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From Orthopraxy to Orthodoxy – Christian Influences on Yezidism in the Diaspora?

The Discourse on Canonisation, Standardisation and Unification of Tradition among Yezidis in Western Europe

The Yezidi religious tradition, both sacred texts and priestly learning, has been transmitted orally in a non- or semi-literate milieu until recently. Apart from Armenia, it was not until the mid 20th century that literacy became widespread among Yezidis, and began to affect community culture. The resulting increase in literacy accelerated acceptance of Western ideas and concepts, which gave rise to a profound change in the way many community leaders thought of and defined its religion. Orthopraxy and the individual spiritual authority of hereditary religious leaders had traditionally been key factors defining the Yezidi tradition.

Now, however, the new multi-religious milieu of the Diaspora brought an intensification of contacts with the mainly Christian culture of the West. Many Yezidis, both in the Middle East, Armenia and in the Diaspora now regard the oral transmission of their sacred hymns, which they see as the equivalents of the Scriptures of other religions, as a severe impediment to the religious ‘emancipation’ of the Yezidi community. Given that a few sacred hymns were first committed to writing in the 1970s, and that this process has continued, we are now witnessing initiatives to compile all significant religious texts into a new, written ‘Scripture’, and also observe trends towards standardisation and unification of their tradition, including textual tradition, system of beliefs and rituals.

The project will also study the Christian discourse on Yezidism, particularly in Germany, as it affected the worldview of the Yezidis in European Diaspora as regards the development of a theology and canonisation.