Can the Alevis Speak? The Politics of Representation in Early Writings on Alevism

Hakkı Taş (2015) ‘Can the Alevis Speak? The Politics of Representation in Early Writings on Alevism,’ Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 26 (3): 325-338. Full Text

Abstract: This study historicizes and contextualizes the contrasting representations of Alevism in the early writings of Stephen van Rensselaer Trowbridge, a Protestant missionary, and Baha Said Bey, a Turkish activist and researcher. Both Trowbridge and Baha Said undertook extensive research on Alevi culture in the early twentieth century. Though their works appear to be “benevolent” endeavors, giving voice to the Alevi subaltern, by first studying the political and cultural backgrounds of Trowbridge and Baha Said, this article exposes the cultural and ideological motivations that influenced their studies. It then focuses on how these political concerns are expressed in representations of Alevism. Given the dearth of postcolonial and critical perspectives on Alevism, investigating the praxis of representation can help trace overtly political concerns beyond their scholarly treatments. Based on Gayatri Spivak’s theorization in her essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” this paper scrutinizes how these writings negate the agency of Alevis and portray them as waiting for salvation by external proxies – be they Western missionaries or the Turkish government.

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