Letters and Politics

Disappearing Religions of the Middle East

With Gerard Russell, former British and United Nations diplomat, Senior Fellow with the New America Foundation’s International Security Program and the Foreign Policy Center in London, and author of the book Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East.

About the book:

Despite its reputation for religious intolerance, the Middle East has long sheltered many distinctive and strange faiths: one regards the Greek prophets as incarnations of God, another reveres Lucifer in the form of a peacock, and yet another believes that their followers are reincarnated beings who have existed in various forms for thousands of years. These religions represent the last vestiges of the magnificent civilizations in ancient history: Persia, Babylon, Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs. Their followers have learned how to survive foreign attacks and the perils of assimilation. But today, with the Middle East in turmoil, they face greater challenges than ever before.

In Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms, former diplomat Gerard Russell ventures to the distant, nearly impassable regions where these mysterious religions still cling to survival. He lives alongside the Mandaeans and Ezidis of Iraq, the Zoroastrians of Iran, the Copts of Egypt, and others. He learns their histories, participates in their rituals, and comes to understand the threats to their communities. As more and more of their youth flee to the West in search of safety and prosperity, these religions face the dire possibility of extinction.

Drawing on his extensive travels and archival research, Russell provides an essential record of the past, present, and perilous future of these remarkable religions.

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