Column » By the Book
by JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE for ISLAMiCommentary on MAY 12, 2014:
How much do we know about Turkey’s minority community of Alevi Muslims? What are their struggles and aspirations – past and present? And, how do they figure in Turkey’s vigorous debates about history, identity, citizenship, and pluralism? Kabir Tambar takes a close look at the Turkish Alevis in his impressive new book, The Reckoning of Pluralism: Political Belonging and the Demands of History in Turkey (Stanford University Press, 2014).
Kabir Tambar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University. After earning his Ph.D. in 2009 from the University of Chicago, Tambar taught in the Department of Religion at the University of Vermont. He also served as a member in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey from 2011-2012. His scholarly work has appeared in History of the Present: A Journal of Critical History, American Ethnologist, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, and Public Culture.
Kabir Tambar discusses his new book in this exclusive interview.
Who are the Turkish Alevis and why are they struggling to get government recognition?
Alevis are a sizable religious minority in Turkey (reportedly about 15%), with deep historical connections to Shi‘i Islamic communities and the Bektaşi Sufi order. Since the 1990s, Alevi groups have collectively asserted themselves in Turkey’s urban centers, performing their communal rituals in public and making demands on the state for access to governmental resources from which they have long been systematically excluded. In my book, I suggest that the question is not whether Alevis should be recognized, but how they have been recognized. What are the categories that the state uses to classify different populations and render them intelligible to governmental rationalities? What sorts of aesthetic contexts are supported by the state, and how does this official support work to privilege certain expressions of collective belonging at the expense of others? In short, how do state authorities mobilize forms of knowledge, aesthetics, and emotion to define and cultivate acceptable expressions of religious difference? Continue reading