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[PANEL] 1303 MONASTICISM IN THE HORN OF AFRICA? COMPARATIVE CONSIDERATIONS BEYOND THE CHRISTIAN TRADITION
Sophia DEGE-MUELLER, Ruhr Universitat Bochum, Germany
Bar KRIBUS, Ruhr University, Bochum, ERC project JewsEast, Germany
ABINET Abebe Hayleyesus; Martina AMBU; Bar KRIBUS
Monasticism has had a strong effect on Ethiopia (and the broader Horn region) and is considered one of the central institutions of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. More than 1000 Ethiopian monasteries have been counted in 2002, thus demonstrating the significance of monasticism in the country. Studies on different aspects of monasticism are over abundant, from the obvious aspects of Theological and Christological analyses, to the role of monasteries in shaping and preserving landscape, or the question of the relation between Gender and monasticism. Strikingly enough, these studies have focused on the Orthodox Christian tradition, ignoring similar relevant streams of other religious groups, such as the Ethiopian Jews (Beta Isra’el), or the Muslim communities.
Since we find similar practices, such as secluded and/or communal living, prayer and worship, fasting, or social work (to name just a few), in almost all Ethiopian monastic communities no matter the religious denomination, it is clear that comparative studies have much to contribute to the understanding of these monastic movements. We want to shed light on a variety of interesting features found in Ethiopian monastic movements, and invite papers dedicated to all religious identities found in the horn of Africa.
EMIC UNDERSTANDING OF MONKS INVOLVEMENT IN THE ECONOMY AND WORK ASSIGNMENTS: EVIDENCES FROM MÄNDABA MÄDHANËĀLÄM MONASTIC COMMUNITY IN LAKE TANA, NORTHWEST ETHIOPIA [Abstract ID: 1303-01]
Socioeconomic aspect of monastic life is an area that has been neglected attention and has not been addressed previously by academics and researchers. Dozens of previously written materials promoted the unscientific labeling of monks as socially isolated, economically idle, culturally defunct and spiritually absurd. Monks’ involvement in the economy and work assignments also remained controversial and under-research in the scholar’s inquiries. The present study is thus, one instance that attempts to fill the knowledge gaps and to understand enhancements of monks’ engagement in the economy and work assignments based on emic rationalization. To meet this aim, a qualitative research approach has been used within which ethnographic research design has been adopted. Thirty-three informants were recruited using purposive sampling method. Informal conversations, key informant interviews, focused group discussions and systematic observation were used to collect primary data. Besides, secondary sources were used to supplement the primary data. The study found that monks’ engagement in the economic activities is unavoidable as it is embedded with the coherent religious life. The notions of self-government, deprivation of previous economic privileges, rendering of social services, self-reliance and industrious traditions of the monastic community have been identified as endowing factors for the inevitability of economic engagement. Monks involvement in the economic activities does not infringe the spiritual missions as they pursue a low consumption pattern, moral values, internal supervision, religious practices and rules of the monastery, which are regulating. Work is the integral and obligatory part of monastic life like prayer and fasting, although it cannot substitute the worth of prayer. Apart from livelihood significance, work has also social, religious, personal and institutional values. There is always working in the monastery without material and economic ambition. Thus, monastic work shows the junction point where religious order and socio-cultural values simultaneously work together and exist. It can be concluded that the socioeconomic life of monks is uniquely embedded with other aspects found within a fixed religious order, but can only be effective when it is interpreted based on the insider’s views.
MONASTIC INTERCONNECTIONS: THE DESERT FATHERS REIMAGINED BY THE ETHIOPIAN MONASTICISM [Abstract ID: 1303-04]
Throughout the medieval period and until the mid-twentieth century, the Alexandrian Patriarchate had the sole authority to appoint the Metropolitan of the Ethiopian Church. This long institutional bond is to be found in the monastic world as well. The knowledge and memory of the Egyptian Desert Fathers arrived in Ethiopia through the Vitae of the main personalities of the early Coptic monasticism, as the Ethiopian monastic genealogies emphasised. According to these Ethiopian lists, Antony and Macarius of Scetis were the Fathers of both Egyptian and Ethiopian monastic experiences. My paper investigates then how this revised “history” and sacred “memory” led to a new specifically Ethiopian expression of the textual and visual iconography of these two Egyptian monks, portrayed as the father and son of the same Egyptian and Ethiopian monastic family. The impact that these two “reinvented” figures had on the Ethiopian hagiographical production will be discussed in the second part of this contribution: the memory of the struggles of these two Egyptian saints contributed to the gathering, inter alia, of Ethiopian communities inside the monasteries they founded. All along the Ethiopian textual tradition, a visit or a short stay by the main Ethiopian Fathers, such as Takla Haymanot or Ewostatewos, in the monasteries mentioned above – especially in Scetis monasteries – became a real topos in Ethiopian monastic hagiography, as a part of the Ethiopian monastic “cursus honorum”.
WHERE WERE BETA ISRAEL (ETHIOPIAN JEWISH) MONASTERIES FOUNDED? THE REGIONS OF DÄMBƏYA AND SÄQQÄLT (NORTH OF LAKE ṬANA) AS A CASE STUDY [Abstract ID: 1303-02]
Numerous aspects of Beta Israel material culture, and among them, Beta Israel monasteries, have never been comprehensively studied before. From the mid-nineteenth century to the second half of the twentieth century, all Beta Israel monasteries were gradually abandoned. At present, no active Beta Israel monastery remains in Ethiopia. The precise location of the majority of these monasteries is known only to elders, both Beta Israel and their former neighbors in Ethiopia, who resided in the monasteries' vicinity in the past. The regions of Dämbəya and Säqqält, north of Lake Ṭana, were a focal point of the activities of both Protestant missionaries and Jewish emissaries active among the Beta Israel in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Both groups left extensive records of encounters with Beta Israel monks. These, together with oral accounts of members of the Beta Israel community, make these regions an ideal case-study of Beta Israel monasteries. This paper will examine the locations and individual history of a number of monasteries in Dämbəya and Säqqält, and address the following questions: where were they situated relative to Beta Israel and non-Beta Israel lay communities, geographical features and sanctified sites? What could have been the motivation behind the selection of these localities? Why and when were they abandoned, and were alternative sites selected in their stead? What can we ascertain regarding the roles and development of Beta Israel monasticism in these regions from the answers that emerge? And how are these aspects similar to or different from their Ethiopian Orthodox parallels?