PSU establishes coptic studies classes

Grant Farr, professor and chair of the sociology department, recently announced PSU will offer two classes on Coptic Studies in summer term.

The modern use of “Coptic” describes Egyptian Christians, as well as the last stage of the ancient Egyptian language script. The name “Copt” is taken from the Greek word “Aegyptios,” meaning “Egyptians.” The Coptic language combines the Greek alphabet with Egyptian vocabulary and symbols.

The summer program is a trial period in what organizers hope will be the initial step to develop the first Coptic Studies Center in the country.

The classes will focus on the history, culture, language, art and architecture of the descendants of ancient Egyptians. The world’s preeminent Coptic scholar and director of the National Coptic Museum in Cairo, Professor Gawdat Gabra Abdel-Sayed, will be teaching the classes.

The courses will trace the development of the Copts from their origin in Egypt during the first and second century, when they were converted to Christianity and became followers of Saint Mark, to the modern day Coptic community that continues to flourish all over the world.

The academic study of Coptic civilization remains largely limited to Egypt and Germany, but the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has showed interest in developing a Coptic Studies Program.

President of the American Coptic Studies Association and Emeritus Prof. Dr. Sami Hanna had been looking for a university interested in developing a Coptic Studies Program. Emeritus professor and Copt Nagib Grace led Hanna to PSU. Grant Farr, also the associate dean for special programs at PSU, expressed interest in the program, because he recognized what he called the unique opportunity to enrich the university’s academic curriculum.

“It’s kind of a trial balloon, to get something started. But we would be willing to work with the Coptic community around the country, in fact, around the world, to develop a Coptic Studies Center here.”

The Coptic community has already shown sufficient support to co-fund the two classes and three $500 scholarships.

Presently, Copts make up approximately nine percent of the Egyptian population and the rest have scattered throughout the Middle East, Africa and the rest of the world.

The Copts have a rich cultural, archeological and linguistic heritage, according to Hanna. He added Coptic studies have remained a “neglected area for hundreds of years, even thousands of years, so that would be an additional bonus to the American higher education curriculum.”

Farr emphasized that Portland State’s longstanding interest and background in the Middle East make the study of Copts that much more pertinent and valuable.

“The more we know about people in all parts of the world the more informed we’ll be and better citizens of the world we’ll be, both as a country and as individuals,” Farr said.