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Subproject C7

Transfer of Rituals within Marginalized Religious Groups in Islamic Societies of the Near East and in the Diaspora

Department and Research Field: Islamic Studies

Subproject Management

Prof. Dr. Michael Ursinus

Seminar für Sprachen und Kulturen des Vorderen Orients
Sandgasse 7
69117 Heidelberg
Phone: +49 (0) 6221 - 54 29 69
Fax: +49 (0) 6221 - 54 29 63


Janina Karolewski M.A.

resigned Sep. 30, 2011

Dr. Robert Langer

Project Program


Subproject C7 researches the (re-) construction and innovation of rituals among the Alevis and Yezidis in the context of translocal, transregional and transnational migration as well as the related processes of rituals transfer and reception. Based on a broad range of sources, we will investigate new and changing rituals and conduct a synchronic as well as diachronic analysis of their respective ritual traditions and surroundings. On the one hand, we will explore the agency-providing groups and the way they live reflexivity in a discursive and performative manner. On the other hand, we will document indigenous, often legitimatory as well as identity-creating, processes of development, canonization and standardization of ritual building blocks and complexes. These processes mostly take place in the course of institutionalizations and their interdependency with science placed them in the focus of subproject C7.

The research on the Alevis extends across the rural and urban regions of today’s Republic of Turkey and its neighboring Bulgarian, Syrian and Iraqi regions as well as German Diaspora centers, e.g. in Berlin or Stuttgart. Our research on the Yezidis spans Northern Iraq, Armenia and Germany.

Processes of ritual transfer and reception:
Our investigation of the processes of ritual transfer and reception includes the following aspects:
1) The transfer of knowledge within as well as beyond the groups.
2) The form and combination of transmission processes (oral, written, mimetic-performative).
3) The effects of these transfer and transmission processes for cultural knowledge on ritual complexes and the instrumentalization of these processes in the scope of social dynamics.
4) In addition, the negotiating of power structures, in particular of ritual agency and its assignment to different, historically determinable individuals and groups of actors.
5) Last but not least, the reflexive dimensions of such cognitive socializing processes.

Research on ritual history:
We strive to follow reception processes within as well as beyond the groups with a "longue durée" approach, ensuring a substantial contribution to the research on the religious history of the Near East in general and the ritual history of Anatolia in particular. For our research, we divided the timeframe from the beginning of written documentation in Islamic Anatolia up to the present time into three phases:

1) from the closing years of the Middle Ages to the first modernization phase of the 19th century;
2) from the late Ottoman Empire at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, and subsequent era of nation-states, to the early 1990s;
3) the postmodern times.

Combining research methods:
Our research includes the following sources and approaches:

  • Samples from influential actors of the last fifty years (spiritual actors, functionaries, intellectuals), such as biographical interviews, autobiographies and other personal accounts as well as documentation from our own field research.
  • Oral history survey
  • Individual handwritten documentation from within the groups (textualizations and transcriptions) from private hands or public archives (for more information, please visit
  • Performances on media (radio, TV, and in particular internet platforms such as YouTube).
  • Modern discourses: print works, radio and TV programs, internet sources.

Entering its third phase, subproject C7 will emphasize the inclusion of historical manuscripts from the Alevi context, which only recently became accessible. Furthermore, we will try to trace the transmission of ritual practice with a case-based approach, looking at an Alevi village in South-West Anatolia and the groups who migrated from there to Turkey and Germany. At this point, our innovative approach of combined research methods comes to the fore: researching ethnographical as well as written sources ensures the reciprocal contextualization of historic and recent data.

Main Topics

Ritual transfer (synchronic and diachronic research on ritual traditions)

Transmission and reception of rituals (analyzing the transmission of ritual knowledge)

Ritual grammar (analyzing historic and recent descriptions and documentations of rituals)

Reflexivity (participatory observation of ritual performances; comparing indigenous sources and discourses with the rituals; analyzing the role of science)