Elizabeth Marteijn wears a traditional Palestinian dress in preparation for a wedding henna party during her field work in the West Bank.

Note: The Christian-Muslim Studies Network aims to advance academic scholarship and improve public engagement with the scriptural, theological, political, and sociological aspects of Christian-Muslim relations. This post is one of a series that illustrates how postgraduate students engage with Christian-Muslim Studies and related fields in Edinburgh. 

In the work of Elizabeth Marteijn, the critical study of Christian-Muslim relations includes not only intellectual depth, but also lived practice.

Ms Marteijn’s doctoral studies, like her masters degree, are in World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh, and her focus is on the contemporary theologies of Middle Eastern Christians at the School of Divinity. She explores a contextual theology of ordinary Palestinian Christians, in addition to the area’s published theology.

‘Contextual theology is a bit of an elite business’, Ms Marteijn noted. ‘I figured out that there is a gap between the theology and ordinary people’.

Masters studies in Edinburgh

A native of the Netherlands, Ms. Marteijn received a joint bachelor’s degree in both anthropology and theology from VU University and the Protestant Theological University in Amsterdam. She recognized that to pursue her ongoing interests, she would need to go abroad. She applied to Britain’s top universities and received offers from Oxford, Cambridge, and the University of Edinburgh.

‘A lot of people  would have chosen Oxford or Cambridge, but I chose Edinburgh’, Ms Marteijn commented. ‘Edinburgh has a lot of expertise with what they do [in World Christianity and Christian-Muslim Studies], and they do it at a very high level’.

She credits Scotland’s heritage in part for this emphasis, noting the long history of foreign missions and exploration from Scotland, as well as the country’s welcome of foreign students. The University of Edinburgh  continues to recruit a very  diverse student body.

‘Just the discussions among us [as students] were as interesting as what my teachers said’, Ms Marteijn said. ‘Instead of only studying [global Christian communities], we were studying it with them’.

This sense of global diversity was characteristic of her broader experience with the inclusive atmosphere of Edinburgh.

‘At Edinburgh there are a lot of different students, and they are all interested in each other and in each other’s work’, she said.

Her experience with a masters at New College persuaded her to continue for a PhD.

‘I wanted to have more time for learning, to continue’, she said. ‘I didn’t want to stop’.

PhD studies at New College

Ms Marteijn has recently finished a year of fieldwork in a Palestinian Christian village in the West Bank. Like her previous studies, Ms Marteijn’s thesis project is interdisciplinary. She is combining her background in both ethnography and theology in her contribution to the study of Arab Christianity.

Ms Marteijn studies the theology of ordinary Palestinian Christians through their churches, traditions, families, politics, identity, migration, and inter-religious relationships. She sees much of the scholarship as coming from or directed toward the West, so her work seeks to shift the focus back toward the people themselves.

‘For who is contextual theology actually written?’ she asked. ‘Sometimes it feels like Palestinian theologians are talking to the West instead of talking to their own people’.

She said she has also found this true of Christian-Muslim relations in the area. She selected an entirely Christian village for her study, although Palestinian Muslims regularly visit, work, and study there as well.

‘Christian-Muslim relations has been studied here on an intellectual level, but not so much in practice’, she said. ‘I hope my thesis can be more about practice’.

To her excitement about her own work is added the recognition that she is part of growing effort in this field.

‘World Christianity has an emphasis in Africa and Asia, and Latin America is developing more now as well, but the Middle East still has to be explored’, she said. ‘This is happening now at New College with Dr Joshua Ralston, the Christian-Muslim Studies Network, and hopefully more PhD students after us’.

The School of Divinity currently offers courses in Islamic law and in the history of Christian-Muslim engagement, as well as two masters programmes and the PhD. Those interested in applying for a degree program in any of these areas should see the website for the School of Divinity or contact Dr Ralston directly.