"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, October 22, 2014

Sainthood and Race

Eastern Christians, perhaps more than their Western brethren in some ways, struggle, as is commonplace, with questions of ethnicity, nationalism, and related problems. Do those struggles extend even to the dead and long departed? I'm not entirely convinced that they do insofar as a figure such as Francis of Assisi or Seraphim of Sarov or Mary of Egypt have long transcended Umbrian or Russian or Egyptian categories to achieve global devotion. But a new book raises intriguing questions about race and saints: Molly Bassett and Vincent Lloyd, eds. Sainthood and Race: Marked Flesh, Holy Flesh (Routledge, 29014), 232pp.

Eastern Christians will be especially interested in ch.7 which treats Coptic realities. About this book the publisher tells us:
In popular imagination, saints exhibit the best characteristics of humanity, universally recognizable but condensed and embodied in an individual. Recent scholarship has asked an array of questions concerning the historical and social contexts of sainthood, and opened new approaches to its study. What happens when the category of sainthood is interrogated and inflected by the problematic category of race?
Sainthood and Race: Marked Flesh, Holy Flesh explores this complicated relationship by examining two distinct characteristics of the saint’s body: the historicized, marked flesh and the universal, holy flesh. The essays in this volume comment on this tension between particularity and universality by combining both theoretical and ethnographic studies of saints and race across a wide range of subjects within the humanities. Additionally, the book’s group of emerging and established religion scholars enhances this discussion of sainthood and race by integrating topics such as gender, community, and colonialism across a variety of historical, geographical, and religious contexts. This volume raises provocative questions for scholars and students interested in the intersection of religion and race today.

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