This CREID Working Paper by Elizabeth Monier examines whose voices narrate official Coptic heritage, what the in-built biases in representations of Coptic heritage are and why, and some of the implications of
omissions in narratives of Coptic heritage.
It argues that the primary narrator of official Coptic heritage during the twentieth century was the leadership of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The Coptic Orthodox Church is the body that holds authority over the sources of heritage, such as church buildings and manuscripts, and also has the resources with which to preserve and disseminate heritage.
The Church hierarchy’s leadership was not entirely uncontested, however, a middle ground was continually negotiated to enable lay Copts to play various roles and contribute to the articulation of Coptic heritage. Ultimately, though, alternative voices must operate within the limits set by the Church leadership and also negotiate the layers of exclusion set by society and state.
This paper concludes that the power politics that shaped Coptic heritage narratives at the end of the twentieth century are facing transformations, particularly in new social and communicative spaces provided by new media technology, academia, and the diaspora.
Of particular note is the potential of initiatives to harness new media towards the preservation and dissemination of the ‘ordinary’ experiences of Coptic heritage that otherwise would go unheard or unseen. The value of recording this lived, everyday ‘Copticness’, alongside the ‘official’ narratives, is being increasingly recognised, particularly by diasporic communities who are negotiating new relations to their Church, national identity, and faith community. The extent to which such developments will reshape patterns of omission and inclusion in Coptic heritage narratives will become clearer as the second decade of the twenty-first century unfolds.
At present, efforts to address omissions are weighted towards adding to the voices communicating ‘Copticness’ and not to displacing the dominant, pre-existing narratives or the hierarchies behind them.