Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

“The Vision of Theophilus”: Resistance through orality among the persecuted Copts
by Guirguis, Fatin Morris, Ph.D., Florida Atlantic University, 2010, 385; 3405408
Abstract (Summary)

This study is a literary and ethnographic examination of The Vision of Theophilus, a fourth century Coptic narrative, as influential counter-narrative and source of counter-discourse against the narrative created by the historically dominant Egyptian Arab Muslim state. It shows that The Vision has provided the Copts with the means to articulate their identity as different from their oppressors through its function as a repository of Coptic ideology, history and knowledge. Specifically, it has helped them resist the erosion of those aspects of their cultural identity targeted by colonial practices through its promotion of the Coptic language, pride in Coptic history, and Christianization of the landscape. This study also suggests that The Vision tradition has helped alleviate the conditions of material and economic oppression of Copts.

Drawing upon theories of Foucauldian genealogy and postcolonialism my research examines the development of Coptic identity and subjectivity in relation to assimilation practices. Using oral studies and ethnopoetics, this study traces the process of composition, transmission, stabilization and systemization of The Vision over sixteen hundred years and its dispersion over a wide geographic region from Egypt to Ethiopia, Syria, and the US. My research suggests that the resilience and effectiveness of The Vision as oral tradition lies in the stability of its core message and its ability to absorb and adapt peripheral changes to the needs of each given historical period. Close analysis of this core message as gleaned through comparative manuscript study also supports important revisions to its datation, and enables us to claim its Coptic authenticity.

Previously, the only academic scholarly work concerning The Vision centered on its diffused Syrian and Ethiopian variants while its Coptic manuscript history remained largely unknown. This study, which emphasizes the specifically Coptic origins, history and significance of The Vision of Theophilus, therefore fills a vital scholarly gap: Locating cultural resistance and agency in orality, this study shows how The Vision has historically acted (and still acts today) as a repository of Coptic history and culture enabling Copts to articulate a separate identity over long periods of time, and amidst a wide range of historical and socio-economic factors.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Munson, Marcella
School: Florida Atlantic University
School Location: United States -- Florida
Source: DAI-A 71/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Comparative literature, Middle Eastern literature, Religion, Cultural anthropology
Keywords: Coptic, Oral, Orality, Postcolonial, Resistance, Theophilus, Vision, Vision of Theophilus
Publication Number: 3405408
ISBN: 978-1-109-71622-1
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