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Religious Minorities, Sacred Space and Heritage in Transition in the Middle East

Friday, April 23, 2021, 3:00 pm – Saturday, April 24, 2021, 6:00 pm

Religious Minorities, Sacred Space and Heritage in Transition in the Middle East

The Cultural Heritage Studies Program, Central European University and Religious Studies Department, Leipzig University

23 - 24 April 2021 (15.00 – 18.00, CET)

Organizers: Eszter Spät, Central European University & Benjamin Raßbach, Leipzig University

Sacred space, whether materialized in the form of man-made structures or in natural sites plays a pivotal role in the religio-cultural heritage of all religious communities in the Middle East. Places considered imbued by the divine in one way or another have traditionally functioned as the centers of ritual and spiritual life. As such, they contributed to the formation and preservation of group identity and communal memory, especially among religious minorities who may have had only limited capacity of publicly expressing/affirming their religious heritage. Some sacred space may be shared between different religious groups, often leading to syncretic practices and creating an intricate network of social ties. In other cases, such spots may be(come) the sites of inter- and intra-communal contestation and power-struggle, highlighting the complex relation between different religious communities, ethnic groups and social segments.

The way sacred space is used and conceptualized has never been static, despite claims to tradition, but reflects the various internal and external challenges encountered by the different faith groups and the strategies employed to cope with them. Social and cultural transformation, urbanization, political upheavals, persecution, forced migration and diasporization all impact the way sacred space is imagined, (re-)created, shared or appropriated by the various communities all over the Middle East and in the Western diaspora.

This online workshop aims to bring together experts studying different aspects of sacred space as religious heritage in the Middle East, talking about their research in the cyber space at a time when sharing physical space is not possible.

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23 April, Friday

15.00 Markus Dreßler (Leipzig University): Welcome and Introduction

15.15 – 16.45: Yezidi Sacred Space, Identity and Heritage

Chair: Khanna Omarkhali (Free University of Berlin)

Sebastian Maisel (Leipzig University): Reversing Trends of Religious Appropriation: The Reclaiming of Religious Space for the Ezidi Community (20 min.)

Benjamin Raßbach (Leipzig University): Yezidi Sacred Space – Kurdish Nationalist Approaches and Religious Revival (20 min.)

Eszter Spät (Central European University): Sheikh Mend Should also Have a Shrine! Yezidi Sacred Space, Displacement and Identity (20 min.)

Discussion (30 min.)

16.45 – 17.05 Coffee break

17.05 – 18.05: Sacred Sites, Secular Lives

Chair: Erzsébet N. Rózsa (National University of Public Service)

Ahmet Kerim Gültekin (Leipzig University): Kurdish Alevi Sacred Places (Jiares) and the Contemporary Environmental Struggles in Dersim (20 min.)

Edith Szanto (University of Alabama): The Making of Shi'ite Sacred Space in Syria (20 min.)

Discussion (30 min.)


24 April, Saturday

15.00 – 16.30: Sharing, Contesting, Reclaiming

Chair: Markus Dreßler (Leipzig University)

Laila Prager (University of Hamburg): Challenging Alawite Pilgrimage Sites in Turkey: Interreligious battlefields for authenticity and territoriality (20 min.)

Mustafa Diktaş (New Europe College, Bucharest):  Mar Jiryes Al Batiyeh: A Shared Shrine in Lebanon (20 min.)

Çiçek İlengiz (MPI for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversiy, Göttingen): Political and Spiritual Legacies of Sharing Love: The Love-Pilgrimage of Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi (1207-1273) (20 min.)

Discussion (30 min.)

16.30 – 16.50: Coffee break

16.50 – 18.00: Sacred Space Reconfigured

Chair: Khanna Omarkhali (Free University of Berlin)

Christine Robins (Allison) (University of Exeter): Configuring Sacred Space in Diaspora: The Case of the Sabian Mandaeans (20 min.)

Robert Langer (Bundeswehr University Munich): Zoroastrian Shrines in Iran: Between Ancient Roots and Modern Functionality (20 min.)

Discussion (30 min.)