Department of Religious Studies

Circumcis(criptons): Sovereignty, Kinship, Violence, in the Ottoman-Turkish Eastern Frontier

with Serap Sengul

Thu, February 21, 2019 | RLP 1.302B

5:00 PM - 6:00 PM

This talk explores the intertwined genealogies of modernization, sectarianism and ethnic violence in the Late Ottoman-Turkish Republican East by tracing the transformation of one certain statury kinship institution, kirve (co-parent). A syncretic frontier tradition grounded in the contiguity and osmosis among Christian, Muslim and heterodox traditions, kirve was conclusive for maintaining a patriarchal modus vivendi of ethno-religiously mixed habitation in the Imperial Eastern Frontier. Starting with the mid-nineteenth century, the institution saw being systematically co-opted by modernizing bureaucracies of respective Ottoman and Turkish Republican states as a kin-based technology of incorporating Muslim Kurds into the body of Turkish citizenry in-the-making via ritual sponsorship of Islamic male circumcision. Concomitantly, the meaning of (un)circumcision was repeatedly resemanticized in the Eastern frontier; first, as an ethno-religiously antagonist marker of Armenian alterity, and, then, as a mark of Turkish national manhood, and systematically manipulated for physical destruction or symbolic castration of non- Muslim-Turkish male bodies across histories of the destruction of Ottoman Armenians and the ongoing Kurdish conflict. While breaking open the interplay of sovereignty, kinship and violence in the phallic marking and unmaking of male bodies in my immediate historical-ethnographic focus, this work also underlines the circumscriptions of state-centric and sectarian readings of the broader Middle East today. 

Serap Ruken Sengul is the Center For Near Eastern Studies Distinguished Research Fellow at UCLA. She earned her doctorate in Anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin, and completed her postdoctoral studies at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Sengul’s research focuses on gender and sexual formations of sovereignty, nationalism, kinship, violence, memory and displacement in the Kurdish borderlands of Turkey, Iraq and Syria. This talk will give an overview of her manuscript, tentatively titled, Circumcis(cript)ions: Sovereignty, Kinship and Memory in the Frontier. 

Sponsored by: the Department of Religious Studies and the Islamic Studies Initiative

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