...for a project between my university and the University of Rome (Tor Vergata) on Post-Secularism.

Hajji Bektash Veli Museum and the Implicit Post-Secularism of Museumisation Processes in Republican Turkey

Using the binary of religion and secularism ‘as a lighter’ in the sense emplyed by Knott in her work ‘Locating Religion’ (2005) I similarly propose to look at public  ritual and religiosity (ın a Turkish context) to shed some light on the issue of the ephemeral and debated issue of post-secularism through a lense that is at the same time abstract/discursive and  grounded in a spatial analysis informed by the work of Henri Lefebvre (1991) that holds the tension of the ‘realandimagined’ (Soja 1996) in mind and the play between those who constuct, perceive and live space. The approach here is towards an appreciation of the inevtaible mutual implication and therefore imbrication of secularism and religion as inseparable, which is  in itself a post-secular insight.

The shrine/museum of Hajji Bektash Veli in Central Anatolia is a particular theatre for the outplaying of secular, religious, post-secular and perhaps proto-secular discourses via spatial action, memorialisaton and, most importantly, museumisation. This location has a particularly long and interesting history in Anatolia that lends itself to a very particular unique encounter with modernity and secularism, a seemingly proto-secular discourse that makes its emergence into a post-secular Turkey both problematic and fruitfully ambiguous.

The Bektashi tradition bases itself on the teachings of Hajji Bektash (himself a student of one of the most pivotal teachers in Central Asian and Turkish Sufism, Ahmet Yesevi) and his succesors, who served an important role in the Ottoman state as the spiritual leadership of the Jannissary corps, itself a key martial movement in Ottoman history. In the modern city of Hacı Bektaş, the population patronising the shrine cum museum is largely made of the sister body of believers known as Alevis who, while sharing a great deal in common with the Bektashi order, are in fact historically connected to the eastern Anatolian groups known in different historical periods as’ Kizilbash’ or ‘Turcoman’ communities. By contrast, these groups had an adversarial relationship with the Ottoman state and, via their own Shia identity, at times identified with the rival Persian empire. In the republican period, what remained of the Bektashi order since the suppression of the Janissaries in the 19th century went further under ground. However, Alevi identity came to tie itself closely to the secular republican values of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, even giving his image a significant place next to the portraits of Alevism’s key figures such as the family of the Prophet Muhammed, often displayed ın Alevi places of worship.

Like the more internationally known tomb of Mevlana Jelaludin Rumi in Konya, Hajji Bektash is officially a museum in which spatial compromise is negotiated between its historical ’monastic’ roots and veneration by local Alevis, with its museum status and the influx of tourists and others seeking historical value  in an apparently sacred environment. Where, one could ask, can one see the post-secular and the allegedly proto-secular at play in the polyphony of spacial action and discourse, particularly considering that, according to museum staff, there is a renewed interest in the site amongst ‘religious’ people in Turkey and an apparently sustained interest from the Alevi community, historically, despite the closing  of the shrine in 1925 as an active dervish lodge and its very late reopening in 1964 as a museumised shrine and dervish lodge complex. İn the interim, according to official museum sources (http://www.hbektasveli.gazi.edu.tr/site/ingilizce/hbektasing.htm) the lodge was used as an Agricultural school, while the important contents of the building were stored in the Ankara citadel and the Ankara Ethnography Museum until its reopening almost 4 ( increasingly post-secular?) decades later, with yet another set of restorations as recently as 2008-2010.

After some initial field work experiences, I am struck by the analytical potential of the site as one of the lesser known museumised religious spaces in Turkey. It is post-secular in the sense that, despite its overt religiosity, it has slowly returned from the ashes of several decades of official total secularisation (to whatever degree such a thing is possible) to re-emerge as a more ritually relevant site, albeit under the auspices of of a state-approved museumisation/heritage  project, one  that draws on a discourse of the proto-secular and humanist classical Turkish sources, displaying them both objectively and intellectually alongsıde the Universal Declaration of human Rights.

Main Questions, Query Points

The first line of inquiry is undertaken to see (a) ın what way Hajji Bektash museum is a physical, rıtual, narrative and discursive part of a postsecular social wave. Simultaneously, while addressing this it behooves us to ask whether(b) this is a largely elite  issue between the forces of secularism and religion at a more official level (the recent restoration took place as part of a national renovation of Islamic heritage sites under the current religiously inclined AK Party) while perhaps little has changed for the Alevi and Bektashi third parties that have held this site in reverence for centuries and continue to do so. This, of course, raising  questions about subaltern voice and agency. Finally, it is noteworthy that  the official bodies in charge of the site consistently point out, both in person and in the discourse used within the signage of the site, that modern Kemalist values are a contemporary version and fulfillment, if you will, of the 13th century teachings of Hajji Bektash himself which, encapsulated in his 10 principals, encouraged what seem to be Enlightenment and Modernist values such as the equality and education of women and the importance of reason and science as a counterbalance to religiosity. On this basis and that of the Bektashi principals of work and equality, he has been described as a proto-secularist and a proto-socialist by residents of the village and a champion of a sort of secularist Islam by museum officials. It is therefore useful to query (c)the ways in which Secularism and Post-Secularism  both lay claim to tradition as a way to legitimise performance and ownership at Hajji Bektash, a site associated with an alternative Islam, by many, for eight centuries.


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Comment by Logan Sparks on June 28, 2012 at 3:12pm

John thank you for askıng and forgive me for taking so long to respond. Post-secularism has been associated with Habermas (amongst others) who was one of the first big voices to highlight the issue. I think this may seem like an odd issue for many anthropologists because religion has always been important for anthropologists regardless of how they personally felt about religiosity. However, yes, it has been noticed that in the wider world and in the academy, there has been a shift to a re-focus on religion. There is a kind of reemergence but now in dialogue with secularism (or so its being posited by some - I am still working out my own opinions on this). The idea is that modernism separated religion and secularism as if they were really two solid entities when in fact they mutually implied one another in a kind of typical binary. What I am thinking about is whether or not this might not just be an overanalysis of a consistent swing back adn forth between different degrees of rationalism ain human culture over time, where our time is experiencing a swing towards the less rational and the academy is simply picking this up and, naturally, discussing it, experimenting with it etc...Whats more serious is the implication in places like Turkey where there are big issues at stake like civil vs. state/military power. One article I found that looks interesting is this one: http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/post-secular-a...

Comment by John McCreery on June 1, 2012 at 4:37am

Logan, for those of us who haven't been keeping up with these debates, could you say a few words about the significance of "post-secularism"? Are we to envision a religious revival, albeit one informed by secularist concerns?


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