Christians of Syria and Iraq topic of Divinity Community Breakfast

David Michelson
Michelson (Vanderbilt University)

David Michelson will discuss the current and historical Christian communities of Iraq and Syria, with a focus on churches in the Syriac tradition, during a Feb. 5 Vanderbilt Divinity School community breakfast.

The breakfast, which is open to the public, will be from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. in the Divinity School’s Reading Room.

Rapidly escalating violence in Iraq and Syria over the past year has increased the focus on religious minorities caught in the tragedy. Syria and Iraq are home to a number of ancient religious groups, including Yezidis, Mandeans, Shabaks, and Syriac or Assyrian Christians.

Michelson, an assistant professor of the history of Christianity at Vanderbilt, said there is much to be gained from a better knowledge of the rich history and theology of these groups. “Their centuries-long presence in the Middle East offers us a different picture of the cultures of Iraq and Syria, one that is not monolithically Arab or Islamic,” Michelson said. “Syriac Christians have traditionally served as cultural bridges bearing witness to the long-standing links, rather than ‘clashes’ between Middle Eastern and Western cultures. For Western Christians, including Protestants and Catholics, Syriac Christianity represents a vast but little-known part of their own religious heritage.”

Michelson, who is affiliated with the Department of Classical Studies, noted that the Syriac language, a dialect of Aramaic once used widely through the Middle East and Asia, was an important language in the spread of Christianity.

“Current events that threaten the end of Middle Eastern Christianity are a loss not only for the Middle East, but for Christians everywhere, and all those concerned about the world’s cultural diversity,” said Michelson, who serves as general editor of, an international collaboration edited by scholars at Vanderbilt and Princeton universities. “Preserving and exploring the history of Syriac Christianity is one step in reversing that threat.”

Reservations are requested for the breakfast, which costs $10. Student registration is free. Please register online or call (615) 936-8453.