Cover image for Heirs to forgotten kingdoms : journeys into the disappearing religions of the Middle East
Title:
Heirs to forgotten kingdoms : journeys into the disappearing religions of the Middle East
Author:
Russell, Gerard.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Basic Books, [2014]

©2014
Physical Description:
xxix, 320 pages : illustrations, map ; 25 cm
Summary:
Despite its reputation for religious intolerance, the Middle East has long sheltered many distinctive and strange faiths: one regards the Greek prophets as incarnations of God, another reveres Lucifer in the form of a peacock, and yet another believes that their followers are reincarnated beings who have existed in various forms for thousands of years. These religions represent the last vestiges of the magnificent civilizations in ancient history: Persia, Babylon, Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs. Their followers have learned how to survive foreign attacks and the perils of assimilation. But today, with the Middle East in turmoil, they face greater challenges than ever before.
Language:
English
Contents:
Introduction -- Mandaeans -- Yazidis -- Zoroastrians -- Druze -- Samaritans -- Copts -- Kalasha -- Epilogue: Detroit.
Geographic Term:
ISBN:
9780465030569
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Despite its reputation for religious intolerance, the Middle East has long sheltered many distinctive and strange faiths: one regards the Greek prophets as incarnations of God, another reveres Lucifer in the form of a peacock, and yet another believes that their followers are reincarnated beings who have existed in various forms for thousands of years. These religions represent the last vestiges of the magnificent civilizations in ancient history: Persia, Babylon, Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs. Their followers have learned how to survive foreign attacks and the perils of assimilation. But today, with the Middle East in turmoil, they face greater challenges than ever before.

In Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms , former diplomat Gerard Russell ventures to the distant, nearly impassable regions where these mysterious religions still cling to survival. He lives alongside the Mandaeans and Ezidis of Iraq, the Zoroastrians of Iran, the Copts of Egypt, and others. He learns their histories, participates in their rituals, and comes to understand the threats to their communities. Historically a tolerant faith, Islam has, since the early 20th century, witnessed the rise of militant, extremist sects. This development, along with the rippling effects of Western invasion, now pose existential threats to these minority faiths. And as more and more of their youth flee to the West in search of greater freedoms and job prospects, these religions face the dire possibility of extinction.

Drawing on his extensive travels and archival research, Russell provides an essential record of the past, present, and perilous future of these remarkable religions.


Author Notes

Gerard Russell is a Senior Associate at the Foreign Policy Centre in London. He was a diplomat for 15 years, serving in the British Foreign Office and the United Nations, and speaks fluent Arabic and Dari. Russell is a member of the Order of the British Empire and lives in London.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Copts, Mandeans, Zoroastrians, Samaritans, Druze these ancient groups, among others even less well known, were once vibrant religions whose believers worshiped alongside (or, in many cases, fought against) Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Sometimes sects of these larger groups, they have one thing in common: as their numbers dwindle due to war and absorption, the tenets of their faiths could soon be lost. Russell, a former British and UN diplomat who lived in the Middle East for 15 years, proves an excellent tour guide as he introduces the remnants of these near-extinct groups. To do his research, Russell traveled into some of the most dangerous parts of the world, often interacting with those not particularly friendly to outsiders. He introduces beliefs, rituals, and age-old religious feuds, and he brings these religions into the modern world as he meets with practitioners now living in the West. Sometimes the narrative is tangled in detail, but this mostly makes for a fascinating read, especially when it becomes clear that, with a few twists of history, some of these religions would have been at the top, not the bottom.--Cooper, Ilene Copyright 2014 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

This fascinating account of minority religions in the Middle East, many of which are threatened by increasingly turbulent political situations, is part travelogue and part scholarly overview. Russell, a former British diplomat in the region, uses his connections and experience as he travels in Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, and several other places to meet members of religious minorities such as the Druze, the Copts, the Mandaeans, and the Samaritans, and to study their history and traditions. He outlines basic facts and beliefs in addition to showing resonances and similarities between the religious cultures. By tying modern practice to historical context, Russell provides a valuable briefing on the ancient and medieval history of the region. He also muses on the immediate future of each community, particularly with respect to political instability and immigration, and his cheerfully personal tone makes all this information lively. This important and enjoyable glimpse into little-considered religious dynamics of the Middle East deserves to be widely read and distributed. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

Russell (coauthor, Paktika Provincial Handbook) has lived and traveled throughout the Middle East for more than a decade, working at British embassies in Baghdad and Kabul. His work led him to explore remote areas of Iraq and Afghanistan, among other countries, observing religious rituals and interviewing practitioners of small sects, curious about what has enabled them to survive for thousands of years in spite of isolation and persecution. The author is fluent in both Arabic and Farsi and his mostly solitary travels brought him to seek Zoroastrians in Iran, Kalasha in Pakistan, and Copts in Egypt, as well as Ezidis, Mandaeans, and Druze in Syria and Iraq. Russell succeeds in creating a rich, humanistic study highlighting cultural diversity and historical continuity and change. While he describes the theology of the groups, he is more interested in the creative ways they have explained the universe and defined their communities. The author regrets the harsh aspects of modernization and the growing intolerance in the Middle East that may result in the dispersion or extinction of these believers. VERDICT A fascinating and gracefully written study of minority religions, recommended for its appreciation of cultural richness and variety. Russell's portrayal of religious creativity both past and present contrasts, sadly, with the brutality and chaos in current headlines.-Elizabeth Hayford, formerly with Associated Coll. of the Midwest, Evanston, IL (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Table of Contents

Rory Stewart
Forewordp. ix
Timelinep. xv
Map of the Forgotten Kingdomsp. xvi
Introductionp. xix
Chapter 1 Mandaeansp. 1
Chapter 2 Yazidisp. 39
Chapter 3 Zoroastriansp. 75
Chapter 4 Druzep. 113
Chapter 5 Samaritansp. 147
Chapter 6 Coptsp. 181
Chapter 7 Kalashap. 219
Epilogue: Detroitp. 257
Sources and Further Readingsp. 281
Indexp. 301