A newer approach to understanding the crises in post-Ottoman societies - Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and the Balkans, among others - looks at older, localised forms of co-existence. This approach contrasts with the more common focus on modern national identities in conflict with each other and also provides a potential way forward.

Pluralism and continuity in Turkey, the Balkans and the Levant

On 21 June, the workshop "Shrines: Places of Inter-Communal Connection" was held in Istanbul. It is the first part of a larger project, "Recreating Pluralism: Socio-Religious Continuity in Post-Ottoman Societies," which will hold follow-up workshops in Beirut and Sarajevo. The project is funded by the Swedish Research Institute and the Swedish Consulate, among others.

Isa Blumi, Senior Lecturer at SUITS, gave a presentation entitled “Pluralism on Whose Terms? The Dangers of Post-Ottoman Regimes of Religious Tolerance in the Balkans and Turkey.”

"Diversity" weaponised

In his presentation he argued that "diversity", as practiced in the post-Ottoman Balkans, was redefined in specific ethno-national, sectarian, and ideological terms, rather than on social and economic terms as was common earlier. The resulting violent methods of assuring, reinforcing, and the institutionalizing these distinctions have altered how we understand pluralism, democracy, and inter-faith relations today.

Shrines, whether Sufi, Catholic or Orthodox, illustrate this process through being retroactively defined anachronistically as places of difference.

"Pluralism" and "tolerance" used to reinforce difference

Present-day Turkey and post-war Kosovo, continued Dr. Blumi, are shaped by the constantly evolving definitions and practices of plurality. Under some conditions, the push for pluralism and tolerance has ironically kept people from experiencing their faith as inclusive and dynamic, instead subjecting them to regimes which reinforce difference.