From the ashes of atheism: the reconstitution of Bektashi religious life in postcommunist Albania
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This thesis is an historical and ethnographic account of the postcommunist reconstitution of Albanian Bektashi Sufi practices and community life in the aftermath of a state-based program of radical atheistic secularism. The study is based on 12 months of intensive anthropological fieldwork (9 months in 2007 and shorter research trips between 2005 and 2011) and archival research. The Bektashi Muslims were once closely associated with and supported by the Ottoman state. Since then they have suffered many reversals in fortune. The most severe attack on the Bektashi occurred in communist Albania. Public manifestations of religion and its institutions were entirely dismantled and many spiritual leaders killed or exiled. Nonetheless, survivors now claim that Bektashi devotees secretly believed in and revered the sacred shrines despite efforts by the authoritarian state to do away with all expressions of religious life. Providing both historical and cultural context, the thesis uses ethnographic fieldwork data based on observation, interviews and life histories collected from within the Bektashi community. These document and explore the group's various efforts at community building and regaining legitimacy. In particular, it describes the rebuilding of devastated Bektashi lodges (tekke), the configuration and management of sacred spaces, the ways of becoming Bektashi as reflected in conversion narratives, and the emergence of new saintly authority figures. The penultimate chapter is about religious observance, investigating in depth how the present community of leaders, followers, and guests interact within sacred spaces during pilgrimages, paying special attention to the ambiguities of spiritual authority in the postcommunist setting. The study of present-day religious observance and community building shows that despite their efforts, the Bektashi today are experiencing difficulty establishing order within their own ranks and in winning real support in Albanian society as a whole. The small gains in reclaiming lost authority and access to their now lost economic estates reflects the legacy of atheist secularism and corruption, which coincides with wide spread suspicion of authority figures, including religious authorities. Albanian postcommunist religiosity coincides with a more "Western European" pattern of secularism that is generally characterized by a much diminished level of religious observance.
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