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International Conference: Sacred Places, Emerging Spaces in the Caucasus at FSU Jena

International conference ‘Sacred Places, Emerging Spaces: Pilgrims, Saints and Scholars in the Caucasus and Beyond’

October 9-10, 2015

Venue: Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, Rosensäle, Fürstengraben 27, 07743 Jena.

Outline and Program

The Caucasus landscape, like those of Europe, Central Asia, or indeed almost any inhabited region of the globe, is dotted with sites and spaces regarded as ‘sacred’ in some sense. Numerous studies have been devoted to the description of the shrines and sacred sites of the Caucasus, as well as the religious systems, rituals and festivals with which they are associated. The focus of this conference, however, is the role played by sacred sites in the construction and maintenance of social networks, and their function as social nodes, where connections are negotiated, forged, enacted and reinforced; but also contested, ruptured and erased.

The aim of the conference is to explore theoretical and empirical developments in the field of anthropological and historical studies of sacred spaces, pilgrimage, material religion and inter-regional religious networks in the post-Soviet Caucasus and beyond. Voluntary or forced migration as well as rural-urban mobility seems to be an important factor in the formation and transformation of sacred spaces in the Caucasus and its iconography. Key questions are: Which objects follow ‘one-way’ trajectories to the sacred site, intended to remain there permanently, and which items return or circulate further? How do we define ‘shrines’ and ‘sacredness’ as some sites seemed to resemble tourist-oriented venues? Who has the power, who benefits from the changing functions of shrines, and the role of migration in this process?

Taking off from the analysis of traditional and emerging hybridities, shared and non-shared sacred spaces in the Caucasus, we hope to better understand the complexity of the region to stimulate a rethinking of the presuppositions underlying the stereotype of a violent Caucasus and the constitution of the Caucasus as an object of knowledge production.


October 9th, Friday

Welcome and Introduction (9.15 – 10 am)

Thede Kahl (Slavonic Studies, Jena); Florian Mühlfried, Tsypylma Darieva (Caucasus Studies, Jena)

Panel I: Pilgrimages and Networks (10.30 – 12.30 pm)

Chair: Gayane Shagoyan

Levon Abrahamian The Chain of Seven Pilgrimages in Kotaik, Armenia. Reviving or inventing Tradition?

Agnieszka Halemba From Community Cult to Religious Network: a New Pilgrimage Site in Transcarpathian Ukraine and Beyond

Kevin Tuite Landscape, Ritual, Gender and Social Space in Upper Svanetia

Panel II: Locality and Informality (2 – 4 pm)


IGOR KUZNETSOV Shifting Abkhaz Religion: From Local Christian Cult to Nativist Neo-Paganism

HEGE TOJE Accompanying the Dead Souls – Transforming Sacral Time and Encounters

HAMLET MELKUMYAN Murids as New Religious Mediators: Informal Religious Practices and Social Transformations in Yezidi Community


Panel III: Saints and Scholars (4.30 – 6.30 pm)


TSYPYLMA DARIEVA Between ‚Great‘ and ‚Small‘ Traditions? Situating Shia Saints and Shrines in Contemporary Baku

VLADIMIR BOBROVNIKOV Hybrid vs. Traditional Religious Practices and Narratives: Networks of Muslim Shrines in Post-Soviet Dagestan

STEPHAN DUDECK State Law or the Spirits – Who is Protecting Siberian Sacred Sites?

October 10th, Saturday


Panel IV: Encounters and Representations (10am – 12 pm)


FLORIAN MÜHLFRIED Not Sharing the Sacra

NINO AIVAZISHVILI Ingiloys and Sacred Rituals

SILVIA SERRANO Sharing the Not Sacred: Rabati and the Display of Multiculturalism


Final Discussion (2 – 4 pm), Chair: Kevin Tuite


Registration and contact: Michael Stürmer (, Katrin Töpel (

The admission is free, but registration for lunch/or dinner is requested. Please register by 30 September 2015.