• Shared Holy Spaces

    From atila21oguz@gmail.com@21:1/5 to All on Wed Dec 30 16:25:41 2015
    From the article below:

    "There are today in the post-Ottoman world, just to take one example, countless sacred sites that are venerated by more then one religious group. Shared sacred sites are religious sanctuaries where people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds
    are able to live with difference, accommodate to each other's religious needs and negotiate in public their otherness."



    Karen Barkey
    Professor of Sociology and History at Columbia University

    Shared Holy Spaces


    We live in a world where religion has forcefully burst into the public arena, where religious divisions are salient, and where religion is perceived or discussed as the cause of numerous conflicts in the modern world. Religion is often the identity that
    people use to rally communities together, resulting in the formation of bounded and closed identities and significant network closure.

    As we focus on the narratives and the news of violence we often ignore that in many places where ethnic and religious conflict and violence occur, there has also been long periods of peace and coexistence. We tend to forget that Hindus and Muslims, Jews
    and Muslims, Muslims and Christians, Sunni and Shi'ia and many other divided groups have accommodated to each other for long periods of history.

    Not only the Mediterranean basin, but South Asia, the Middle East and Africa have been sites where diversity has engendered coexistence, inter-religious peace and harmony as directed by enlightened leaders and/or initiated on the ground through the
    collaboration and efforts of peoples defined by their difference.

    As such, groups of different ethnic and religious experience often shared secular and sacred resources, space and beliefs. However, given the prevalence of conflict today, we would be hard-pressed to imagine religious spaces, churches, shrines, mosques
    and mausoleums that are shared by more then one religious and ethnic group.

    There are today in the post-Ottoman world, just to take one example, countless sacred sites that are venerated by more then one religious group. Shared sacred sites are religious sanctuaries where people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds
    are able to live with difference, accommodate to each other's religious needs and negotiate in public their otherness.

    The sharing of spaces and traditions by multiple religious communities demonstrate the numerous and varied practices and possibility of accomodation between potentially antagonistic communities, and the study of such sharing provides key insights into
    characteristics and features crucial to the cultivation of tolerance and understanding.

    Hundreds of such sites can be counted in historical sources and many still continue to be shared despite the often violent "unmixing of peoples" and nationalizing policies of nation-states that emerged in the post imperial, post colonial world. Practices
    of sharing religious space have survived in both urban and rural settings, showing their rich and textured fabric of mixed traditions, amalgamated narratives and jointly incorporated superstitions and beliefs. In these spaces where people still mix, they
    constantly innovate within a traditional practice, they add on, they rationalize and explicate to make sense to themselves and their interlocutors why they belong, why they keep coming and appropriate what is different or why they welcome the "other."

    It is in this production that I am interested in, historical and contemporary, aiming to carry out a study of how and why people enter structured situations that are defined by difference and construct meanings to appropriate this difference in shared
    sacred spaces across time along the history of the Ottomans and modern Turkey, Greece and the Balkans. We can start with a few preliminary statements about the contemporary features of sharing sacred places in Turkey and especially in Istanbul in the
    21st century.

    In Istanbul, Greek Orthodox churches are an important site of religious mixing between Christians and Muslims who share devotion to the space. These Greek Orthodox sites often share the common feature that they all have a spring or a source of "holy
    water" (ayasma) that brings blessings, cures illness and provides health to worshippers. The legend of the benefits of these sources of holy water was established in Ottoman, Byzantine and even in pre-Byzantine times. Each ayasma has a particular history,
    a narrative of discovery and is referred to in various historical descriptions. The discovery is associated with a miracle of curing an illness often of a dignitary, who then establishes a church in the said location. The benefits of the water and the
    sacrality of the space are transmitted from generation to generation, through multiple accounts. It is through such processes of inter-generational transmission that these spaces have survived, even as social and political change led to much unmixing
    with the loss of religious pluralism on the ground.

    First, such practices are part of an Ottoman legacy of sorts. Possessing tremendous religious, ethnic, and linguistic diversity, the Ottoman Empire (1299-1923) gave rise to many forms of coexistence (peaceful or otherwise) that now offer us a genuine
    laboratory of research possibilities that have yet to be exhausted. There is ample proof that the Ottoman empire is still relevant to discussions of diversity and that the millet organization of religious communities is understood as a relatively
    successful historical example of ruling diversity.

    One of the ways that this diversity expressed itself was through the explicit sharing of sacred sanctuaries, whether they were Christian, Muslim or even Jewish. Therefore, it is clear that there is the effect of a long standing cultural and religious
    symbiosis, a society that has for many centuries had a high level of Muslim Christian interaction and has developed certain ritual practices which could be seen as partially "syncretic"--symbols have been absorbed and exchanged overtime, without a full
    merging of religious traditions. Such similarities between practices, traditions and meanings attest to a larger cultural field that has been articulated over centuries, that collected ways of doing things, habits, skills and dispositions; local
    knowledge about cures, remedies; forms of instruction and learning passed down through generations.

    Many visitors to shared sites nowadays mention Ottoman practice, their ancestors, their immediate grandparents and family as embedded in these common solutions to daily life and in rituals of sharing. A young Muslim woman who came to Vefa, a Greek
    Orthodox Church in Istanbul, with her friends told of how her grandmother use to visit churches and take her when she was a young girl, but then added "no self-respecting Istanbullu lives here and does not know about the many churches. It is part of the
    mix of Istanbul. We go to church, we go to yatiris (Muslim shrines). This touring from site to site brings us closer to understanding each other."

    The compilation of such modes of doing represents the habitus of the Ottoman lands, the semi-conscious solutions and instincts that made people navigate their daily lives by participating in multiple different religious and cultural institutions at once,
    facilitated by the fluidity of boundaries and the multivocality of messages. People explicitly bring back the memories of these past practices as they were carried out by their ancestors and share a sense of nostalgia for the past. Such nostalgia is
    exacerbated by the new revival of Ottoman "everything" that plays to the emotional memory of people and represents the past as simply magnificent.

    As the new Ottomania plays out in the media, in the politics of the AKP who claim Ottoman history, especially the glory and toleration, and in the cultural production of Turkish society, it is appropriated for different purposes. Even in territories
    where such Ottoman nostalgia does not operate, the historical and cultural memory of an Ottoman past remains in the habitus of the generations that have experienced the transition from empire to nation-state.

    Another context for this participation is contemporary politics. In a manner that reminds us of Michel de Certeau's analysis of everyday forms of resistance (1988), people engage in practices of sharing, some trying to subtly subvert, others to affirm
    their understanding of the system. This is especially expressed by many secular, middle to upper class participants for whom sharing is a rebellious response to the Sunnification of Turkey; remembering a multi-ethnic past, reproducing a multi-cultural
    setting through involvement is a way to oppose the policies of AKP, even though AKP uses the same rhetoric of the multi-religious past and toleration to claim a continuity between such Ottoman practices and Turkey under AKP rule. Yet, many participants
    were eager to separate themselves from the AKP claims and say: "We lived for so long in a multi-cultural society - nobody will take this away from us,"--this is a statement against the contemporary politics of Sunnification and Islamic revival. As such
    sacred spaces known for their diversity and inclusive traditions have come to represent a form of secular opposition.

    Far from the politics of secular opposition the same churches are also visited by an increasingly religious Sunni population who have become aware of the benefits of these religious spaces and come to make wishes and get some holy water. Such supplicants
    are mostly religious women who might come to this space they define as belonging to an "other" but where their practical and rational interests help them cross religious boundaries for prosperity, progeny and a sense of general well-being that derives
    from being blessed by a Greek priest. In such cases, such attendance is not a subversion of the system, but a particular lens into a hierarchy of ethnic and religious pluralism.

    To conclude, it is imperative to explore the phenomenon of sharing sacred religious spaces in modern cities, though this has to be done with an eye to the historical, practical and political considerations that are embedded in such practices. These
    spaces represent diversity, but the social and cultural meanings attributed to the diversity can often be complicated and contradictory.

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