From the Nile to the Desert and Back

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Writing a New History of Egyptian Monastic Site Formation

At theASOR Annual Meeting, Darlene Brookes Hedstrom, of Wittenberg University, met with ASORtv to present her paper, “From the Nile to the Desert and Back: Writing a New History of Egyptian Monastic Site Formation.” She first presented her paper for the crowd at the Archaeology of Monasticism session on Friday. Check out her paper and abstract below!


Abstract from theAnnual Meeting Program book.

From the Nile to the Desert and Back: Writing a New History of Egyptian Monastic Site Formation

Egyptian monastic archaeology is about to enter a new stage in which practical theory and theorized research designs will greatly enhance how scholars approach the study of monastic history and allow us to consider carefully how monastic space became monastic. In using theoretical models from cultural geography, historical ecology, and the phenomenology of landscape, I will illustrate the importance of shifting our perspective of how Egyptian monks settled along the Nile, the cultivated land, and into the nearby desert escarpments. Since Egypt’s monastic site formation history is often presented as a binary of hermetical and coenobitic monastic sites, there is an essential need to revise this literary narrative with the increasing wealth of monastic archaeological evidence that challenges this long-held ideal. Since a large portion of the study of monastic Egypt is framed by the importance of the Desert Fathers and their immediate successors, little attention has been given to the archaeological monastic evidence from later centuries that make the earlier narrative difficult to maintain. This paper employs geographic information systems (GIS) to analyze the relationships between Egypt’s environmental zones and monastic settlement patterns in the late-antique and medieval periods. Using recent archaeological data from Egypt, I will demonstrate how monastics moved between three environmental zones, thus challenging inherited notions of how Egyptian monasticism evolved. In doing so, I will offer a new approach for the examination of Egypt’s monastic landscape.

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