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August 13, 2009

ULM History Professor shares “Coptic” expertise at UCLA

Monica Bontty, Ph.D., assistant professor of history at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, joined other scholars who shared their expertise with graduate students at the 11th annual St. Shenouda Conference of Coptic Studies in July.

The University of California in Los Angeles again hosted and co-sponsored the event.

The word “Coptic” was originally used in Classical Arabic to refer to Egyptians in general, but over the centuries has evolved to specifically designate Egyptian Christians following the conversion of most Egyptians to Islam.

The Egyptian Christian Church dates from just after the time of Christ and has spread beyond Egypt to Europe, Australia, and even to the state of Louisiana, according to Bontty.

Bontty presented a paper at the conference on the possibility of a Coptic connection between the first Christian community in Scotland known as “Candida Casa” and the White Monastery in Sohag, Egypt.

She also joined two religious studies professors, one from Yale and one from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., in a Coptic panel discussion.

When asked to comment on the outlook for graduate students interested in pursuing academic careers in Coptology, all three scholars agreed that the field serves best as an area of concentration or as a sub-specialty.

Bontty suggested pursuing a cross-cultural approach where Coptology could be woven into more traditional areas such as art history, religion or anthropology. Coptology also works well as a research specialty.

Bontty has written several articles and has taught courses in Coptic at UCLA and at the St. Shenouda Center in Los Angeles.

Her interest in dead languages and their cultures first guided her to UCLA where she pursued doctoral studies in Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations in 1997. Part of her training in the languages of these civilizations included coursework in Coptic.

The discovery of Coptic manuscripts at Nag Hammadi in 1945 did much to enhance and popularize the field of Coptology, although it has struggled to establish itself as a stand-alone academic discipline through the decades.

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