Accepted paper:

Ritual reflexivity in the formation of Alevi identity


Refika Sariönder (University of Bielefeld)

Paper short abstract:

The practice of the ritual cem in Alevi cultural centers reflects the dynamic processes of transformation of Alevism in urban areas of Turkey and Europe. The ritual is an indicator of this transformation, and was re-invented and re-structured as an identity marker for building and shaping the identity of the Alevi community in the struggle for public recognition.

Paper long abstract:

Since the end of 1980s the Alevis of Turkey aim for institutional and legal recognition as a religious community. For this purpose, they founded their cultural and religious centers wherewith they entered the public sphere through uncovering themselves as Alevis. The Alevis maintain those traditions, which stem from a village based community life, under the urban conditions that they consider as constitutive for marking their religious identity. In reserving rooms for the practice of their traditional ritual cem, they disclosed the tradition of their ritual that was formerly kept secret. This practice of cem is nowadays made accessible also to the non-Alevi public. Not only the requirements for participation but also the introduction of new elements and the attempts for standardization are put to disposition so that the ritual practice became an issue of continuous negotiation and debate. It clearly became not only an identifier and identity marker for the Alevi practice, but also a public arena through which the Alevis articulate and negotiate their own identity within the public sphere as distinct from Sunni and Shiite Muslims. This transformational process of the Alevi ritual practice mirrors and triggers the dynamics in changing the Alevi ritual practice so that the cem is not merely to be seen as an organizational form for regulating social relations and executing moral sanctions. I will argue that the ritual is transformed and becomes reflexively a mirror of the self-understanding of urban Alevis in which they portray themselves and allow others to portray them in public discourse.

panel W118
Ritual and reflection: tropes In transformation and transgression (Wenner-Gren workshop)