A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Online Resources: The Claremont Coptic Encylopedia and the Legacy of Aziz S. Atiya

One thing I like to do here from time to time is mention great research tools now available online. Others specialize in this, like Access to Middle East and Islamic Resources Online (AMIR), but their readers tend to be in academia. What if you're just an ordinary blog reader who, once in a while, suddenly has a question about fifth century Christology, such as, say, the Acacian Schism. Oh, of course you can go to Wikipedia, and get a probably decent enough account of the dispute between Rome and Constantinople. But what if your real question involves the significance of the Acacian schism for the Copts in Alexandria? Not much about that in Wikipedia. What if, in other words, you need this kind of detail:
And it goes on.  Yet hard as it is to believe, the Wikipedia article doesn't even mention Timothy Wobble-Cap!

When you need detail about, well, just about anything relating to the Church of Alexandria, the Coptic language, Coptic art, or, well, anything Coptic, it's time to turn to the Claremont Coptic Encyclopedia, an online resource of value to anyone (including Muslims) interested in Egypt. And given the fact that this summer we are witnessing the election of a new Coptic Pope to succeed the late Pope Shenouda, there will be plenty of reporters, religion columnists, and such looking for a quick source of information on the Church of Egypt. Click the link above.

Aziz S. Atiya
Aziz Suryal Atiya (1898-1988) was the founding father of the Middle East Studies Program at the University of Utah, and a pioneer of Coptic history in the United States, where Coptic specialists had previously tended to focus on linguistics for Bible studies. Atiya also wrote extensively on the period of the later Crusades. After studying in Britain, he taught in Cairo and Alexandria, then came to the US in the 1950s, teaching at Michigan, Indiana and Princeton before going to Utah in 1959.  An Egyptian and, of course, a Copt, he was also the father of the Coptic Encyclopedia, which he initiated and edited, and which was completed after his death under his wife's supervision. The Middle East library at Utah carries his name. He is said to be the man who coined the terms "Coptology" and "Coptologist," now in general use. (Well, at least in general use among persons interested in the subject.)

His role as an interpreter of the Copts was appreciated. Once in the 1970s I was on a bus trip of American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) fellows to the ancient monasteries of the Wadi Natrun. When the bus arrived a monk informed us that it was Great Lent and no visitors were allowed. Then he saw that Professor Atiya was our guide. Problem solved.

Claremont's site has digitized the original Encyclopedia in a form that allows constant updating and expansion, so it is still growing beyond what Atiya envisioned. You can search, browse, download PDFs of individual articles, etc. While the papal election may be the main area readers will be searching for this summer, you can also find much more obscure material:

No comments: