Writing Religion. The Making of Turkish Alevi Islam

Writing Religion. The Making of Turkish Alevi Islam
Markus Dressler
Oxford University Press, 2013



In the late 1980s, the Alevis, at that time thought to be largely assimilated into the secular Turkish mainstream, began to assert their difference as they never had before. The question of Alevism’s origins and its relation to Islam and to Turkish culture became a highly contested issue. According to the dominant understanding, Alevism is part of the Islamic tradition, although located on its margins. It is further assumed that Alevism is intrinsically related to Anatolian and Turkish culture, carrying an ancient Turkish heritage, leading back into pre-Islamic Central Asian Turkish pasts.

Dressler argues that this knowledge about the Alevis-their demarcation as “heterodox” but Muslim and their status as carriers of Turkish culture-is in fact of rather recent origins. It was formulated within the complex historical dynamics of the late Ottoman Empire and the first years of the Turkish Republic in the context of Turkish nation-building and its goal of ethno-religious homogeneity.


– Extensive examination of marginalized religious groups who figure significantly in the modern formulation of secular Turkish nationalism


“Writing Religion is at once the first ‘critical genealogy’ of the field of Alevi studies and an outstanding investigation into the impact of Euro-American concepts commonly used in the study of religion on the representation, scholarly examination, and governmental management of religious communities outside western contexts. Dressler sets a new standard in the study of ‘Alevism’ in Turkey and simultaneously makes a major contribution to methodology in the study of religion.”
–Ahmet T. Karamustafa, Professor of History, University of Maryland

“Writing Religion is a masterful study that attends to method for history’s sake. It is at once a revealing cautionary tale about the missteps of ‘back reading’ history and a guide for moving forward with analyses unencumbered by classic modernist constraints. Markus Dressler’s keen study of Alevism–and its myriad constructions in the hands of scholars and politicians, among others–establishes a veritable roadmap for ‘thinking Islam’ in fresh ways.”
–Greg Johnson, author of Sacred Claims: Repatriation and Living Tradition

“This thought-provoking and provocative but historically sensitive contribution is the best examination I have seen of the political foundation for the Kizilbas communities renamed ‘Alevis.’ Dressler’s interpretation will be a prime resource for
both scholarship and public policy concerning the religio-secular debate in Turkey.”
–M. Hakan Yavuz, author of Toward an Islamic Enlightenment: The Gülen Movement

Table of Contents

Prologue: Alevism Contested
Introduction: Genealogies and Significations
Part 1: Missionaries, Nationalists, and the Kizilbas-Alevis
Chapter 1: The Western Discovery of the Kizilbas-Alevis
Chapter 2: Nationalism, Religion, and Inter-Communal Violence
Chapter 3: Entering the Gaze of the Nationalists
Part 2: Mehmed Fuad Köprülü (1890-1966) and the Conceptualization of Inner-Islamic Difference
Chapter 4: Nationalism, Historiography, and Politics
Chapter 5: Religiography: Taxonomies of Essences and Differences
Chapter 6: Alevi and Alevilik in the Work of Fuad Köprülü and His Legacy
Conclusion: Tropes of Difference and Sameness – The Making of Alevism as a Modernist
Project Notes