Febe Armanios is a Professor of History at Middlebury College. She is an internationally recognized expert of Coptic Orthodox and Middle Eastern Christianity, and in the growing field of Food Studies. Her research focuses on comparative religious practices between Christians and Muslims, and among Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christian communities of the Middle East and Balkans. She has explored everything from the veneration of saints and pilgrimages, to diverse food and fasting traditions, comparative gender roles, and the ways that different communities use media—particularly television—in the modern Middle East. Throughout the past two decades, her research has taken her to Egypt, Cyprus, Jordan, Greece, Lebanon, and Turkey, among many other locales. She is the author of Coptic Christianity in Ottoman Egypt (Oxford University Press, 2011) and the co-author (with Boğaç Ergene) of the award-winning Halal Food: A History (Oxford University Press, 2018). She has published multiple articles, book chapters, and blog entries, and has been interviewed as an expert on Coptic Christianity and the Middle East by numerous media establishments, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC, and CBS’s 60 Minutes. In the past, she also received several awards and fellowships including from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Fulbright, the Gerda Henkel Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies.
Her project “Coptic Orthodox Television: A Modern History” focuses on the history of Coptic channels in Egypt and the diaspora, as part of a larger book manuscript titled Satellite Ministries: The Rise of Christian Television in the Middle East. Her research situates the history of Coptic television channels within their modern Egyptian, Middle Eastern, and global landscapes—within a multifarious religious, political, and mediatic ecology. She explores the evolution of Coptic satellite channels, from 2005 till the present, as part of the Coptic Orthodox Church’s adaptation to new media technologies, shifting religious discourses, and onerous political pressures. Coptic channels were developed, at least initially, in reaction to an American televangelist presence in the Middle East and the rise of regional Arab Christian stations. In exploring this topic, she considers how Coptic clergy and laity found innovative ways to carve out a separate Coptic Orthodox identity within their diverse programming, which ranged from edifying liturgical broadcasts and talk shows to Coptic “hagiopics” (filmic hagiographies of Coptic saints) and lively music performances. Coptic media leaders achieved these feats in a regional context where public expression of Christianity had been often curtailed. In all, she argues that over the past several years, television has come to play a defining role in what it means to be a believing Middle Eastern Christian, and she emphasizes how Coptic-sponsored television has transformed traditional religion, created “virtual churches” in private homes, and beckoned the faithful to maintain their identity.