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Dynamics of Ritual Reflexivity in the Alevi Cem of Istanbul

Jens Kreinath and Refika Sarıönder

Keywords: Alevis; performance; public sphere; reflexivity; ritual competence; ritual rupture; Turkey

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.

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