Since its humble origins 15 years ago as an idea germinating in the minds of two young Coptic alumni, Coptic Studies at Macquarie has come a long way.
Last week, the University played host to His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt, during His Holiness’s first ever visit to Australia. Today, we take a look back at Coptic Studies at Macquarie and what it means to the University, the community and the world around us.
Coptic Studies, which focuses on the language and culture of the Coptic people of Egypt, is a relatively unknown field of study. “The heritage and history of the Copts of Egypt has not received the attention it deserves,” says Peter Hanna, a Macquarie alumnus and one of the founders of the program. “It’s often treated as an after-thought to the glamour of Ancient Egypt, or as a neglected pre-curser to Islamic Egypt.”
Once Peter and his fellow Coptic alumna Lisa Agaiby developed their idea to help establish Coptic Studies at Macquarie, there was no going back. His Grace Bishop Daniel, Coptic Bishop of Sydney, soon signed an agreement with the University to formalise the sponsorship of the program by the Coptic community, and the rest is history.
Sixty members of the Australian Coptic community donated almost $200,000 to enable Coptic Studies to start at Macquarie, and Dr Heike Behlmer, now Professor of Egyptology and Coptology in Göttingen, was appointed to develop the program.
In 2006, Peter and Lisa became the first two graduates from the Masters of Arts in Coptic Studies – the first program of its kind anywhere in the world. “It wasn’t even available in Egypt,” says Peter. “How ironic that the history of such an ancient culture and civilisation has been supported by a country and institution as young as ours. It speaks volumes for the spirit of our country and its great institutions.”
Since then, Coptic Studies at Macquarie has built an internationally recognised program, acknowledged by prominent scholars throughout the world as providing world-class graduates, and one of most prominent centres in the study of Coptic language and culture. The Macquarie program is still the only one of its kind in Australia.
Coptic Studies has also been awarded four Australian Research Council-funded Discovery Projects since 2006, totaling $675,000 in funding. “It’s a great privilege that my work allows me to pass on what I know about the Coptic language and culture,” says Associate Professor Malcolm Choat, convenor of the Coptic Studies program at Macquarie. “And I get to uncover more and more about it through my research; I save people in the past from being lost to history by connecting them to the present, and I get to use history to help communities maintain their traditions. It’s an enormous privilege, and it’s thanks to Coptic Studies.”
Find out more about Coptic Studies at Macquarie on the website.