"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ethiopian Orthodox Feasting and Hospitality

Though a period of fasting is now upon the Church, it is never a bad time to think of feasting. Indeed, fasting often enough, of course, heightens our thoughts about feasting ("Lent" being, of course, an old and untranslatable Indo-Norse word for "agonizing period of endless fantasizing about bacon and beer"), and a new book will reward and edify those thoughts further still, adding to a growing scholarly understanding in English at least of the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition: The Stranger at the Feast: Prohibition and Mediation in an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Community by Tom Boylston (University of California Press, 2018), 194pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
The Stranger at the Feast is a path-breaking ethnographic study of one of the world’s oldest and least-understood religious traditions. Based on long-term ethnographic research on the Zege peninsula in northern Ethiopia, the author tells the story of how people have understood large-scale religious change by following local transformations in hospitality, ritual prohibition, and feeding practices. Ethiopia has undergone radical upheaval in the transition from the imperial era of Haile Selassie to the modern secular state, but the secularization of the state has been met with the widespread revival of popular religious practice. For Orthodox Christians in Zege, everything that matters about religion comes back to how one eats and fasts with others. Boylston shows how practices of feeding and avoidance have remained central even as their meaning and purpose has dramatically changed: from a means of marking class distinctions within Orthodox society, to a marker of the difference between Orthodox Christians and other religions within the contemporary Ethiopian state.

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