Incorporating Alevis: The Transformation of Governance and Faith-Based Collective Action in Turkey

Thesis Type:

PhD dissertation


This dissertation is about the ongoing transformation of the Turkish state's incorporative policies vis-à-vis the Alevis and the subsequent faith-based collective action of the Alevis through their nonprofit organizations. The data were collected during eighteen months of ethnographic field research between 1998 and 2001 in Istanbul's Alevi organizations. I identify Alevi associations and foundations that have, for the most part, emerged within the last fifteen years, as the locus of both the state's incorporative policies and the subsequent collective action of the Alevis. Since Alevi accommodation of and resistance to official policies take shape in these organizations, I present them as key sites to observe the imperfect implementation and the unintended consequences of the state's incorporative policies. By focusing on the interaction taking place in, around, and through these organizations, I assess the limits and the successes of the emerging discourse and regime of governance in Turkey. Overall, I show that the manifested regime and discourse of incorporation are the end result of the complex interaction between official policies, their formulations, expressions, and imperfect implementation on the one side, and the Alevi organizations' strategies of reacting against, contesting, negotiating, accommodating, and cooperating with the official policies on the other. In an attempt to explore the overall transformation of governance I focus on highly intimate and localized values such as prejudices, stereotypes, and beliefs concerning heresy, sexual perversion, impurity, and bestiality. Since the implementation of incorporative policies depends on the practices, discourses, and attitudes of state functionaries who are predominantly Sunni, the outcome of the Alevis' interaction with the agents and agencies of the state is often guided and shaped by sectarian values. To throw light on the dynamics of such unpredictable encounters, I show different instances in which the Alevis and Sunnis creatively rework their beliefs, values, cosmologies, and faiths to accommodate, facilitate, or impede incorporation. I conclude that as a result of the interaction not only the Turkish state's service provision in, and the control and regulation of the field of religion are challenged, but also the Alevi belief and practice, and consequently, the Alevi subjectivities are irrevocably altered.

Publisher's Version