From Whirling to Combatting: Contesting Experiences of Mevlevi Sufism in 21st Century Turkey

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 15:15
Location: Hörsaal 42 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Nevin SAHIN, Yildirim Beyazit University, Turkey
Mevlevi Sufism, which is one of the oldest Sufi traditions in Anatolia dating back to the 13th century, ceased to practice its sema ritual due to regulations by the new republic in 1925. Since then, neither Rumi lost its prominence as a mystic poet and Sufi master, nor was the ritual forgotten. Starting from 1970s, the sema ritual regained recognition on the level of the state, which eventually resulted in the registration of the ritual as cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2008. However, this rising attention brought about the commodification and politicization of the ritual. On the one hand, the state started benefitting from the whirling dervish as an icon representing the country for tourism and turned certain sema performances into political meetings; on the other hand, organizers manipulated whirling dervishes as dancers entertaining tourists together with belly dancers. When there was a clash between the state power and the opposing youth in Gezi Park in 2013, there came again a whirling dervish with a gas mask on. Mevlevi Sufism has evolved into a field of interplays of power among actors comprised by performers, organizers, the audience and the state. This presentation aims at analyzing the power relations contesting over a Sufi ritual and contesting interpretations of Mevlevi identity in the 21st century Turkey. The data forming the basis for the analysis was collected throughout an 18-month ethnographic fieldwork in Turkey and Europe, among circles where sema ritual is performed, consumed and criticized.