Figurations of the Martyr in Near Eastern and European Literature
Cooperation of Center for Literary and Cultural Research and the Seminar for Semitic and Arabic Studies at the FU Berlin
The first project phase (2005–2008) adopted a comparative perspective of martyr traditions in various religious-cultural contexts. The comparative approach drew upon the 2002–2004 pilot project conducted at the Berlin Wissenschaftskolleg. With the objective to dispel the hermetic conception of Islam as a unified religion with established dogma, research focused on the historical differentiation of the diverse martyr traditions of Islam. This research orientation was initiated on the one hand to question traditional historical models and differentiations of martyr conceptions, and on the other, to highlight specific religious-cultural upheavals and exchanges amongst various religions. The interest lay with specific historical formations of martyr figurations. The figurations were examined in light of both praxis and self-definition, as well as cultural memory and historical, poetic and visual representations. The methodological conception of martyr figuration therefore included concrete (historical, mythic or fictional) figures. Such figures conceive and typify the martyr’s specific significations and cultural practices, rhetoric and representational forms that contribute to the formation of distinct martyr representations.
The martyr proved itself a boundary figure, both splitting apart and merging together religious traditions. Taking shape during the configurations of specific historical constellations and cultural contexts, the martyr figure is thereby subjected to the numerous changes within religious tradition. The mediation of the martyr can not only be described synchronically in relation to various religious cultures, but also diachronically as the intermediary between reputedly distinctive epochs. In this manner, the martyr becomes a figure that transgresses and calls into question the boundaries between pre-modern and modern, as well as »religious« and »secular«, societies.
Figurations of the Martyr in Early Sunni Texts (Silvia Horsch)
The figure of the Sunni battlefield martyr (schahid al-ma‘raka) of early Islam assumes its contours during the opposing movements of differentiation and appropriation. Its conception, as well as other praxis (the suffering of persecution, torture and ultimate death with the opposition to military service) of similar configuration (arab. schahid, like Greek martys, denote both witnesses and martyrs), will be compared to early Christianity to highlight the Christian elements both rejected and appropriated. In addition, early Arabic representations of battle and death will be similarly reconfigured with the comparison to new conceptions of Dschihad and martyrdom. The texts regarding martyrdom from various historical constellations and genres prove to be the junction between the myth-opposing theology of the Koran on the one hand and mythologizing narratives on the other.
Martyrs in the Babi-Religion (Sasha Dehghani)
While capable of being defined by the continuity and discontinuity of the Twelve Imams, the martyrs of the Babi-episode may also be described as boundary figures. At times submitting to peaceful deaths, and at others losing their lives in the bloody fight to defend their new faith, the Babi-martyrs display an aspiration to be a messiah of paradoxical roles: the forger of the new Imām ideology, as well as the prophetic destroyer of the past. The figuration of the messiah manifests itself especially during the second half of the developmental period of the Babi. This later figuration ultimately results in the religious-political scandals that constitute the collective martyrdom of the Babi-community.
The Alevi Martyr of Modernity (Michael Hess)
The Alevi denomination displays Shi’ite influence. Husain (who died 680 A.D.), the grandson of the prophet Muhammad and third Shia Imām, figures in Alevi literature as the symbol of the pure, guiltless martyrs massacred by tyrants. From the multiple connections drawn between the execution of Hussain and martyrdom-interpreted events of the doomed Alevi history – such as the mass murder of Alevi intellectuals in Sivas of east-Turkey in 1993 – emerge the Alevi reinterpretations of the traditional martyr-figure of Husain. These reinterpretations include pioneering modern stylizations of Husain in relation to human rights or enlightenment. In this manner, the martyr figuration expands to include the secular realm.
Conceptions of Martyrs in Zionism (Helen Przibilla)
The sub-project investigates another variation of the incorporation of the initially religious martyr-discourse in the rhetoric and symbolism of a secular movement. The stock character of the martyr who actively resists and fights against foreign rule is associated with the revolt of the Maccabees (2-1. BCE). This character is revitalized in the conception of the »militant Jew« in Jewish modernism, which invokes the Maccabee tradition of resistance against tyrants for the national justice of the Jewish people. The mass-suicide of the entrapped Jews in Fort Masada is similarly influential (73 AD). From the beginnings of the Jewish national movement around 1900, both figurations of the »militant Jew« live on in present-day martyr representations in Israel, as captured in Jewish national literature and symbolism.
Martyrs in Baroque »Trauerspiel«, with Special Regards Towards Oriental Theatres (Sabine Berthold)
The Baroque interest in martyrs evolves from the denominational and Turkish wars of the 16th and 17th century. Baroque »Trauerspiel« is the arena where religious-historical conflicts are decided and salvation-historical interpretations transformed. In addition to the antagonism between the Catholics and Protestants, the tension between Christianity and Islam is portrayed in Baroque drama. There, one witnesses the enactment of hostile relations between martyrs and tyrants. A narrative of »Orientalism avant la lettre« therefore materializes, exemplified by the Turkish plays of Lohenstein or the dramas of Silesian Baroque poet Andreas Gryphius.
The second project phrase since 2009 addresses the legacy of traditional martyr cultures in the present. The prominent role that martyrs play in present-day conflicts in the Near-East is often described from the European perspective as the relapse into pre-modern conceptions or as the expression of an unchanging Islam. However, the martyr has disappeared neither in the secularized societies of West-Europe, nor in the secular movements in the Near-East. Indeed, the martyr endures through its nationalist, socialist, Zionist and other variants. It is only by recourse to the traditional figuration of the martyr as »Islamic« that the reception of modern ideologies transformed traditional conceptions and won influence.
On the Defeat of the Militant Dschihad and Transformation of the Martyr-Figure in the Bahá'í Faith (Sasha Dehghani)
In relation to sub-project 2 of the first phase, this second sub-project investigates the non-violent martyr-figure of the Baha’i religion. These figures correlate more closely with the martyr conception of ancient Christianity than that of the present-day Twelve Imams. Outside the context of persecution, martyrdom in the Baha’i ideology seems inconceivable: this second sub-project aims to address the opposing view of this religion that seeks to legitimize the persecution of the Baha’is in Islam territory.
Re-stagings of Islamic Traditions in Modernity: In the Marytr’s Battlefield (Silvia Horsch)
The first sub-project examines the legacy of the martyr-figuration in early Sunni texts based on the conclusions of sub-project 1 of the first project phase. The sub-project addresses its reception, adaptation and reinterpretation by modern Islamic authors who claim to represent the »native«, normative Islam.
Martyrs on the stage. Performing martyrdom in ta'ziya as Shi'a theater-ritual (Maryam Palizban)
Ta'ziya has been performed in Iran for nearly 400 years as a ritualistic theater form, rooted in the Islamic-Shi'ite religion; however, it has developed to much further a level than to be considered a mere religious ritual. It was first played only in Iran and later in almost all Shi'ite countries such as Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain. But the most developed theatrical form is still performed in central Iran. It is a performance with dozens of actors, with children and artificial as well as live animals. The war which ends with the massacre of Husayn, his family, and all his companions (680 CE) created a tremendous effect. The mourning over their catastrophic end, easily flow through older forms of mourning rituals which were already existent in every region. During the 18th century they gently gave birth to a theater form. With the Shi'a Dynasty, the Safavids (1501–1722) the historical story of Husayn's oppositional movement and the tragic outcome of his riot against the caliph of the time, Yazīd, developed itself into a self-reflecting, powerful, source which connects all opposition movements in Shi'a community against any kinds of tyranny. While the literature is confined to martyrdom as a predefined phenomenon, martyrdom's figuration, which are the main protagonists in ta'ziya, creates a complete different case. In literature the process of becoming martyr is already completed when it is received by the reader, whereas in a ta'ziya performance of the process of becoming a martyr, the spectators define and declare the moment and the figure of martyrdom. Martyrdom in ta'ziya is a performative phenomenon and ta'ziya protagonists, like Ḥusayn, exist in two different levels. One is ta'ziya text and the other level is the performance. The, so called, protagonists – ta'ziya martyrs – are presented in both textual und performative discourses. This Project will focus on ta'ziya protagonist, specifically Ḥusayn – also famous as lord of martyrs – in their performance depictions and not in their literary view: the martyrdom in its performative context.