Yale News

Journalist and Jackson Fellow Janine di Giovanni published a new book earlier this month documenting Christian persecution in the Middle East. 

Di Giovanni’s new book — “The Vanishing: Faith, Loss and the Twilight of Christianity in the Land of the Prophets” — is her ninth publication. The book, written by the award-winning journalist, chronicles how the birthplaces of Christianity in the Middle East are becoming inhospitable to the Christians living there. Di Giovanni specifically examines the persecution and threat of extinction faced by ancient Christian communities in Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Palestine.

“When you’re there, you’re just struck by the extraordinary passage of time: the land you walk on is so rich with thousands of years of the people who have walked there before,” di Giovanni said. “These Christian communities have managed to hang onto their identity for 2000 years despite so many armies that have tried to conquer them and laws that have tried to restrain them, and that to me was just extraordinary.”

Di Giovanni’s book comes after four years of intensive field work and 35 years as a war journalist in the Middle East, including time as a senior foreign correspondent for The Times of London. She said that she first came across ancient Christian communities in the old city of Jerusalem in the early 1990s and began to work with them in Mosul at the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. She realized the need to write about them in 2017, when it became clear that their disappearance was imminent within the next century.

“The Vanishing” documents hundreds of stories from across the region. Di Giovanni recalled visiting the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region, from which many Christians had fled, and seeing how those who remained were unable to find work. 

“They were torn between trying to leave and staying in their ancestral lands,” she said. “I remember so many peoples’ stories, young and old, about how their faith was a vital part of their identity.”

Faith and resilience are core themes of the book. Di Giovanni explained that faith amounts to more than just a belief in Jesus Christ for these communities — it also means a “deep-rooted belief in themselves and their communities and their ancient ways of life,” she said.

According to di Giovanni, the peril faced by these communities threatens the rich cultural and social fabric of the countries in which they live

“The place [where the Christian communities reside] is very important: if they cannot stay and practice their faith, they would feel very disconnected,” Angela Grant DIV ’20, a former student of di Giovanni, told the News. “Professor di Giovanni understood that their faith and the place where they practice it are inseparable.”

As a Jackson Fellow, Di Giovanni teaches a course on conflicts through a human rights lens. She describes her time at Jackson as a “curious, creative, enduring quest for more knowledge.”

In an email to the News, Director of the Jackson Institute James Levinsohn described di Giovanni as having “the ability to combine a compassionate perspective with clear-eyed realism.”

“She can speak with an authority that few can when it comes to dealing with the deeply human side of conflict, war, and humanitarian crises,” Levinsohn wrote. “Janine brings a hugely important human perspective to Jackson’s course offerings in Global Affairs.”

Di Giovanni’s former students echoed Levinsohn’s comments, sharing accounts of di Giovanni’s compassion and sensitivity as a professor.

Shreeya Singh ’22 said that di Giovanni prioritizes the stories of individuals in her teachings, allowing her students to become familiar with those impacted by tragedy and “getting the reader to empathise with communities they may never come into contact with.”

Shannon Guerra ’21 similarly emphasized that di Giovanni “foregrounds the voices of the victims” in her writing.

Di Giovanni will be speaking about her book at a Jackson Institute event at 4 p.m. on Nov. 2.

MIRANDA JEYARETNAM
Miranda Jeyaretnam is the beat reporter covering the Jackson Institute of Global Affairs and developments at the National University of Singapore and Yale-NUS for the YDN's University desk. She was formerly the opinion editor for the Yale Daily News under the YDN Board of 2022 and wrote as a staff columnist for her opinion column 'Crossing the Aisle' in Spring 2020. From Singapore, she is a sophomore in Pierson College, majoring in English.