Studying Syrian Christian Identity in Geneva – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Studying Syrian Christian Identity in Geneva

For her Honors project, anthropology major Carly Kelly ’21 studied the formation of Syrian Christians’ ethnoreligious identity in Geneva.

Throughout her academic career, Carly Kelly ’21 has specialized in the geographic area of the Middle East with an aspiration to become an anthropologist. As an Honors project, she dove deeply into understanding the Syrian Christian identity in Geneva and how it has evolved.

Through field research, Kelly conducted interviews, literature and archival reviews, mapping and photographic analysis. “Identity is oftentimes not what you think the group is but what the group perceives themselves to be,” she says. “I wanted to know how the Syrian Christians of Geneva view their own identity and how history, culture, kinship, religion, and so forth have shaped their identity.”

Kelly credits the direction and guidance that she has received from her adviser, Associate Professor of Anthropology Christopher Annear. “Professor Annear has provided so many insightful comments, suggestions that have helped me improve my skills,” she says. “He is an amazing professor and has been a great advocate and mentor.”

St. Michael's Church
St. Michael’s Orthodox Church

For much of her project, Kelly says she was entrenched with the congregation at St. Michael’s Orthodox Church and the staff at the Geneva Historical Society. “I learned a lot from each group and truly enjoyed the experience of getting to know more about the Syrian community and Geneva,” she says.

The church was an especially important place for her to interact with the community. “When the Syrian Christian population was larger, they lived right in the downtown area near St. Michael’s and hosted a lot of events like Maharajan, a summer festival,” says Kelly, who also learned about St. Michael’s active Syrian Orthodox Youth Organization that travels to compete with other Antiochian churches and host charity drives to benefit Syria.

At St. Michael’s, Kelly interviewed four community members who were incorporated formally into her project and interacted with many parishioners when she attended Sunday services and gatherings afterward. During interviews, she focused on shared stories and memories, as well as cultural traditions like the importance of music. Sometimes, the parishioners brought Kelly newspaper clippings related to St. Michael’s or Syrian Christians or chat in Arabic, which Kelly can speak at a beginner’s level. Father Gregory-Lazarus Murphy, the church’s pastor, and his wife, Suzanne Murphy, were instrumental in introducing Kelly to parishioners and sharing the history of the Church.

“One particular person who I met through the church that really impacted me was Ethel Peters. She’s a Syrian Christian and was born and raised in Geneva. Father Murphy first helped me get in contact with her and she helped me a lot in navigating the church, getting me in contact with other people to interview, and overall is just such a lovely person,” Kelly says.

On campus, Kelly has a minor in The Sacred in the Cross-Cultural Perspective and is a member of Her Campus. While she studied abroad in Rabat, Morocco she wrote a travel blog for HWS’ Her Campus. She also worked as an Anthropology Teaching Fellow. Looking forward, Kelly is hoping to work at human rights organizations for a few years before pursuing her Ph.D. and becoming an anthropology professor.