Dynamics of Ritual Reflexivity in the Alevi Cem of Istanbul

in Religion and Society
Restricted access

ABSTRACT

The Alevi cem is a communal ritual that is performed weekly among members of a major religious minority in Turkey. Although formerly celebrated exclusively in rural village communities, this ritual became publicly accessible at the end of the 1980s when Alevi cultural associations were opened in the urban centers of Turkey. Since it was made public, the cem has undergone significant changes in the internal dynamics of its performance and in the formal design of its liturgy. By addressing multiple audiences in its urban milieu, the performance of the cem reveals moments of ritual reflexivity. Based on ethnographic research at a cultural association in Istanbul, this article focuses on a cem performance that led to ruptures and mishaps in the presentation of some ritual acts. We analyze the ritual leader’ s response to these incidents and the theoretical implications of this account for the study of ritual reflexivity.

Contributor Notes

JENS KREINATH received his PhD from the University of Heidelberg and teaches socio-cultural anthropology at Wichita State University with a focus on the anthropology of religion and linguistic anthropology. He is co-editor of The Dynamics of Changing Rituals (2004) and Theorizing Rituals (2006) and is editor of The Anthropology of Islam Reader (2012). He has published articles in the Journal of Ritual Studies (2012) and Visual Anthropology (2012) on the semiotics of ritual, the history of anthropological theory, and the formation of concepts in the study of religion. His current research is on inter-rituality and inter-religious relations among ethnic minorities in the context of saint veneration at shared pilgrimage sites in Hatay, Turkey. E-mail: jens.kreinath@wichita.edu

REFIKA SARIÖNDER has degrees in sociology (University of Bogaziçi and Bielefeld University) and in psychology (Wichita State University) and has conducted ethnographic fieldwork on Anatolian Alevis in Istanbul and Berlin. Her current research is on domestic violence shelter workers as part of her dissertation project in the Community Psychology Program at Wichita State University. Her publications include articles and chapters on gender issues and religious minorities of Islam, and she is the co-editor of Mythen der Kreativität (Myths of Creativity) (2003). Aside from participating in interdisciplinary and international projects at research centers of German universities, she has presented papers at national and international conferences. E-mail: rsarionder@gmail.com

Religion and Society

Advances in Research

Article Information

Issue Table of Contents

Section Headings

References

  • Arnaud–DemirFrançoise. 2013. “Garder le rythme: Écoute et danse rituelle dans le semah des Alévis de Divrigi (Turquie)” [Keeping the rhythm: Listening and ritual dance in the semah of the Alevi of Divrigi (Turkey)]. Cahiers de Littérature Orale 73–74: 1-14.

  • AykanBahar. 2013. “How Participatory Is Participatory Heritage Management? The Politics of Safeguarding the Alevi Semah Ritual as Intangible Heritage.” International Journal of Cultural Property 20 (4): 381-405.

  • BabcockBarbara A. 1980. “Reflexivity: Definitions and Discriminations.” Semiotica 30 (1-2): 1-14.

  • BozkurtFuat. 1990. Semahlar (Alevi Dinsel Oyunlari) [Semahs (Alevi religious dances)]. Istanbul: Cem Yayinevi.

  • BruinessenMartin van. 2017. “Between Dersim and Dâlahû: Reflections on Kurdish Alevism and the Ahl–i Haqq Religion.” In Islamic Alternatives: Non–Mainstream Religion in Persianate Societies ed. Shahrokh Raei65-93. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

  • CahenClaude. 1968. Pre–Ottoman Turkey: A General Survey of the Material and Spiritual Culture and History c. 1071-1330. Trans. J. Jones–Williams. New York: Taplinger.

  • De RosaSinibaldo. 2014. “Samah—Kardeçlik Töreni: A Dynamic Bodily Archive for the Alevi Semah.” Congress on Research in Dance Conference Proceedings 8: 70-74.

  • DresslerMarkus. 2003. “Turkish Alevi Poetry in the Twentieth Century: The Fusion of Political and Religious Identities.” Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics 23: 109-154.

  • DresslerMarkus. 2013. Writing Religion: The Making of Turkish Alevi Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • ErdemirAykan. 2004. “Incorporating Alevis: The Transformation of Governance and Faith–Based Collective Action in Turkey.” PhD diss.Harvard University.

  • ErmanTahire and Emrah Göker. 2000. “Alevi Politics in Contemporary Turkey.” Middle Eastern Studies 36 (4): 99-118.

  • ErolAyhan. 2010. “Re–imagining Identity: The Transformation of the Alevi Semah.” Middle Eastern Studies 46 (3): 375-387.

  • ErsevenIlhan Cem. 1990. Aleviler’ de Semah [Semah among Alevis]. Ankara: Ekin Yayinlari.

  • GokalpAltan. 1980a. Têtes rouges et bouches noires: Une confrérie tribale de l’ Ouest anatolien [Red heads and black mouths: A tribal brotherhood of the Western Anatolian]. Paris: Société d’ Éthnologie.

  • GokalpAltan. 1980b. “Une minorité chîite en Anatolie: Les Alevî” [A Shiite minority in Anatolia: The Alevi]. Annales 53 (3-4): 748-763.

  • HandelmanDon. 1977. “Play and Ritual: Complementary Frames of Meta–Communication.” In It’ s a Funny Thing Humour ed. Antony J. Chapman and Hugh C. Foot185-192. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

  • HandelmanDon. 1982. “Reflexivity in Festival and Other Cultural Events.” In Essays in the Sociology of Perception ed. Mary Douglas162-190. London: Routledge.

  • HandelmanDon. 1998. Models and Mirrors: Towards an Anthropology of Public Events. 2nd ed. New York: Berghahn Journals.

  • HandelmanDon. 2004. “Re–framing Ritual.” In The Dynamics of Changing Rituals: The Transformation of Religious Rituals within Their Social and Cultural Context ed. Jens KreinathConstance Hartung and Annette Deschner9-20. New York: Peter Lang.

  • HøjbjergChristian K. 2002a. “Inner Iconoclasm: Forms of Reflexivity in Loma Rituals of Sacrifice.” Social Anthropology 10 (1): 57-75.

  • HøjbjergChristian K. 2002b. “Religious Reflexivity: Essays on Attitudes to Religious Ideas and Practice.” Social Anthropology 10 (1): 1-10.

  • KapfererBruce. 1984. “The Ritual Process and the Problem of Reflexivity in Sinhalese Demon Exorcisms.” In Rite Drama Festival Spectacle: Rehearsals Toward a Theory of Cultural Performance ed. John J. MacAloon179-207. Philadelphia, PA: Institute for the Study of Human Issues.

  • KapfererBruce. 2006. “Dynamics.” In Theorizing Rituals: Classical Topics Theoretical Approaches Analytical Concepts ed. Jens KreinathJan Snoekund Michael Stausberg507-522. Leiden: Brill.

  • Karakaya–StumpAyfer. 2004. “The Emergence of the Kizilbaç in Western Thought: Missionary Accounts and Their Aftermath.” In Archaeology Anthropology and Heritage in the Balkans and Anatolia: The Life and Times of F. W. Hasluck1878-1920 Vol. 1 ed. David Shankland329-353. Istanbul: Isis.

  • Kehl–BodrogiKrisztina. 1988. Die Kizilbaç/Aleviten: Untersuchungen über eine esoterische Glaubensgemeinschaft in Anatolien [The Kizilba^/Alevis: Studies on an esoteric religious community in Anatolia]. Berlin: Klaus Schwarz.

  • KöppingKlaus–Peter. 1997. “Introduction: The Ludic as Creative Disorder: Framing, De–framing and Boundary Crossing.” In The Games of Gods and Man: Essays in Play and Performance ed. Klaus–Peter Köpping1-39. Hamburg: Lit Verlag.

  • KöseTalha. 2009. “Re–negotiating Alevi Identity: Values, Emotions and the Contending Visions on Future.” PhD diss.George Mason University.

  • KreinathJens. 2012. “Naven, Moebius Strip, and Random Fractal Dynamics: Reframing Batesons Play Frame and the Use of Mathematical Models for the Study of Ritual.” Journal of Ritual Studies 26 (2): 39-64.

  • KreinathJens. 2016. “Framing.” In Vocabulary for the Study of Religion ed. Robert A. Segal and Kocku von Stuckrad44-47. Leiden: Brill.

  • KreinathJens. 2018. “Ritual.” In The International Encyclopedia of Anthropology Vol. 9 ed. Hilary Callan. New York: Wiley–Blackwell. doi:10.1002/9781118924396.wbiea2128.

  • MarkoffIrene. 1986. “The Role of Expressive Culture in the Demystification of a Secret Sect of Islam: The Case of the Alevis of Turkey.” World of Music 28 (3): 42-56.

  • MarkoffIrene. 1993. “Music, Saints, and Ritual: Sama and the Alevis of Turkey.” In Manifestations of Sainthood in Islam ed. Grace M. Smith and Carl W. Ernst95-110. Istanbul: Isis.

  • McElwainThomas. 1993. “Ritual Change in a Turkish Alevi Village.” In The Problem of Ritual ed. Tore Ahlbäck131-168. Ãbo: Donner Institute for Research in Religious and Cultural History.

  • MeadGeorge H. (1934) 2009. Mind Self and Society: From the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist. Ed. Charles W. Morris. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • MélikoffIrène. 1994. Uyur idik Uyardilar: Alevllik–Bektaplik Ara^tirmalari [They woke us up as we slept: Studies on Alevism and Bektashism]. Trans. Turan Alptekin. Istanbul: Cem Yayinevi.

  • MélikoffIrène. 1998. Hadji Bektach un mythe et ses avatars: Genèse et évolution du soufisme populaire en Turquie [Hadji Bektach a myth and its avatars: Genesis and evolution of popular Sufism in Turkey]. Leiden: Brill.

  • ÖztürkmenArzu. 2005. “Staging a Ritual Dance Out of its Context: The Role of an Individual Artist in Transforming the Alevi SemahAsian Folklore Studies 64 (2): 247-260.

  • ŞahinŞehriban. 2001. “The Alevi Movement: Transformation from Secret Oral to Public Written Culture in National and Transnational Social Spaces.” PhD diss.New School for Social Research.

  • SariönderRefika. 2000. “Publicising Religion, Differentiation and De–differentiation: Alevis between Berlin and Anatolia.” In Investigating the South–South Dimension of Modernity and Islam: Circulating Visions and Ideas Intellectual Figures Locations ed. Helmut Buchholt and Georg Stauth177-190. Münster: Lit Verlag.

  • SariönderRefika. 2005. “Transformationsprozesse des alevitischen Cem: Die Öffentlichkeit ritueller Praktiken und Ritualhandbücher” [Transformation processes of the Alevi Cem: The publicity of ritual practices and ritual manuals]. In Migration und Ritualtransfer: Religiöse Praxis der Aleviten Jesiden und Nusairier zwischen Vorderem Orient und Westeuropa [Migration and ritual transfer: Religious practice of the Alevis Yazidis and Nusayris between the Near East and Western Europe] ed. Robert LangerRaoul Motika and Michael Ursinus163-173. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

  • SariönderRefika and Jens Kreinath. 2008. “Reflexive Ritualdynamik am Beispiel des alevitischen Cem” [Reflexive ritual dynamics using the example of the Alevi Cem]. In Im Rausch des Rituals: Gestaltung und Transformation der Wirklichkeit in körperlicher Performanz [In the trance of ritual: Formation and transformation of reality in bodily performance] ed. Klaus–Peter Köpping and Ursula Rao93-108. Berlin: Lit Verlag.

  • ShanklandDavid. 2003. The Alevis in Turkey: The Emergence of a Secular Islamic Tradition. London: Routledge.

  • SökefeldMartin. 2008. Struggling for Recognition: The Alevi Movement in Germany and in Transnational Space. New York: Berghahn Journals.

  • StokesMartin. 1992. The Arabesk Debate: Music and Musicians in Modern Turkey. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

  • TurnerVictor W. 1977. “Frame, Flow, and Reflection: Ritual and Drama as Public Liminality.” In Performance in Postmodern Culture ed. Michel Benamou and Charles Caramello33-55. Madison, WI: Coda Press.

  • VorhoffKarin. 1995. Zwischen Glaube Nation und neuer Gemeinschaft: Alevitische Identität in der Türkei der Gegenwart [Between faith nation and new community: Alevi identity in Turkey today]. Berlin: Klaus Schwarz.

  • YalmanNur. 1969. “Islamic Reform and the Mystic Tradition in Eastern Turkey.” European Journal of Sociology 10 (1): 41-60.

  • YamanMehmet. 1998. Alevilikte Cem [Cem in Alevism]. Istanbul: Ufuk Matbaacilik.

Google Scholar