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Marginalization, Dispossession, and Exclusion

Session X-19, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, December 3 at 5:30 pm

Panel Description
  • In this presentation, I argue that the modern notion of Iranian culture as employed in the public discourses of Iranian Zoroastrians allows them to tackle the dilemma of Shiʿi dominated Iranianness without provoking Shiʿi authorities. I will share an analysis of speech acts documented in Zoroastrian ritual spaces, addressed by mobeds (priests) to the community. The detailed ethnographic data illustrate how Zoroastrians, who consider themselves the authentic Iranians, invoke and enact ties to Zoroaster’s teachings and Iranian heroes to construct ritual performances of origin, superiority, and distinction. By addressing the history of the Arab conquest of Persia, they moreover challenge the Iranian Shiʿi hegemonic norms of Iranian culture that have become the de facto representative of Iranianness. I argue that the Zoroastrian configuration of Iranian culture encodes and evokes pre-Islamic historical tropes and modern nationalist sentiments, constantly maneuvering around national, religious, and ethnic categories to carve out a space for their superior oppositional identity. For them, Iranian culture has become a system for arranging the past, depending upon specific assumptions, narratives, and voices that continue to have powerful platforms in Iranian nationalist imagination.
  • Built into an Orlando Bible theme park are silences and absences that recreate a sanitized Jerusalem, where Palestinians simply never were. On August 2nd of 2021, a Christian health care company bought out the Holy Land Experience, a religious theme park modeled after 1st century Jerusalem. For 20 years, the ‘living biblical museum’ afforded evangelical Christians the opportunity to travel 7000 miles away and 2000 years back in time without ever leaving central Florida. Thus far, scholarly interest in the multi sensorial experience has only focused on aspects of religious ritual and heritage, making almost no mention of the political implications the site carries in relation to settler-colonialism and Palestine, despite the Holy Land Experience’s explicit entanglement with Zionism in its last decade of operation. Drawing on existing literature, popular media accounts and visitor vlogs, I conduct a digital ethnography of the Holy Land Experience as a site and consider the settler-colonial and ahistorical effects it produces in relation to Palestine. At the Holy Land Experience, structured silences and absences are achieved through the co-presence of performances, material artifacts, and merchandise whose conflating temporal and spatial boundaries establish simultaneous Evangelical and Zionist claims to Jerusalem. Moreover, the omission of Palestine and Palestinians undergoing dispossession in Jerusalem from the material and ideological infrastructure of the Holy Land Experience inflicts a different kind of dispossession, a long distance dispossession whereby Palestinians are narratively displaced from Jerusalem’s history. If Palestinians never were, then the ongoing settler-colonial violence they experience can never be. By revealing the settler-colonial and ahistorical effects that connect the mechanically reproduced Holy Land in Orlando to Palestine, I seek to call out and undo the silences that exist around Palestine in cultural heritage and tourism studies and implicate religious theme parks in larger discussions of Zionism and settler-colonialism Sources: Asad, T., 1993. Genealogies of religion: Discipline and reasons of power in Christianity and Islam. JHU Press. El-Haj, N.A., 2003. Reflections on archaeology and Israeli settler-nationhood. Radical History Review, 86(1), pp.149-163. Lukens-Bull, Ronald and Mark Fafard. 2007. Next Year in Orlando: (Re)creating Israel in Christian Zionism. Journal of Religion and Society 9:1-20. Rowan, Yorke. 2004. Repacking the Pilgrimage: Visiting the Holy Land in Orlando. In Marketing Heritage: Archaeology and the Consumption of the Past. Edited by Yorke Rowan and Uzi Baram, 249-266. Walnut Creek: Alta Mira Press. Trouillot, M.R., 2015. Silencing the past: Power and the production of history. Beacon Press. ​
  • This paper tells an on-going story of the Rum Orthodox community in Mazra‘a, a district of Beirut with a history of mixed Muslim-Christian residency up until the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), when the area gradually came under the socio-political influence of Sunni and Shiʿi groups. Today, the Rum in Mazra‘a are a minority in a largely Muslim-inhabited area. Based on ethnographic and urban research carried out between 2020 and 2021, I explore how members of this community negotiate their presence in Mazra‘a at the intersection of real-estate practices, religious activities, and everyday life. I argue that Rum activate memories of a past “Christian Mazra‘a” into a present defined by high precarity in order to envision a future where Christians come back to the area. To this end, the waqf – charitable endowment – of the local church plays a major role, being the second richest Orthodox endowment in Beirut. Beyond just a donation to God to be used in perpetuity, the waqf is (re)defined as a charitable institution catering in times of multilayered crises, as grounds for sectarian renting practices, and as local heritage. Along these overlapping portrayals, the notion of “Rum” emerges as an on-going dynamic process mediated through different representations of sect, parish, and local kinship ties. It is produced by living and being part of networks and infrastructures that sectarian practices create, even within neighborhoods that are demographically diverse. Conversely, being Rum is not always about sectarianism, but about practicality of everyday life, religious practice, and parish life. Going beyond clearly defined conceptual frames allows the construction of narratives on the return of Rum to Mazra‘a as more than just a competition over sectarian influence in the area. Church, locality, family, and sect - all intersect and overlap to weave together a dynamic and often incomplete picture of the ethno-religious presence of Christians in Beirut.
  • Whether in official censuses or media and literature, “Armenians of Turkey” was traditionally seen as equivalent to “Christian Armenians of Turkey.” Armenianness was classified as a non-Muslim minority identity since the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, and thus confined within religious boundaries. However, descendants of Armenians Islamized or Alevized during or soon after the 1915 Armenian Genocide began to publicly emerge as “Muslim” and “Alevi Armenians” in the past few decades. Having been subjected to lineage-based racist treatment, these “unorthodox” Armenians usually hold a primordialist approach to Armenianness, defining it as a “race” (soy/ırk in Turkish) that is independent of religion. They are thus at odds with the Turkish state’s formal classification of Armenianness and with many Christian Armenians’ perception of Armenian identity as being inseparable from Christianity. I discuss the different ways in which Armenianness is treated on the part of the Turkish state and society, and the ways in which it is experienced by Turkey’s Christian and non-Christian Armenians. Such ethnographic examination allows me to reflect on the parallel regimes of religious and racial discrimination in the post-genocidal environment of Turkey, raising further questions about the workings of exclusivist nationalism, about the construction of Turkishness in relation to its many others, and about the extent of racialized thinking in the country.