American Ethnological Society
Oral Presentation Session
Turkish Alevis practice a ritual called muhabbet which involves the exchange of religious knowledge through sung poetry and conversation and is commonly referred to as the “marketplace of love.” Traditionally this exchange took place within relatively exclusive networks which formed around saint shrines connected by caravan routes in Anatolia. Today some Alevis living in Europe frame this idea of knowledge exchange in terms of a Eurocentric cosmopolitan universalism that aspires to a borderless, stateless world. Many of these Alevis find that the metaphors describing knowledge exchange in Alevi poetry, which draw from associations with traditional Anatolian caravan economies, map conveniently onto modern European ideas of multicultural exchange. They even draw parallels between imaginaries of exchange in early modern Anatolia and early capitalism in the Low Countries of Europe. This paper examines how these imaginaries of knowledge exchange play out in the staging of a muhabbet ritual in Antwerp, Belgium for a mixed Turkish and Belgian public. It argues that these Alevis construct themselves both as ethical subjects of the Alevi religious path and as model European citizens by performing a certain moral egalitarian publicness in the staged muhabbet ritual. Given Alevis’ history of secrecy and exclusivity, a key aspect of performing this publicness is their negotiation of the boundaries of what should be said where, when, and to whom.