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Historical Critique and the Thresholds of Political Voice After the Ottoman Empire

A CPSC lecture by Kabir Tambar, Stanford University, Anthropology.

Kabir Tambar is an anthropologist of the Middle East and Muslim world. His work has developed at the intersection of the anthropology of religion and political anthropology. He has written essays on the vicissitudes of secular political identities, on contemporary appropriations of and challenges to Turkish nationalism, and on the politics of devotional affect in Alevi Muslim contexts.

Tambar is currently completing a book that centers on the politics of pluralism in contemporary Turkey. The debate about pluralism has generated explosive public argument about the promises of the state-directed modernist project and the form of secular-national citizenship it inscribed. Held to be the basis of political order for much of the twentieth century, statist notions of secularism and nationalism have more recently been drawn into the arena of political dispute as contested ideologies in their own right. Yet if disputes about pluralism have thrown open the constitutive determinants of political modernity, then what notions of political order are being established in their wake? What do those notions owe to the powers of the modern state purportedly being challenged? The analysis examines the case of Turkey’s Alevi community. In the course of past century Alevis have been subjected to episodes of sectarian hostility, questioned as to their loyalty to the state, and yet also championed by state ideologues as bearers of the nation’s folkloric heritage. Alevis today are often summoned by political officials to publicly display their religious traditions as evidence of the modernist project’s historical integrity and continuing viability. Focused on the ambivalence of this political incorporation, the book explores the intimate coupling of violence and modern political belonging, of domination and political inclusion.

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