Studying Eastern Christianity at Oxford

Detail of an onion-shaped dome

Detail of an onion-shaped dome

The department of Eastern Christianity at the Faculty of Oriental Studies offers courses in Armenian and Syriac languages, Coptic language and culture, and Eastern Christian Studies. These courses offer students a rare insight into areas of study that span Byzantine Studies, Egyptology, the Ancient Near East, the Middle East and the Islamic World, and Theology and Biblical Studies.

Armenian may be studied at the undergraduate level in conjunction with Arabic, Greek, Persian or Turkish. At the graduate level two taught courses are offered: a one year Master of Studies in Classical Armenian alone; and a two year Master of Philosophy, in which Armenian is a component part of the Eastern Christian Studies M.Phil. or the Byzantine Studies M.Phil. Advanced research may lead to a D.Phil. in Armenian. At the time of writing, Oxford is the only university in the United Kingdom offering the study of Armenian as a subject at both undergraduate and graduate level.

Oxford has had a long association with Syriac Studies, and the Thesaurus Syriacus, in two folio volumes compiled by R. Payne Smith, is one of the Oxford University Press's finest examples of dictionaries employing oriental scripts. Syriac may be studied at the undergraduate level in conjunction with Arabic, Egyptology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies, or Hebrew. At graduate level two taught courses are offered: a one-year M.St. in Syriac Studies; and a two-year M.Phil. in which Syriac is a component part of the M.Phil. in Eastern Christian Studies. There is also a Syriac option in the M.Phil. in Byzantine Studies.

Jesus's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Medieval Syriac manuscript.

Coptic, the fifth and final recorded stage of the Ancient Egyptian language, was the language of Christian Egypt. It is written with the Greek alphabet, supplemented by a small number of characters of Egyptian origin. Coptic texts also employ a considerable amount of Greek vocabulary. Thus, some prior knowledge of Greek is helpful in learning the language, but it not obligatory. Because Coptic is a stage of Egyptian, knowledge of earlier stages of the language is very useful, but again it is not essential and many people study Coptic to a high level without a background in Egyptology. The earliest known Coptic texts date to the 3rd century CE; they had forerunners in pagan `Old Coptic' of the 2nd century. Coptic died out as an every day spoken language during the Middle Ages. It is still employed today in the liturgy of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

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