Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2020
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Religion, University of Texas / Austin
Networks of Love: Music and Poetic Discourse in an Alevi Religious Revival

Turkish and Kurdish Alevis make for unusual Muslim subjects. They refuse a transcendent God and locate divinity in themselves as human beings; they reject Islamic law and replace prayer with communal rituals emphasizing music and friendship; and they discard the Qur'an as scripture in favor of the "stringed Qur'an" or saz, a sacred lute used to accompany sung poetry. In short, Alevis "make God with friends." This research investigates how Alevis cultivate friendship as an Islamic form of networked religious intersubjectivity. I focus on two rituals: muhabbet, which aims to foster collective affect through music, conversation, and commensality; and ikrar, which institutionalizes reciprocal obligations within a collective through an oath of initiation. I hypothesize that muhabbet and ikrar are increasingly seen as solutions to the impasses of the secular politics of Alevism, which turns on the state's power to construct Alevism as a bounded object of governance and repeatedly raises the question, debated by Alevis for several decades, of whether Alevism is "inside or outside of Islam." Conducting one year of fieldwork in Ankara, an important node in Alevi "networks of love," I ask: What social, ethical, ritual, musical, and spiritual work do Alevis undertake to constitute each other as divinities?; How do music and friendship figure in Alevis' efforts to negotiate hegemonic secular and Islamic regimes of truth?; and, How do Alevis imagine and represent their friendship networks, and how has Alevis' integration into national and transnational publics – often rendering friends absent from one another – shaped this network imaginary? This study breaks anthropological and ethnomusicological ground by advancing the concept of "aural exemplarity," a non-call-based modality of ethical listening and sounding. I investigate how Alevis use "aural exemplarity" to suspend God's call, materialize value, and develop friendship as a channel for the circulation of divine exemplars.