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Aestheticised Rituals and (Non-)Engagement with Norms in Contemporary Turkey

A Contribution to Discussions on Piety and Ethics

Erol Saglam

Drawing on an ethnographic research in some rural communities of Trabzon, Turkey, this article provides insights about the diversity of Islamic pieties and their relations to religious norms. An exploration of everyday Islamic practices in the area demonstrates how piety can take peculiar forms within which norms are both publicly and socially upheld and yet also hollowed out. Among Muslim men of ‘the Valley’ in Trabzon, piety emerges as an aggregate of reiterative practices exterior to the pious self. Highlighting the aestheticised and ritualised state of these engagements with Islam in the Turkish context allows discussion of the relationships among practices of piety, pious subjectivities, and ethics.

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‘Almost Mahram’

Moments of Trust and Kinship in Iran

Rose Wellman

This article explores how an American anthropologist navigated the complicated rules of gender avoidance and veiling while living in the home of Iranian state supporters (or members of the Basij, Iran’s paramilitary organisation) in a provincial town in Fars Province. I argue that mahram is configured and activated not only by the dictums of Islamic law, but also according to contexts such as living circumstances, interpersonal trust and town politics. Mahram extends far beyond marriage exclusion: it is a matter of context and creation – the embodiment of mutual (dis)trust, piety and closeness. The recognition and practice of mahram is shifting, fluid and situational.

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Childless Women in Georgia

Between Religious Restrictions and Medical Opportunities

Elene Gavashelishvili

In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is gradually becoming available in Georgia, but while the medical technologies are being developed, the Georgian Orthodox Church opposes the idea of having a child through what it declares to be unnatural ways. Despite the authority of the Church, the Orthodox discourse about IVF is not directly incorporated into the everyday lives of people. Ethnographical observation has allowed an exploration of how childless women in Georgia reconcile modern reproductive technologies with their religion. In order to explain the hybridity in women’s attempts to make official religiosity better adapted to everyday life, I use the concept of bricolage as applied to the social practices of women who assemble different, seemingly disjointed, resources in coping with problematic situations.

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Damgah

A Traditional Caspian Agroecosystem for Trapping Migratory Waterfowl Acting as a Potential Avian Sanctuary

Ellen Vuosalo-Tavakoli, Mahmoud Ghasempouri, and Younes Yaghobzadeh

On the south coast of the Caspian Sea, certain agroecosystems called Damgahs serve as winter habitats for migratory birds, where people have devised artificial wetland systems in the fallow winter rice fields as an additional livelihood strategy using natural resources around them. The damgahs attract thousands of waterbirds, making their protective role similar to that of natural core zones in a biosphere reserve. With a two-hundred-year-old history, damgahs have been ecologically sustainable, as each enjoys a high degree of security, like a small island inside a large ecosystem. Community relations and economic realities are key elements in preserving this vital agroecosystem, forming part of the history of people relating to nature in mutually beneficial ways.

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Economic Transitions and Land Ownership

Challenging Traditions among Rural Yezidis in Post-Soviet Armenia

Hamlet Melkumyan and Roman Hovsepyan

The Yezidis of Armenia, traditionally considered transhumant pastoralists, have been changing their economic habits over the past century. Nowadays, they are more engaged in agriculture than they were a century ago. The social and cultural backgrounds of these transformations are discussed, showing the involvement of the treatment of the Armenians and the adaptive character of the Yezidis’ economy. Presently, the Yezidis practise animal breeding and plant cultivation in parallel, using the human resources available in their family. The ongoing transformations in the economy and their engagement in agriculture are challenging the conservative lifestyle of the Yezidi community. Thus, the people who have shifted to the agrarian economy are seen as outsiders in the traditional framework and are perceived to be of low prestige.

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Erika Friedl and Reinhold Loeffler

This article is an ethnographic dissection of ideas pertaining to eschatology in a Shi’a Muslim tribal area in Iran that reveals the syncretistic possibilities in lived Islam, the generosity of the local culture regarding matters of religion, and individuals’ motivations for selecting certain possibilities to think about death and the afterlife. A common theme is for people to look at religious tenets as they pertain to this-worldly relations and can be approached with empirical experiences, all within the general frame of a regulated universe created by a merciful, understanding God. Research for this discussion stretched across 50 years in Iran.

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Introduction

Popular Religious Practices and Perceptions in the Middle East and Central Asia

Mary Elaine Hegland

People at the popular level often hold religious perceptions and engage in religious practices that make sense to them within their own existential situations, even if they fall outside orthodoxy. Although political leaders and religious authorities may attempt to mould people’s religious perceptions and practices according to their own ideas and interpretations of religion, people frequently find ways to evade or ignore such pressures, to rationalise their deviations or to continue to live and think according to their own self-generated religious frameworks. The authors of the articles in this special issue provide examples of how people’s actual practices and religious beliefs arise out of their own personal situations and histories though at odds with the pronouncements of religious specialists.

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Negotiating between Shi’a and Catholic Rituals in Iran

A Case Study of Filipina Converts and Their Adult Children

Ashraf Zahedi

Religious rituals, while comforting for believers, may be uncomfortable for those who do not share their manifold meanings. Catholic Filipinas who marry Muslim Iranian men face mandatory conversion to Islam, necessitating ongoing negotiations between Christianity and Islam. My research suggests that these Filipinas held their first religion dear while participating in – for them – unpleasant Shi’a Muslims rituals. Their Filipino/Iranian children, familiar from birth with Shi’a Islam, felt at home with both religions, no matter which one they chose for themselves. The discussion of converts’ perceptions of Shi’a rituals contributes to the literature on transnational marriages and marriage migration.

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Mary Elaine Hegland

Bridget Blomfield, The Language of Tears, My Journey into the World of Shi’i Muslim Women (Ashland, OR: White Cloud Press, 2015) Diane D’Souza, Partners of Zaynab: A Gendered Perspective of Shia Muslim Faith (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2014) Karen G. Ruffle, Gender, Sainthood, and Everyday Practice in South Asian Shi’ism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press)

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Aidarbek Sulaimankulovich Kochkunov

This article is an ethnographic exploration of three topics regarding the practice of religion in contemporary Kyrgyzstan that provides insights into the spiritual life of Kyrgyz people in local communities. The topics are features of religiosity as expressed in rituals, the nature of personal and shared beliefs inherent in the performance of ceremonies, and the influence of religious identity on relationships among family, kin groups and communities. Through extensive research about religion and ritual in various areas of Kyrgyzstan, changes over time are examined. Although at times the differences among people adhering to more traditional versus the more newly emerging Islamic approaches to death ceremonies and monuments may cause conflict among relatives, in general such rituals and markers provide opportunities for social integration and common identity.