Contestations, conflicts and music-power: mevlevi sufism in the 21st century Turkey

Şahin, Nevin
Established as a Sufi order in central Anatolia following the death of Rumi, Mevlevi Sufism has influenced the spirituality of people for over 8 centuries. Having strong ties with the Ottoman state, Mevlevi Sufism gradually moved from a Sufi order into a historicity subject to museumification, cultural heritage of national and international value, and stage performance for tourist attraction. This transition was triggered by the law no. 677 implemented in 1925 for the closure of Sufi lodges and convents. Bringing the dervish lineage and Sufi service to an end, the law also played role on the contemporary discussions regarding Mevlevi Sufism. While practitioners of Mevlevi music reject a Mevlevi identity, the state embraces Mevlevi Sufism with a claim of state visibility in issues like cultural heritage and spiritual tourism. This duality between the state and practitioners on the one hand reflect the conflicting modes of spirituality within the order, and on the other hand affect the contemporary controversies concerning the claim of conserving the centuries old tradition. The data collected through an ethnographic field research of 15 months among Sufi circles and performances in different parts of Turkey and Europe reveal that state institutions, non-governmental foundations, entrepreneurs, stage performers and the audience as actors are politically involved in the field of struggle for power in Bourdieusian sense over the sema field. The interplays of power reflect the circularity of Mevlevi Sufism which is influenced by even the earliest religious practices and is embodied in the circular movement of whirling dervishes.