Dr. Mark Dickens has won a prestigious Killam Postdoctoral Fellowship, and joined the Program in 2011-12, working with Willi Braun. Mark completed his doctoral dissertation at Cambridge University (Clare Hall). His dissertation examined how Turkic peoples in both
Central Asia and the Middle East were presented and perceived in published Syriac literature between the appearance of the Turks in world history in the mid-6th century and the Seljük invasion of the Middle East in the mid-11th century. It received the Leigh Douglas Memorial Prize for the best PhD dissertation on a Middle Eastern topic (British Society for Middle Eastern Studies, 2009) and an Honorable Mention for the Malcolm H. Kerr Dissertation Award (Middle East Studies Association, 2008). Since March 2008, has worked in the Department of the Study of Religions, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. As part of a team of researchers cataloguing over 1100 Christian manuscript fragments in Syriac script in the Turfan Collection, Berlin.
Mark outlines his Killam research project in these words:
The History of Christianity in Central Asia (200-1400 CE): Church historians tend to focus on the westward spread of Christianity from its Middle Eastern origins into Europe and thence, ultimately, to the rest of the world. The early eastward spread of the faith into Asia is often overlooked or given limited attention. The Syriac-speaking Church of the East spread into Asia from its Mesopotamian and Persian base as early as the late 2nd century, its network of dioceses and archdioceses eventually stretching as far as Mongolia in the north, China in the east and India in the south.
Despite scholarly work that has been done on the subject of Christianity in Central Asia over the past century, there is still much that needs to be done in the analysis and synthesis of the historical sources in various literary traditions, Christian texts and inscriptions from Central Asia and Christian archaeological sites and artifacts in the region. In particular, more could be done to relate the various sources to each other and to draw out common themes regarding the beliefs and practices of Central Asian Christians.
My Killam post-doctoral fellowship project will develop a book manuscript on the history of Christianity in Central Asia, covering the duration of Syriac Christianity in the region (roughly 200-1400 CE). This study will give particular attention to the nature and variety of the textual and archaeological sources, the ecclesiastical structure and organization of Central Asian Christianity, and the role of multilingualism and multiculturalism in Central Asian Christianity. It will also examine ritual, music and the arts, and family relationships in Central Asian Christian communities, as well as relations with other religious traditions in the region.
Syriac Christians were important players in the religious and cultural exchanges that took place along the Silk Road for over a millennium. As such, understanding how they conducted themselves can potentially inform our approach to interfaith dialogue anywhere in the world, including Canada.