Exemplary Life: Modelling Sainthood in Christian Syria
Published: July 2022© 2022
268 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 x 1.00 in, 10 b&w illustrations
Based on over five years of ethnographic fieldwork in Syria, Exemplary Life focuses on the life of a Damascus woman, Myrna Nazzour, who serves as an aspirational figure in her community. Myrna is regarded by her followers as an exemplary figure, a living saint, and the messages, apparitions, stigmata, and oil that have marked Myrna since 1982 have corroborated her status as chosen by God.
Exemplary Life probes the power of examples, the modelling of sainthood around Myrna’s figure, and the broader context for Syrian Christians in the changing landscape of the Middle East. The book highlights the social use of examples such as the ones inhabited by Myrna’s devout followers and how they reveal the broader structures of illustration, evidence, and persuasion in social and cultural settings. Andreas Bandak argues that the role of the example should incite us to investigate which trains of thought set local worlds in motion. In doing so, Exemplary Life presents a novel frame for examining how religion comes to matter to people and adds a critical dimension to current anthropological engagements with ethics and morality.
Introduction: Modelling Sainthood in Christian Syria
1. Closer to Mary
2. Repeated Prayers
3. Exemplary Series
4. Life and Story
5. Signs and Evidence
6. Prophecies of Unity
7. Damascus Speaking
"Exemplary Life is indispensable reading for anthropologists of religion, political theorists engaged in debates about charismatic authority and enjoyment, and scholars focused on Christianity more specifically. Combining a deep knowledge of Syria with a keen appreciation of the uncanny and the miraculous, Bandak attends carefully both to the spiritual practices of the followers of Our Lady of Soufanieh and to their felt experiences of worldly precarity. In doing so, he offers important insights into the nature of evidence and its relation to belief, faith, and affective intensities."Lisa Wedeen, Mary R. Morton Professor of Political Science and the College, University of Chicago
"This is a rich and rewarding book. Exemplary Life brims with sensitivity and insight, as Andreas Bandak relates the lifeworlds and concerns of Syrian Christians to some of the most significant theoretical and conceptual issues undergirding the human sciences. With and through Our Lady of Soufanieh – the saintly exemplar in question – we come away with new understandings of sainthood, politics, and the conceptual frames of our social worlds."Matthew Engelke, Professor of Religion, Columbia University
"Bandak takes us on a vivid ethnographic journey into the everyday world of a holy woman and her followers as they pray, seek blessings, and tend to a holy icon during a precarious period in the history of Damascus. At the same time, he provides a sustained anthropological and philosophical reflection on what exemplification means – for scholars as much as for believers. This is a moving and inspiring book."Simon Coleman, Chancellor Jackman Professor of Religion, University of Toronto