Irene Markoff

Session 6, Saturday 14th, 10:50-12:20 pm
Session 8, Saturday 14th, 3:20-4:50 pm
Location: University of Alberta, Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, Room 1-140

Polysemics, Proxemics, and Portability in the Construction of Alevi/Bektashi Rituals and Ritual Space in Transnational Perspective: Reconfirming and Revitalizing Group Identity and Solidarity through Collective Remembering and Expressive Culture



Markoff photo225

Drawing on textual sources and extensive ethnographic research conducted in Turkey, Bulgaria, (the Eastern Rhodope Mountains and the Deli Orman regions), and Canada, this presentation sheds light on the reconfiguration and revitalization of Bektashi, Babai, and Kızılbaş spirituality, identity, rituals, and ritual spaces in Bulgaria’s changing sociopolitical climate and increasing ties to a transnational Alevi/Bektashi network. It examines the historical roots of these “metadox” groups, and explores links with other related Sufi/Shi’ite-oriented communities in Turkey and elsewhere. The talk focuses on the varied nature and changing use of sacred space in open and closed religious rituals (cemler). More importantly, however, it discusses the interaction between expressive culture and sacred space through the important role of musical expression featuring the long-necked lute (bağlama/saz, referred to as the “stringed Qur’an” or telli Kuran) that accompanies sacred movement (semah) and the ritual poetry of sacred hymns (nefesler and deyişler) that forms the “backbone” of ceremonies by recalling, dramatizing and reinforcing knowledge of religious lineage, primary saints and poets (aşıklar), Sufi and Shi’ite heritage, in addition to symbols, teachings, and theological motifs that reference the belief system. Audio-visual materials will accompany the presentation.



Irene Markoff received her PhD degree in Music (ethnomusicology) from the University of Washington in 1986 and currently teaches music studies courses and performance at York University in Toronto. She also contributes to the Graduate Program in Music, directs a Balkan Music Ensemble, and teaches private lessons in Balkan/Turkish vocal styles and Turkish bağlama. Her research interests involve aspects of traditional and popular music of Bulgaria and Turkey in the homeland and diaspora, as well as Islamic mysticism and expressive culture as articulated by the Alevi/Bektashi communities in Turkey, Bulgaria, and Canada. Irene contributed to the Middle East volume of the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music as a consulting editor and with an article on Turkish folk music theory and two articles concerning Alevi expressive culture. A recent article (2009), “Gelin Canlar Bir Olalım: Türkiye’de Alevi-Bektaşȋ Ortak Bilincinde Bağlayıci Güç Olarak Müzik ve Şiir” (Gelin Canlar, Bir Olalim: Music and Poetry as a Binding Force in the Collective Consciousness of Alevis-Bektashis in Turkey) appeared in the book Geçmişten Günümüze Alevi-Bektaşȋ Kültürü, edited by Ahmet Yaşar Ocak and published by T.C. Kültür ve Türizm Bakanlığı Yayınları, in Ankara. Irene has been researching Alevi/Bektashi music and rituals in the eastern Rhodope Mountains of Bulgaria and northern Bulgaria (Deliorman) for a number of years now and serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Interdisciplinary Music and Bulgarski Folklor; she is also a member of the Educational Committee of the Alevi/Bektashi Research Institute (Ankara, Turkey).

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