Doctoral defence: Helen Haas "Alevis in contemporary Izmir: imaginaries, beliefs and practices regarding Hacı Bektaş Veli"

On 23 August at 14:15 Helen Haas will defend her doctoral thesis "Alevis in contemporary Izmir: imaginaries, beliefs and practices regarding Hacı Bektaş Veli" for obtaining the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (in Religious Studies).


Professor Catharina Raudvere, University of Copenhagen (Denmark)

Doctor Elo Süld, University of Tartu


Doctor Hege Irene Markussen, University of Lund (Sweden)


Alevis are recognized in the European diaspora as a religious minority group and a separate religion; however, in Turkey, they have remained in the status of "heterodox" Islam and "folk religion". While the historical roots of Alevis reach the military confrontation between Ottoman Turkey and Safavid Iran, modern self-awareness began to take shape in the early 1990s, when the so-called Alevi revival broke. Since then, among other issues, religious self-determination and identity questions have been continuously discussed among the Alevis. The Alevi community in Izmir, originating in the provinces of Eastern Turkey and representing Turkish and Kurdish Alevis, considers itself to represent authentic and unadulterated Islam. This original Islam and true knowledge is seen as inherited through careful transmission by the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad to their followers. Due to urbanization and migration, a unique spiritual leader-follower relationship, where on the one hand, holy bloodlines descended from the Prophet as spiritual leaders and on the other hand, their followers are distinguished, has changed but not disappeared. Spiritual guidance is still permitted only to the descendants of the holy bloodlines, which are abundantly represented in the community of Izmir today. According to this, in addition to the active cultural life, ritual gatherings (ayin-i cem) occur regularly in the community's assembly house (cemevi). One of the descendants of the Prophet who lived near Cappadocia in the 13th century is Hacı Bektaş Veli. His traditional biography and teachings have acquired the status of holy scripture in Izmir, quoted more than the Koran. Initially the founder and sheik of the Bektashi brotherhood, he became a saint over time, becoming the saint of saints and the most crucial miracle worker among many Alevis. In Izmir, his position is comparable to that of Imam Ali and the 12 Imams; he is considered their reincarnation. Also, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, for example, is occasionally regarded as the reincarnation of the saint. The creation of a secular Turkish republic, when medieval mystics were promoted as humanists and philosophers, did not diminish Bektaş's importance as a saint. Instead, according to the findings in Izmir, it has expanded Bektaş's influence and reach as a saint, giving him the fame of a chosen one and a wise man who lived ahead of his time. In Izmir, there is also a belief in Bektaş as a manifestation of God. As a result, pilgrimages to his tomb in Hacıbektaş are an essential part of contemporary Alevi religious life; this small town is considered "our Mecca", an attitude that introduces a sharp contrast with "orthodox" Islam and its traditions. The cult of Hacı Bektaş Veli, through which the main principles of the Alevi "path" are reflected, has become a connecting link and a means of religious self-expression for Alevis of different backgrounds.

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