Angela Andersen

The Role and Meaning of the Alevi Cemevi: Islamic Congregational Architecture Outside the Mosque Paradigm

The cemevi is the architectural setting for cem ceremonies, the primary religious gatherings of the Alevi Muslim minority. Alevis, along with their ancestors, have practiced in what are now Turkey and its surrounding states since the thirteenth century. They eschew the mosque as an architectural paradigm and as an institution. As the result of their marginalized position in the Ottoman and Republican landscapes, the practical concerns of rural construction and the fiscal realities of urban building projects, and select teachings within their spiritual lineages, Alevis have not produced a visibly monumental cemevi typology, a matter worthy of investigation. In this lecture, I integrate oral histories and structural studies, my analysis of Alevi poetry and hymns as sources for architectural study, and the liturgical transformation of space during the cem ceremony to gain from Alevi experiential insights into the role and meaning of the cemevi, and to counter a monolithic presentation of Islam within the architectural canon.

Angela Andersen

AKPIA@MIT Post-Doctoral Fellow

Angela Andersen examines the inter- and intra-religious interactions that take place via the built environment. This includes the question of minority agency and visibility as embodied in the architecture of the Islamic world, in both historic and contemporary contexts, in what are now Central Asia, Turkey, and parts of Eastern Europe and North America. Her published and forthcoming works examine issues of the relationship between architecture, site, and identity, human rights and architecture, diversity in Islam, and the use of often overlooked sources such as poetry and oral histories in the study of architectural history. Andersen has been supported by the Hamad bin Khalifa Fellowship in Islamic Art, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Turkish Cultural Foundation, the Historians of Islamic Art Association, and other scholarly bodies.