Unjacketed Hardcover

The Political Lives of Saints

Christian-Muslim Mediation in Egypt

Angie Heo (Author)

Available worldwide

Unjacketed Hardcover, 316 pages
ISBN: 9780520297975
November 2018
$85.00, £66.00
Other Formats Available:
Since the Arab Spring in 2011 and ISIS's rise in 2014, Egypt's Copts have attracted attention worldwide as the collateral damage of revolution and as victims of sectarian strife. Countering the din of persecution rhetoric and Islamophobia, The Political Lives of Saints journeys into the quieter corners of divine intercession to consider what martyrs, miracles, and mysteries have to do with the more routine challenges faced by Christians and Muslims living together under the modern nation-state.
Drawing on years of extensive fieldwork, Angie Heo argues for understanding popular saints as material media that organize social relations between Christians and Muslims in Egypt toward varying political ends. With an ethnographer's eye for traces of antiquity, she deciphers how long-cherished imaginaries of holiness broker bonds of revolutionary sacrifice, reconfigure national sites of sacred territory, and pose sectarian threats to security and order. A study of tradition and nationhood at their limits, The Political Lives of Saints shows that Coptic Orthodoxy is a core domain of minoritarian regulation and authoritarian rule, powerfully reversing the recurrent thesis of its impending extinction in the Arab Muslim world. 
Angie Heo is Assistant Professor of the Anthropology and Sociology of Religion at the University of Chicago.

"To date, no other scholar has undertaken such an ambitious, methodologically rigorous, and extensively researched ethnography of Coptic life. Heo reveals how an eclectic and impressively representative group of Coptic actors imagines their identities through visceral interactions with holy icons, films, ancient narratives, shrines, relics, and religious rituals. The Political Lives of Saints will no doubt shape and inspire new scholarly investigations of Christian-Muslim relations in Egypt and elsewhere."—Febe Armanios, author of Coptic Christianity in Ottoman Egypt

"Stunning. Based on years of fieldwork, this book takes us on a deep dive into the cultural practices and visual media that have shaped the identity of the Coptic Orthodox Church. By studying 'the political lives of saints' through the prism of relics, apparitions, and icons, Heo decodes Christian-Muslim sectarianism and the making of the modern Egyptian nation-state."—Stephen J. Davis, author of Coptic Christology in Practice and Monasticism: A Very Short Introduction

"In this outstanding work, Heo brings us on a journey into the foundational tension between mystical and national publics in Egypt. Through a political constellation of the miracles of relics, the porosity of Marian and angels’ apparitions, and an economy of visibility and invisibility of Coptic papal bodies, this book zooms beautifully into a material religious landscape 'in common' that jolts sectarian divisions between Coptic and Muslim communities, for too long woven into an Egyptian national matrix."—Valentina Napolitano, author of Migrant Hearts and the Atlantic Return: Transnationalism and the Roman Catholic Church

"How is it that saints have power?  If miracles and martyrs have ongoing force in the world, how is that force transferred from saint to believer and what role does it play in the formation of communal and national identities?  In this remarkable study of religious mediation, Heo examines how holy presence is transferred from saints to the images that represent them, and from there, to the pilgrims and believers who seek their intercession. Looking, hearing, and touching are, for Heo, practical techniques that are central not just to individual worship but to the formation of Copts as a political community in Egypt today. This is a landmark study in the resurgent literature on religion and media and eloquently makes its case for seeing practices of mediation as central to political life."—Brian Larkin, author of Signal and Noise: Media, Infrastructure, and Urban Culture in Nigeria

Join UC Press

Members receive 20-40% discounts on book purchases. Find out more