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Reaching for Istanbul’s Urban Pilgrimage Sites

Stories about historic architectural sites of religious function, and the contemporary communities of practicing Muslims who use them, flow through the city of Istanbul. The oral histories I have collected reveal aspects of the use of architecture in the expression of belief and identity amongst “mainstream” Sunnis, minority Islamic traditions of various Sufi orders, and the spiritual lineages of Aleviism. These narratives work together with the sites themselves to build a picture of religious life. There are many ways of being Muslim which the city simultaneously forbids, masks, selects, and encourages, depending upon the acceptability of certain affiliations in particular periods of time. This acceptability was and continues to be dependant upon neighborhood demographics, political leadership, legal designations, and power and control over the use of architecture and space. To capture the kinetic animation and the malleability of comportment at different places of pilgrimage, when their very essence and appeal is often in their perceived permanence and historicity, is an exercise in tapping into the experiential element of life in a city built, quite literally, around its shrines. This essay is composed in three parts: a series of written vignettes, a photo log, and a short essay. The parts work together, but they also function individually. I see them, in a way, as another comment upon the topic of urban pilgrimage, given that it is something that is all at once experiential, sensory, and narrative, and yet unarguably related to socio-political and economic realities...

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