Christianity in the Middle East Group


Assaad Elias Kattan, University of Münster (Münster, Germany)

Assaad Elias Kattan studied theology at the University of Balamand (Lebanon), the Aristotle’s University of Thessaloniki (Greece), and the University of Erlangen (Germany). He earned his doctoral title in theology from the University of Marburg (Germany). Since 2005, Kattan has been holding the chair of Orthodox theology at the Centre for Religious Studies of the University of Münster. His publications include: Verleiblichung und Synergie: Grundzüge der Bibelhermeneutik bei Maximus Confessor (Leiden/Boston 2003), Thinking Modernity: Towards A Reconfiguration of the Relationship between Orthodox Theology and Modern Culture (edited together with Fadi A. Georgi, Balamand 2010), Der Streit um das Filioque: Historische, ökumenische und dogmatische Perspektiven 1200 Jahre nach der Aachener Synode (edited together with Michael Böhnke and Bernd Oberdorfer, Freiburg im Breisgau 2011), Jenseits der Tradition: Tradition und Traditionskritik in Judentum, Christentum und Islam (edited together with Regina Grundmann, Boston/Berlin 2015), Can Orthodox Theology Be Contextual? Concrete Approaches from the Orthodox Tradition (edited together with Radu Preda, JECT 2017), Exegetical Crossroads: Understanding Scripture in Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the Pre-Modern Orient (edited together with Georges Tamer et alii). Kattan has also authored four theological books and two collections of short stories in Arabic, Qasim Schneider in Beirut (2013) and When the Dragon Got Bored (2015). He was chosen in 2012 by the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome to be the Sir Daniel and Countess Bernardine Murphy Donohue Chair in Eastern Catholic Theology. Kattan was the first Orthodox lay theologian to hold this title.


Steering Committee:

Elie Dannaoui, University of Balamand (Balamand, Lebanon)
Bishara Ebeid, Pontifical Oriental Institute (Rome, Italy)
Josef Faltas, Orthodox Patristic Center (Cairo, Egypt)
Ioana Feodorov, Romanian Academy (Bucharest, Romania)
Grigory Kessel, Austrian Academy of Sciences (Vienna, Austria)
Alin Suciu, Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities (Göttingen, Germany)


Vision Statement

The Middle East is the birthplace and the ancient heartland of Christianity. After the Islamic conquest of the Middle East and North Africa in the first half of the seventh century, an estimated half of the world’s Christians found themselves under Islamic rule. These Christians spoke and wrote a variety of languages, including Greek, Syriac, Coptic, Georgian, and Armenian. Christian religious literature written in Arabic is about 1300 years old (the oldest texts dating from the eighth century), but Arabic Christianity is several centuries older than that and predates Islam.

Today an estimated 10-15 million indigenous Christians live in the Middle East, most of them in the Arab world. Together with other groups, in recent years Christians have been increasingly exposed to religious radicalism. Though their numbers are currently decreasing and they face an existential threat from radical groups (such as the self-proclaimed “Islamic State”), their tradition is very much alive. It is kept also by the Middle Eastern Christian émigré communities in Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, and Australia.

The oldest Orthodox Christian texts written in Arabic include both original compositions (notably, polemical tracts against Islam) and Arabic translations of biblical books (particularly, the Gospels, the Epistles, the Pentateuch, and the Psalms), Arabic translations of late antique Christian hagiography, and translations of Greek and Syriac Church Fathers (Ephrem, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Isaac the Syrian, John Moschos, Anastasius of Sinai, and numerous others). In subsequent centuries, Orthodox Christian literature in Arabic came to include genres as diverse as apologetics and lives of saints, history and homiletics, devotional poetry and travel narratives, philosophy and Bible exegesis. In the second half of the twentieth century Orthodox Christians in the Arab world were closely involved in developing a theological approach to Islam, which could go beyond the apologetic and polemical discourse of the past.

Much of this literature, unfortunately, remains unpublished and, therefore, inaccessible to both scholars of Orthodoxy and Arabic-speaking Orthodox Christians themselves, or available only in non-critical or scarcely reliable editions. The IOTA Christianity in the Middle East Group will therefore aim at drawing attention to the richness of Middle Eastern Orthodox Christian heritage and at restoring it to its rightful place in the history of the Orthodox Church at large.

For the Inaugural Conference of IOTA in Iasi, Romania on January 9-12, 2019, we envision two prearranged panels—“Orthodoxy and the Challenge of Islam” and “Middle Eastern Christianity and Patristic Heritage” (the latter co-organized with the Patristics Group)—as well as an open panel, which will cover various aspects of Orthodoxy (and more broadly, Christianity) in the Middle East. Together these three panels will examine Middle Eastern Christianity in relation to its Islamic context, its patristic heritage, and its relations to other Christian communities outside the Middle East, past and present.