Ideology and Conformity in the creation of a minority Islamic trans-national discourse: the instance of the Alevis


People involved in this project

Principal investigator:

School Arts
Department Archaeology and Anthropology
Dates October 2007 - October 2010
Funder ESRC: Small Grant
Contact person Dr David Shankland

More about this project

This proposed research concentrates on an Islamic minority community known as 'Alevi' that derives from Turkey, in particular looking at emerging transnational reformulations of their religious doctrines and the process by which their existing, localised oral traditions may become absorbed, rejected, excluded or simplified within these new more codified expressions of their religious thought. It aims also to discuss this process within the wider social and political context of life in Europe, especially the ways that the contemporary Alevi interpretation of Islam may be shaped by the experience of the diaspora community in Europe. It will also consider the possible implications of the fact that that international institutions, such as the European Commission, have begun to draw attention to the place of minority religious groups in Turkey. It is proposed that field visits take place to west and central Turkey, and also to Europe, including Germany, where the majority of the Alevi migrant population is found. It is also requested, for the purposes of comparison, that one of the field trips should be permitted to concentrate on a further group, the Yezidis, who though smaller, appear to possess certain similarities with the Alevi community. This activity will be accompanied by extensive literature and internet surveys, as well as close co-operation with a Heidelberg research team, who have kindly offered to share our mutual findings.

The Alevis have migrated in substantial numbers to Europe in the last four decades. In the new urban setting, Alevi civil society organisations have emerged which variously seek to codify, reformulate and propagate Alevi religion and culture. Though varied, one notable instance of this movement is the Alevi Federation in Köln, which has recently won recognition from several German regions to organise Alevi teachings in German schools, and they are actively working on the development of an appropriate Alevi studies curriculum and its associated text-books. Though in itself extremely complex, this codification of Alevi doctrine is bringing into focus the traditional variety of Alevi thought and custom in ways that had not previously been thought problematic. The place of sacred dance, the ritual calendar, the role of inherited sanctity, and the relationship of Alevi thought to Islam as a whole is becoming contested and debated. This ongoing debate, which is pursued online through notice boards, web-sites and net broadcasts and in smaller gatherings, as well as in meetings and discussions within Alevi associations, is further relevant in that the Alevis' recognition as a distinct religious group is becoming increasingly part of the domestic political agenda in Turkey.