Institut für den Nahen und Mittleren Osten
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Vigilanzkulturen

Researchers: Dr. Eda Güçlü, Prof.Dr. Christoph K. Neumann

In May 2019, The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has established 14 new Collaborative Research Centres (CRCs) to further support top-level research in German universities, among them CRC "Cultures of Vigilance. Transformations – Spaces – Practices" brings together perspectives from history and law, ethnology, the history of medicine and literature, art and theatre studies. It will seek to clarify how individuals are culturally motivated and guided with regard to vigilance. It also aims to find out how they interact with political and social incentive systems as well as technical and institutional capabilities. (LMU Munich, Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Arndt Brendecke). One project is contributed by the chair of Turkish Studies.

The Double Bond of Lovers: Social and spiritual regimes of dervishes in Istanbul during the long nineteenth century

In the nineteenth century, the majority of Istanbul’s male Muslim inhabitants had an affiliation with at least one mystical order. This spiritual quest was understood as one of ‘love’ (aşḳ), first to God, then, by extension, to the master and other disciples. Therefore, Sufis habitually referred to themselves as ‘lovers’ (‘āşıḳ, pl. ‘uşşāḳ). Consequently, self-examination as fight against the desires of the carnal soul in order to attain spiritual perfection was at the center of Sufi practice. The project investigates the double bond between disciples and their order, materialized in the form of control mechanisms in urban space: Orders suggested modes of conduct to their affiliates that were, firstly, socially enforced and, secondly, reinforced and legitimized by the spiritual relation between master and disciple. Sufi practices of self-examination thus created distinctive modes of vigilance. The practice of monitoring a Sufi was carried out by the sheikh and, by extension, by brothers and sisters. This means that they were all bonded together, albeit hierarchically, in a relationship of ‘love’ on their way to spiritual perfection. The sub-project examines this set of bonds within the social context of spiritual and social vigilance. Hence the title ‘The Double Bond of Lovers’.

Sufi convents were an important part of city life in Istanbul. They attracted followers from diverse social backgrounds, including Islamic scholars (ʽulemā), bureaucrats and military personal of all ranks, artisans, notables, the poor, and women. Practitioners of Sufism, as possessors of mystical knowledge, were important actors in framing the religious and moral order in the city. Our project places dervish lodges into the larger context of urban life and examines them as places of spiritual and moral education. The doctrines, rules and practices of mystical orders (ṭarîḳat âdâb ve erkânı) contributed greatly to the social conventions of morals and manners of the Muslim population. The sub-project concentrates on three orders of particular importance in the Ottoman capital: Naḳşbendīye, Mevlevīye and Ḫalvetīye.

The sub-project examines moral and spiritual vigilance in connection with four topics: (A) Sufi subjectivity in self-narratives, (B) rituals and doctrines of spiritual vigilance, (C) Sufi networks in urban space, and (D) the emerging public sphere and the bureaucratization of Sufism. The first of these topics (A) relates to the processes in which Sufi subjectivity was constructed in order to understand the practices of self-examination as the basis of Sufi vigilance. Sources are self-narratives and other ego-documents produced by Sufis. Sufi subjectivity must be read against the doctrinal teachings and ritual practices of the respective orders, the second topic (B). Teaching and experience informed each other. The third topic (C) investigates the social construction and performance of Sufi vigilance in its spatial context, which is indispensable for a fuller understanding of Sufi vigilance. Therefore, the sub-project aims to locate Sufi practices in the city and show how practitioners of Sufism contributed to the social production of space and an urban culture of vigilance. Fourthly, the participation of Sufis in social space cannot be grasped completely without addressing the questions of the public sphere and bureaucratization of Sufism (D). In the nineteenth century, the emerging modern public of Istanbul necessitated continuous recalibration of the performance and articulation of religious behavior. Mystical Islam had simultaneously to obey the rules of the modern public and those of the divine secret into which every Sufi had been initiated.


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