Islam and the Humanities

Conference 2015

Mahiye Seçil Dağtaş

Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Waterloo

Temporal Horizons and Aesthetic Formations of Religious Difference in Antakya

This paper examines the temporal horizons and aesthetic formations of religious difference in Antakya, a city near Turkey’s Syrian border populated by Arabs and Turks of Sunni, Alawi, Jewish, and Orthodox Christian backgrounds. In the context of my larger project on the institutional regulation and daily negotiations of ethno-religious diversity in the city through artistic and political representations of tolerance, the paper examines how Antakya’s urban space mediates multiple temporalities and ideologies of governance, and projects the future-oriented imagination of a multi-religious past onto the city’s physical, social, and political space. In particular, I demonstrate how the urban renewal projects targeting the Jewish and Christian quarters of the city’s historical marketplace displace non-Muslim merchants while celebrating their religious identities as “tolerated,” pointing towards a particular form of political aesthetics that produces new religious boundaries through its invocations of tolerance. Referred to by scholars as the regime of tolerance, pluralism, or neo-Ottomanism, this politics amalgamates the nostalgia for the vision, taste, and moral values of the multi-religious Ottoman Empire with the rules and requirements of an Islam-oriented neoliberalism in Turkey. Drawing on my engagements with Jewish, Christian, and Alawi dwellers of the city and the marketplace, I show how and why an imperial model of diversity, once conceived and theorized in opposition to the secular nation-states, is becoming increasingly compatible with both nationalism and liberal accounts of cultural difference in the city. I argue that the political production of religious difference in Antakya needs to be addressed as a multi-layered and historically emergent process, which builds on the unifying and fragmenting aspects of nation building.

Mahiye Seçil Dağtaş  is a socio-cultural anthropologist at the University of Waterloo. She did her PhD in Anthropology and the Collaborative Program in Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto, following her MA at York University and her BA at Boğaziçi University. Her research explores the construction and negotiation of religious difference and secular politics in Turkey’s border with Syria.