New Interns at the Center for Arab-West Understanding

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Mon, 2024-04-15
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Despite very difficult times in the region, we are very pleased that several talented interns have recently joined us at the Center for Arab-West Understanding/Dialogue Across Borders. Sara Heeling and Saskia Heistorborg continue our growing relationship with the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, where both are completing M.A. degrees in Middle Eastern studies. Ella O’Loughlin is finishing her undergraduate degree in Asian and Middle Eastern studies at Cambridge University. Luka Renić is completing his M.A. at St. Joseph University in Beirut and is conducting research here in coordination with CAWU and faculty from Cairo University. Luka recently traveled to Jordan and wrote a brief newsletter about some of his observations there which is included below. We hope you enjoy it.



Intern lunch with the author and our office manager, Mr. Adel Rizkallah.


Beyond offering rich and diverse perspectives on intercultural and interreligious dynamics, our interns work closely with our database editor, Ms. Noha Heraiba, while also pursuing their own independent research projects. If you are working in an academic institution, we hope you will inform your students about the opportunities for education and dialogue available through our center.


For our readers in Cairo, Dialogue Across Borders is sponsoring a presentation on “Coptic Orthodox Approaches to Prayer and Fasting” on April 22nd at 7 p.m. at St. John the Baptist Anglican/Episcopal Church in Maadi. We are very pleased that Mr. Sherif Mourad, a lecturer and researcher with the Alexandria School, will help us to understand more about Coptic Orthodox spirituality.


All the very best,


Matthew Anderson

Director - Center for Arab-West Understanding

Executive Editor - Dialogue Across Borders (Brill)


April 15th, 2024




Christian Diversity and Sacred Geography in Jordan

Luka Renić

M.A. Candidate

Saint Joseph University - Beirut


A recent trip to Jordan provided valuable insights into the diverse experiences of Christians in the Middle East. Numbering between 250,000 to 400,000, Jordan’s Christians likely constitute less than three percent of the overall population of the country (approx. 11 million). They are represented by diverse Christian denominations, including Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Catholic. The majority of Christians in Jordan identify as Orthodox and are members of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, one of the primary churches of the Eastern Orthodox family. The mainly Greek leadership of the Orthodox Patriarchate has, at times, led to tensions with the largely Arab Christians of Jordan and Palestine. Beyond the challenges of being a religious minority, the Christian community in Jordan has had to negotiate with the shifting borders of the Israel-Palestine conflict and its refugee crises. In addition, close to 100,000 Iraqi Christians fled to Jordan after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.


At the same time, the Jordanian government has taken important steps toward integrating Jordanian Christians, with H.R.H. King Abdullah II often emphasizing their role as an integral part of Jordanian society. Christians are allotted a minimum of 7% of the seats in the Jordanian parliament, significantly higher than their percentage of the total population of Jordan. The goodwill of the Jordanian royal family towards Christians was partially expressed by the important book, Christianity in the Arab World (1994), written by H.R.H. Prince El-Hasan bin Talal, who also founded the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies in Amman.


Jordan has numerous sites of historical and biblical importance relevant to Christianity. The most prominent is the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bethany beyond the Jordan (Ar. al-Maghṭas), which is believed to be the place where Jesus of Nazareth was baptized by John the Baptist; Mount Nebo, where Moses is believed to have seen the Holy Land; and Madaba, a city rich with Byzantine-era Christian sites which was resettled by 90 Arab Christian families in 1880.




Interior of St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church built next to the Baptism Site.


The ongoing project at the Baptism Site reflects the diversity of Christian communities present in Jordan and the legacy of Christian presence at the site from Byzantine times until today. Currently, multiple new churches belonging to various Christian traditions are being built on the site, in addition to previously existing ones. Endowment property has been donated by the Baptism Site Commission to various denominations, which cannot be sold or used for other purposes. The project includes the building of an Anglican Church, an Armenian Orthodox Church, a Coptic Orthodox Church, a Catholic Church and a Russian Pilgrims House. Furthermore, the government-sponsored plan is aiming at transforming the site into one of the largest Christian pilgrimage and interfaith center in the region, recognizing the importance of the River Jordan and its valley not only for Christians, but Jews and Muslims as well.




Armenian and Coptic churches currently being built within the Baptism Site complex next to Jordan River.



The historical site where Jesus of Nazareth is believed to have been baptized. The river stream has since moved.


In addition to ancient Byzantine mosaics and archaeological sites in Madaba, which bear witness to an enduring Christian presence in the area, the mosaics remain a part of living history. Local Christian families that migrated from Karak to Madaba in 1879 and resettled it built their houses on the foundations of ruins, unearthing ancient floor mosaics in the process and starting the rediscovery of Madaba's rich Byzantine remains. The Church of Saint George in Madaba contains the Madaba Mosaic Map – the oldest surviving original cartographic depiction of the Holy Land and Jerusalem, dating back to the sixth century A.D. Another Christian side in Madaba is the Church of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, belonging to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem (Roman Catholic), whose bell tower provides panoramic views over the whole city, its churches and mosques, and the surrounding countryside.




Madaba Mosaic Map, Orthodox Church of Saint George, 6th century A.D.


Finally, Mount Nebo provides visitors with an opportunity to experience the biblical scene of the first view of the Holy Land, with a map indicating the direction and distance of various towns, enabling the visitor to catch a vivid glimpse of history related to the biblical tradition. On a clear day, the skyline of Jerusalem is clearly visible in the distance on the horizon. In addition to the ancient mosaics preserved within the modern church, an olive tree planted by Pope John Paul II (d.2005) during his visit to Mount Nebo is preserved at the site.  




Panoramic view of the Holy Land from Mount Nebo.