East Syriac Christianity in the Mongol Empire


Mark Dickens
University of Alberta

This workshop will concentrate on East Syriac Christianity in the Mongol Empire, from the rise of Chinggis Khan (d. 1227), through the evolution of the the unified Mongol Empire that he created into four separate states—the Il-khanate in Persia (1256–1335), the Chaghatayid Khanate in Central Asia (1242–1347), the Qipchaq Khanate (Golden Horde) on the northern steppe (1256–1360) and the Yuan dynasty in Mongolia and China (1260–1368)—to the end of Mongol power in Asia and the Middle East in the late 14th century, after which East Syriac Christianity either vanished or was seriously diminished in its presence and influence.

After briefly recounting the political, theological and other factors that led to the spread of East Syriac Christianity (i.e. the Church of the East) from the Persian Empire into Central Asia and China, the workshop will consider some or all of the following topics related to East Syriac Christianity under the Mongols: Chronology and geography of East Syriac Christianity during the Mongol period and the archaeological and textual evidence for reconstructing these; Mongol-era East Syriac manuscripts and gravestone inscriptions from Central Asia; Political, ethnolinguistic, structural and doctrinal aspects of East Syriac Christianity; Role of specific Central Asian ethnic groups in East Syriac Christianity (e.g. Sogdians, Keraits, Öngüts, Qipchaqs & Uyghurs); Role of East Syriac Christian elites in political and religious leadership; East Syriac relations with other religions (Buddhism, Islam & others) and other Christians (Armenian, Byzantine, West Syriac, Latin); The History of Mar Yahbāllahā; and The end of East Syriac Christianity outside of the Middle East and India.

Mark Dickens is a contract instructor at the University of Alberta where he teaches courses on Central Eurasia and Turkic peoples in world history, interactions between Central Eurasia and the Middle East/Mediterranean World, the history of Christianity, particularly Eastern Christianity, Christianity in the Middle East and Asia, and Muslim-Christian relations in the Middle East and Asia. His research focuses on the interaction between Syriac Christianity and the inhabitants of Central Eurasia (particularly the Turkic peoples) between the 6th and 14th centuries. His recent publications include  Syrische Handschriften. Teil 2. Syriac Manuscripts  from the Berlin Turfan Collection, co-authored with Erica C.D. Hunter (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2016), “Biblical Fragments from the Christian Library of Turfan, an Eastern Outpost of the Antiochian Tradition,” in The School of Antioch: Biblical Theology and the Church in Syria, ed. Vahan Hovhanessian (Bern: Peter Lang, 2016), and “John of Ephesus on the Embassy of Zemarchus to the Türks” in Central Eurasia in the Middle Ages. Studies in Honour of Peter B. Golden, ed. István Zimonyi and Osman Karatay. (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2016). Dr. Dickens is a member of the Syriaca.org project team.

East Syriac Tombstone, 1302, from Semirechye (Seven Rivers), Kyrgyzstan. The State Hermitage Museum (СА-14296)
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