Aaron Michka

Aaron Michka
  • University of Michigan
  • Doctoral Candidate in Anthropology
  • Faculty Fellow (2020-2021)
  • “Un-Islamic: Christian Life and Religious Difference in an Upper Egyptian Society”

Aaron Michka is a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross and a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Michigan. His research focuses on the intersection of Christianity and Islam in the contemporary Middle East, especially Egypt.

In the first study of its kind, his dissertation examines how residents of a Coptic town in Upper Egypt conceptualize and draw upon an otherwise absent Islam. Fr. Michka’s study is based on nineteen months of research conducted in Egypt’s Asyut Governorate. Set in a time of increasing violence against Egypt’s Coptic minority, he uses fine-grained ethnography to show how, surprisingly, the absence of Muslims has created problems for residents of this Coptic town. By following how an imagined Islam is reincorporated into fundamental parts of everyday Christian life, he aims to deepen our understanding of sectarianism and the way distrust of religious others can be overcome. He has presented his findings at a variety of academic conferences, including the most recent meetings of the American Anthropological Association.

Fr. Michka is the recipient of the Rackham Merit Fellowship at the University of Michigan. He holds degrees from Oxford and Notre Dame, and he has studied Arabic at the University of California, Berkeley and the Dar Comboni in Cairo, Egypt. Before beginning his graduate studies, he served three years as Associate Pastor and Assistant Director of Formation with the Holy Cross community in Monterrey, Mexico.

Publications

  • Baptism in the Plural: Ethnographic Notes from a Coptic Ecumene

    Aaron Michka

    This article provides an ethnographic account of baptism as it is practiced and understood by Christians living in a multi-denominational Upper Egyptian town. Given the challenges of defining baptism in ecumenical terms, this study approaches the topic in terms of three organizing frameworks: baptism as discourse, as rite, and as reproduction. These overlapping metaphors have the advantage of revealing what has often been overlooked in both Coptic studies and the anthropology of Christianity; namely, the ability of a shared Christian practice like baptism to structure interaction across denominations. This finding has particular relevance for the study of contemporary Copts, which has long been focused on Orthodox Copts to the neglect of Coptic Catholics, Evangelicals, and Pentecostals in Egypt.

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