Defining Alevism: The State and the Alevi Recognition in Europe

Thursday, December 22, 2022 - 14:00
Şerif Mardin Seminar Room, Sociology-Pscyhology Building/Sloane Hall
Department of Sociology

Sociology Talks


Defining Alevism: The State and the Alevi Recognition in Europe

Zengin Arslan’s research focuses on the legal recognition of religious minorities and the management of religion in the EU and Turkey. Within this framework, she examines the case of Alevi belief by focusing on how Alevism is legally recognized as a religion in different European countries, and the legal rights Alevis have in Turkey. This research follows the theoretical argument that it is the state who ultimately decides what counts as religion, and it investigates how the actions of the state reconfigure religious life in accordance with a secular conceptual order. Departing from the conventional legal and sociological definition of secularism as the separation of state and religion, Zengin Arslan explores how secularism, through the agency of the state, becomes integral to the self-conceptions, practices, institutions, and ideals of religious life.

Alevi recognition, which started in 2012 in Hamburg, Germany, and Basel, Switzerland, gave Turkish Alevism the same legal status as Sunni Islam for the first time. Currently, Alevism is also recognized in Austria, the UK, Sweden, Switzerland, and Denmark. Based on her preliminary ethnographic fieldwork—at the Fédération Union des Alévis en France (FUAF) and the Centre Culturel des Alévis in Paris, and the Berlin Cemevi in Kreuzberg—her talk focuses on the Alevi organizations in France and Germany and comparatively discusses their politics of recognition. She first shows that even though the majority refuse to define Alevism as a “religion”, distinguishing themselves from sharia-based Shia and Sunni Islam, the process of recognition in Germany ironically pushed Alevis to institutionalize themselves as a religion. Relatedly, she demonstrates how this process triggered an intensified debate within the Alevi community in Europe and Turkey on the definition of Alevism. Secondly, she shows how these organizations represent themselves differently -- as a religious community in Germany and as a secular Alevi organization in France -- in parallel with the legal and normative secular framework of each state.

This study contributes to debates on larger questions that concern Europe and other countries today, such as the limits and future of liberalism and secularism and the integration of immigrants. It also challenges the multiculturalism literature, which merely defends the recognition of minorities as a matter of democratic rights and the freedom of religion.

Berna Zengin Arslan

Özyeğin University

Department of Humanities and Social Sciences



December 22, 2022


Şerif Mardin Seminar Room