lecture.

Introductory slide from conference, and DIMECCE team members Dr Sara Lei Sparre and Dr Lise Paulsen Galal

Conference opening ceremony / DIMECCE Danish team at the conference; Dr Sara Lei Sparre (left), Dr Lise Paulsen Galal (right)

As it was not possible to attend all 32 panels, the DIMECCE team split. I went to the ‘Childhood and Migration’ session which included two presentations about migrant minors in Sweden – my case study state. I found parallels between the information I have obtained from my interviews about the problems of Assyrian/Syriac children, especially boys, in Swedish schools and results presented in the session. Although Sweden has developed a sophisticated system of taking care of unaccompanied migrant children, it is argued that the children are often deprived of having one meaningful, deep and lasting relationship with an adult guardian. In addition, young migrant adults with little formal schooling tend to be sent to special institutions, which they find highly unsatisfactory.

The last workshop on the opening day was one that was eagerly anticipated by the DIMECCE team as it was entitled ‘Rituals and migration’ and was organised by Marianne Holm Pedersen from the Danish Royal Library and Mikkel Rytter from Aarhus University. The aims of the workshop were reiterated: at the empirical level to explore how migration affects the performance of rituals and how the performance of rituals affects the process of migration, and at the analytical level to wonder if we can use ritual as a cultural prism to shed a different light on migration processes. My DIMECCE colleagues, Dr Lise Paulsen Galal and Dr Sara Lei Sparre, presented their co-authored paper ‘Incense and Holy Bread: Middle Eastern Christians and their ritual encounter with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark’. Lise provided an overview of Middle Eastern spaces and persons in the Danish context, and included life-stories of Danish-Iraqi Christians. She stressed the importance of ‘doing things’ while performing the rituals and gave examples of adaptation to other visual and ritual norms. Sara then explored three ways of practicing rituals: 1) staying Christian and international; 2) surviving as a Middle Eastern Christian; 3) confirming a sense of being Egyptian. I found this classification extremely helpful and will check whether the first approach is found among Middle Eastern Christians in Sweden.

Lise and Sara presenting their papers

Lise and Sara’s presentation

In the evening, we attended a conference reception at Copenhagen’s impressive City Hall. A City Hall representative of German and Peruvian descent told me about the difficulties which migrants face in their attempts to integrate into Danish society, and her role as a member of one of the commissions set up to facilitate this process.

Copenhagen's historic City Hall – exterior and interior

Copenhagen’s historic City Hall – exterior and interior

Later on in the reception, I got to sample some Danish specialities – pancakes stuffed with sweet curd served on Royal Copenhagen Blue porcelain. They were delicious!

Pancake reception venue and food

Pancake reception – one of the benefits of being part of the DIMECCE project!

A highlight of the second day was a panel on ‘Transnational Migrant Families: Norms, Laws, and Lived Realities’ where the paper on ‘Marriage Norms and Practices among Transnational Somali Families in Finland’ by Mulki Al-Sharmani and Abdirashid Ismail, University of Helsinki, was interesting given my own conference paper was on a similar topic. Another paper on ‘Pathways to old age; societal and familial embeddedness of old Turkish migrant women’ by Anika Liversage, SFI – The Danish National Centre for Social Research, discussed poverty among old Turkish migrants and made me wonder if it is the same in Sweden for elderly Assyrians/Syriacs from Turkey. Another panel entitled ‘Affectivity as a potential key to unlocking race and whiteness in the Nordic context’ was of interest as well – many of my interviewees speak about being perceived by Swedish society as being ‘non-white, black-headed, and consequently inferior’. The organised hospitality for this evening was an hour’s travel by public transport to a spacious wedding hall called ‘Laila’ which had typical Middle Eastern décor. It was interesting to hear from the organiser that this venue is used by different migrants – mainly from Arab and Turkish communities.

Before the dinner in the Middle Eastern wedding hall 'Laila'

Before the dinner in the Middle Eastern wedding hall ‘Laila’

On Friday morning, I presented my paper ‘Big fat Assyrian/Syriac weddings: The role of marriage traditions and customs in shaping the identity of Middle Eastern Christian immigrants in Sweden’ as part of the workshop on ‘Rituals and migration’. I compared wedding rituals performed in an immigrant’s homeland with their new forms in the Swedish diaspora arguing that although Assyrians/Syriacs living in Sweden have already incorporated some Western traditions, their wedding rites are notably different from traditional Swedish ones; thus, these rituals are important in negotiating belonging in the migratory context – they serve both preservation and integration. The DIMECCE papers appeared to be well-received and are intended to be part of a journal special issue on migration and rituals to be organised by the panel co-ordinators.

Dr Marta Wozniak presenting a paper at the conference

Marta’s presentation

Attending the Nordic Migration Conference was not only successful on an academic level but also a good opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones. I left Copenhagen University pleased and satisfied. However, while waiting to catch a bus to the airport, I noticed a poster saying in Danish ‘Everyone can afford a smile’ with an image of a sad Syrian child refugee – his look haunted me long after, showing the link between our academic project and reality on the ground especially as two days later I was due to meet the DIMECCE team at the WOCMES conference in Ankara and speak about Syrian refugees in Sweden.

Poster showing campaign to help Syrian refugees

Street campaign to help Syrian refugees


1. Jennifer Mack, 2014, “Urban Design from Below: Immigration and the Spatial Practice of Urbanism” Public Culture, 26(1-72), pp. 153-185.

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What can faith bring to discussion on migration? A report on an Oxford conference ‘Migration, Faith & Action: Shifting the Discourse’

by Fiona McCallum

On 8th – 9th May, I headed to Oxford to present the first DIMECCE conference paper based upon fieldwork conducted by the UK team. Arriving in ‘the city of dreaming spires’, I was slightly disappointed to discover our location was actually the modern surroundings of the Mathematical Institute. However, the excellent facilities, superb catering and the exchange of ideas soon had me forgetting that I was not sitting in a historic college. Continue reading

A historic college and a modern one

   Where I had hoped to be – a historic college                   The conference venue – Mathematical Institute

The objective of the conference was two-fold: to explore the discourses faith traditions provide surrounding migration and to examine the role that faith communities and faith-based organisations play concerning migration. Therefore, the title ‘Migration, Faith & Action: Shifting the Discourse’ was a provocative, perhaps ambitious attempt to challenge the economic-based focus which tends to be prevalent in policy-making circles and perhaps to a lesser extent within academia when discussing migration.

The conference convenors were Oxford postgraduate students who won a prestigious competition to host a conference and were excellent in arranging an interesting programme and organising proceedings on the day. Their initiative was sponsored by Las Casas Institute at Blackfriars and The Oxford Research Centre in The Humanities (TORCH), University of Oxford.

As one presenter was unable to attend, the ‘Faith and Migration’ panel I was part of became a de facto Middle Eastern migration panel. Dr Tahir Zaman, a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Research on Migration, Refugees and Belonging at the University of East London, UK, in his paper entitled ‘Home, Sacred Home: Islamic Theologies of Migration in the Emplacement Strategies of Displaced Iraqis and Syrians’, provided an interesting discussion on how the concept of the umma (community of Muslims) has been employed by both Iraqi refugees in Syria and Syrian refugees on the Turkish-Syrian border as a coping strategy with their situation in contrast with the ‘guest’ term used by Middle Eastern states which can be seen as ambiguous due to its temporary category.

My paper was called ‘From Local to Global: Middle Eastern Churches and Migration – The UK Case Study’ and explored some of the themes which have come up in the early stages of the UK fieldwork. Using the case studies of the Coptic Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox denominations, I explored how the churches attempt to provide community needs, community responses to these attempts and challenges faced in church efforts to deal with the situation of now being global churches with adherents outside of the traditional Middle East region. In particular, I emphasised the notion of unity under the patriarch, the significance of having their own church building and the complexities of meeting the needs of both first and second generation members of the congregation. The paper appeared well-received with comments that the importance of having own space and its link to a sense of belonging is similar in many faith-based migrant communities.

One of the most useful presentations for the DIMECCE project was Dr Bernardo Brown’s (Leiden University, Netherlands) anthropological study of Sri Lankan migrant workers in Italy and the experiences of the Sri Lankan Catholic chaplaincy in catering to their needs. In his paper entitled ‘The Pitfalls of a Multicultural Church: Notes on Sri Lankan Transnational Workers and the Migrant Chaplaincy in London’, Dr Brown identified similar themes such as the debate among clergy regarding engagement with Italian culture and society, fears about the impact of integration and/or assimilation on maintaining Sri Lankan culture, discussion about homeland events including a growing human rights discourse, language issues regarding the second generation and some tensions regarding sharing places of worship with Italian Catholic communities. This fascinating presentation also left me thinking that the DIMECCE team should further explore literature on Catholic migrant churches in Europe in order to learn what themes have been addressed and to exchange ideas in the future.

This conference highlighted the benefits of interdisciplinary scholarly exchange with several keynote discussions from theologians and migration scholars. However, one of the highlights for me was the film screening of the documentary ‘Everyday Heroes’ which tells the story of a group of Mexican women known as ‘Las Patronas’ who provide assistance to migrants from Central America travelling through Mexico – primarily on the roofs of trains – hoping to gain entrance to the United States. This moving film reinforces a message that is often lost in the debate on migration but one which bringing faith back in should perhaps assist in highlighting, that is that migrants are first and foremost human beings. We were privileged to have Norma Romero, a member of ‘Las Patronas’ who were winners of Mexico’s 2013 National Human Rights Award, to answer our questions about the documentary and the work of the group. I would encourage you to watch this film if you ever have the opportunity.

Overall, this was an interesting conference although as is often the case, perhaps the attendees were those who already wish to bring faith back in to the migration discussion and the challenge now is to have a wider impact upon the academic and policymaking community. In terms of DIMECCE UK, it was a successful outing for our first conference paper and we look forward to many more in as pleasant and interest settings as Oxford.

Tourist attractions in Oxford

Oxford sights

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A minority within a minority – Middle Eastern Christians in Denmark

by Marta Wozniak

Alistair’s January wish for more sun in Denmark has been heard and granted – we had the most pleasant weather you can imagine for our fieldsite exchange visit in Copenhagen (25-27 April), followed by our third project meeting in Helenekilde (28-29 April). However, it was not only the meteorological conditions, but first and foremost an interesting programme, which made our stay so fruitful. Continue reading

On early Friday afternoon our Danish hosts – Lise and Sara – warmly welcomed the rest of the DIMECCE team (Fiona, Alistair, Danielle and me) in the heart of Copenhagen and took us for a walk to discover the superdiversity of Nørrebro, one of the most multicultural areas of the Danish capital. We noticed instantly a certain number of signs in Arabic and Turkish advertising restaurants, goldsmiths, hairdressers, financial services, and sales of jellabiyas. Several Muslim ladies wearing different hijabs passed us by, some of them on their bicycles, which is the Danes’ favourite way to commute. As it was just after the Friday noon prayers we could see men leaving the modest building used as a mosque – Masjid Al-Nour (Mosque of Light). The whole area seemed to be popular with people from diverse backgrounds, who sat in front of cosy restaurants. Lise told us that lots of effort was made to transform what was once not the safest neighbourhood into a place bustling with life.

Multicultural area of Nørrebro

Multicultural area of Nørrebro

Since there are not as many Middle Eastern Christians in Denmark as in the UK or Sweden, Lise and Sara organised a visit to the Islamic Christian Study Center (Islamisk-Kristent Studiecenter, IKS), founded in 1996 by both Christians and Muslims to facilitate and encourage interfaith dialogue. We had a very interesting meeting at the IKS offices with Rev. Lissi Rasmussen. She told us that this unique organisation has evolved ‘from talking to doing things together’. The dialogue group is still active, analysing and discussing the sacred texts, but these days the social work comes first: volunteers help people in need, often of Middle Eastern origin, in hospitals and prisons.

On Saturday afternoon, we had a thought-provoking conversation with a young woman belonging to the Chaldean Catholic Church in Denmark. Thanks to the presence of Nora (Danish team research assistant), who is of Lebanese origin, and Danielle (Swedish team research assistant), who is of Syrian origin, we had an exceptional opportunity to discover some similarities and differences in outlook among young Christians from the Middle East of different national origins. While the Church traditions differ, the aspiration of high educational achievement and personal development is very similar – young Christian women whose parents come from the Middle East often make the best of the possibilities European countries can offer.

DIMECCE team in Copenhagen

DIMECCE team: Danielle Barsoum Malki, N. Neaman, Marta Wozniak, Lise Paulsen Galal, Sara Lei Sparre, Fiona McCallum, Alistair Hunter

On Sunday Lise and Sara drove us to Taastrup – 20 km outside Copenhagen – where St. Maria & St. Markus Coptic Orthodox Church is located. The white building (see photo below) used to serve a Roman Catholic congregation but its present interior furnishings (e.g. wooden altar screen, icons, holy relics of St George and Abu Sufyan) were all brought from Egypt. We came punctually at 9 am being the first there aside from the priest but soon the church started to fill up. We were asked to remove our shoes which is a Coptic tradition based on Exodus 3:5 (God said to Moses to remove his sandals from his feet, for the place where he is standing is holy ground). Interestingly, some people used plastic covers for their shoes. The mass, which was performed in Arabic with some Coptic and English (the latter being to include the youth who do not understand Arabic very well), lasted about 3 hours. In addition, Danish translations of the liturgy were projected on screens above the pews and occasionally via headphones. The people attending came from different places in Denmark – and some had even crossed over the Øresund Bridge from southern Sweden. We were also  intrigued to find that others had close ties with the Coptic Orthodox Church in the Scottish fieldsite of Kirkcaldy. Not all were Copts – some participants belonged to the Syriac Orthodox Church and/or had an Iraqi background. After the mass, a tasty lunch was served in a nearby hall; it was a celebratory occasion as two young children had birthdays and an adult member of the congregation had just acquired Danish citizenship. We mingled with the church members and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere – certainly, it was a close knit community.

Church exterior and interior

St. Maria & St. Markus Coptic Orthodox Church

We spent our two last days in Denmark at the charming seaside resort of Helenekilde. Aside from having our project meeting there, our schedule included an interview with Doris Peschke from our partner institution, the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME), who added a precious practical perspective to our theoretical one. We also had the pleasure of listening to an informative presentation by one of our Advisory Board members, Professor Margit Warburg (University of Copenhagen) about the Danish model for recognizing faith communities. Among other things, we learned that although 79% of the Danish population belongs to the Danish Lutheran Church, the proportion of Danes who self-identify as religious is rather lower.

DIMECCE team in Helenkilde

In Helenekilde: Fiona McCallum, Lise Paulsen Galal, Alistair Hunter, Marta Wozniak, Sara Lei Sparre, Margit Warburg, Doris Peschke (CCME)

To understand better the situation of Middle Eastern Christians in Denmark, one must remember that they constitute a minority within a minority. Far more numerous are the migrant workers (and their families) who arrived from Turkey, Pakistan and Morocco in the 1970s, followed by refugees from Iran, Iraq, Somalia and Bosnia in the 1980s and 1990s. This numerical weight has led to recognition, including from the national Lutheran Church. In comparison to the situation in the UK or Sweden, Middle Eastern Christians in Denmark have far fewer activities, primarily due to the smaller size of the congregations. Despite this – or even because of this – their internal dynamics are worth exploring. We are very grateful to Lise and Sara for introducing us to these communities!

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Easter among Middle Eastern Christians: field visit to London

by Sara Lei Sparre

For four sunny days in April, all three research teams met again in London. Like the meeting in Sweden, these days offered an opportunity for the researchers to discuss and compare fieldwork experiences and, not least, for the Danish and Swedish teams to get a glimpse of the situation of Middle Eastern Christian communities in Europe’s largest metropolis. Continue reading

Our British colleagues, Fiona and Alistair, had put together an excellent programme which included several church services, a Coptic youth meeting, a children’s party organised by the UK Assyrian Society, and a walking tour in the ‘super-diverse’ borough of Ealing, including stops in Southall and Hanwell. These activities were only a selection of the many religious, cultural and social places and events catering to Christians of Middle Eastern origin.

The DIMECCE team in London

The DIMECCE team in London. From left: Alistair Hunter, Marta Wozniak, Fiona McCallum, Lise Paulsen Galal and Sara Lei Sparre (photo by Marta Wozniak)

With a population of around 8 million and a long history of immigration from, among other places, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), London presents a wide range of Middle Eastern Christian congregations and organisations which is one of the most diverse outside the MENA region. Coming from the Danish context where the largest among these denominations numbers a few thousands nationwide, it was striking how, for example, some of the churches we attended could gather a congregation of several hundred for a single service. Below, I will briefly touch upon some of the potential analytical implications when comparing the situation of these communities in London with that of their equivalents in a small country like Denmark. But first, let me highlight some of our field experiences.

St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church, Kensington (photos by Sara Lei Sparre)

St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church, Kensington (photos by Sara Lei Sparre)

On Palm Sunday we had to make the difficult choice of which services to attend. The possibilities were many, almost overwhelming, and we decided to split the group in two. While Alistair and Marta attended the service of the Ancient Church of the East in Hanwell in the morning, followed by the Syriac Orthodox Church in Acton in the afternoon, Fiona, Lise and I decided to go for the Holy Liturgy service in St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church in the morning after which we visited the Living Water Arabic Church. In both churches the priests were of Egyptian origin, but when it came to liturgy and ritual practice, they could not have been more different.

Established in 1975, St Mark’s is the oldest Coptic Orthodox church in the United Kingdom and indeed is believed to be the oldest Coptic Orthodox church in Europe. The church is located in a quiet street in the affluent neighbourhood of Kensington. We arrived at the church just before 9:30 am in time for the liturgy service, but due to the Palm Sunday procession which was just finishing, the church was already packed. A quick count revealed that at least 600 people were gathered in the church. According to Fiona, this was more than on ‘usual’ Sundays. We found our way through the crowded entrance area and were lucky to find three empty plastic chairs at the back behind the pews in the right side of the church together with the other women. A middle-aged woman seated just in front of us gave us the palm crosses that everyone seemed to have.

The service was held by four priests with the help of around twenty-five deacons, all of whom were dressed in white robes. All the priests wore white mitres on their heads. The priests switched between English, Arabic and Coptic, although Coptic was dominant especially for the parts requiring congregation participation. Compared to the Lutheran evangelical service that I know, there was a lot more standing and congregational responses. And every time we stood up, our chairs were pushed towards the back of our legs as people continued to enter the church room and the areas around the pews got more and more crowded. On our way out, we noticed that the vestibule of the church was full of people.

Another obvious difference with the service that I know was the intense use of incense which filled the church from floor to roof and sometimes along the way made my eyes water and my throat feel dry. Four large TV screens at each side of the room displayed the words of the chants and prayers in English, Arabic and Coptic. Towards the end of the service, one of the priests held a short sermon on the theme of Jesus the King entering one’s life.

St John’s Church of England, West Ealing (photos by Marta Wozniak)

St John’s Church of England, West Ealing (photos by Marta Wozniak)

From Kensington we went to West Ealing in order to attend the Palm Sunday service of the evangelical Living Water Arabic Church. Living Water is an Anglican Arabic-speaking church founded by an Egyptian couple in 1993, and it holds its services in St. John’s Church of England. We arrived a little early and observed how the people were setting up sound and musical equipment. When everything was ready, the band leader, a middle-aged man speaking with an Egyptian Arabic dialect started playing on his keyboard. Shortly, the worship band and the eight-person choir followed. The music was loud and the songs included Arab tunes and some recognisable Western Christian worship songs with lyrics in Arabic. A large projector gave the words in order for the congregation to sing along. The majority of the congregation of around one hundred people, mostly of Egyptian and Iraqi origin, participated, often clapping, raising hands and moving to the music. At the end of each song, the band leader cried out loud: “Hallelujah!”

The singing lasted around fifty minutes, whereupon the band leader took the microphone with him from the keyboard and moved closer to the congregation. The rest of the orchestra left the altar. I now realized that the band leader was in fact the pastor. He started speaking to the congregation, and after a short bible reading, he gave a long sermon on the same theme as in the Coptic Orthodox Church of letting Jesus be the king of your life. Comparing the morning service in St Mark’s Church, attendance of the Living Water Arabic Church was a completely different experience – in sensory, social and liturgical terms. First of all, the pastor wore no religious vestments, and apart from the bible and the palm crosses no religious items were used during the sermon. This was in stark contrast to the Coptic Orthodox service where anyone with a religious function had at least one special vestment, and where the priests and their deacons made frequent use of, among other things, crosses, icons and incense. Secondly, unlike in the Coptic Orthodox Church, men and women in the congregation sat beside each other. Thirdly, whereas the theme was the same, the two sermons differed in terms of length and style. In St. Mark’s, the sermon lasted only about five minutes, while in the Living Water Church it went on for more than an hour. Finally, unlike the orthodox priests, the pastor of Living Water church deliberately spoke more directly to the congregation, rarely stayed in the altar area, asked rhetorical questions, and invited people to put their hand up if they believed in certain things. Thus, although the theme of the two sermons was the same, the language and preaching style was very different. The Living Water service ended by singing one of the previous songs while almost everyone marched around the church waving their palm crosses.

In London, all Middle Eastern Christian denominations are represented, which means that everyone in principle has the choice of attending his or her own church. Unlike in the Danish context, all churches have weekly services and a resident priest. Furthermore, due to the size of many of the congregations, it is possible for most of these churches to offer various kinds of activities, for example catering to different age groups within the congregation. In St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church, for example, there is a large youth group which runs its own activities. Also outside the churches, there are possibilities in London to meet people of similar ethnic and/or religious background. The Assyrian House in Ealing, a large meeting hall which belongs to the Assyrian Society of the United Kingdom, is one such example.

Another significant characteristic is the role of the language. It was my impression that English is more commonly used as part of the liturgy than in most Middle Eastern churches in Denmark. In the Coptic Orthodox Church we attended, English was an integrated part, and when either Arabic or Coptic was used, a translation was provided on the TV screen. The service at Living Water Church was in Arabic, except for a few songs in English, but an English simultaneous interpretation was provided for non-Arabic speakers. A relevant perspective to pursue is therefore what it means for the linguistic practices of the churches that the language of the country of residence is a world language like English or small languages like Danish or Swedish. Furthermore, it would be interesting to compare the mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion of e.g. particular age groups and generations in the three countries as a result of particular linguistic practices.

As a fieldtrip, our stay in London was extremely relevant and fruitful. By visiting neighbourhoods, churches and a cultural association, we got a small but telling glimpse of the reality of Middle Eastern Christians in London. This raised new questions and ideas about our ‘own’ fieldwork contexts, in particular the importance of the size these communities, their access to priests and church facilities, and the role of language. But it also provided us with a better understanding of the UK as one of the transnational centres of Middle Eastern Christians.

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