The Aftermath of Defining “Authenticity” as Discourse: The Case of the Mevlevi Sema Ceremony


  • Yasemin Pacalioglu University of Colorado Boulder



From the perspective of the academic study of religion, it would be deeply problematic to point to a specific iteration of a ritual and assert that it is more authentic than the other. Our current understanding of authenticity, as a discourse rather than an innate and naturalized category, means that the moment we search for the authentic we have left the realm of critical study. In this paper, I argue that scholars must find a way to remain empirical observers without rendering our intellectual community obsolete in the face of real-world issues. Through the example of the contemporary state of the Mevlevi Sema ceremony, I argue that scholars should strategically employ the language of authenticity for marginalized communities in need of protection or assistance. The Mevlevi Sema ceremony, through a complex history of state interference, transformed from primarily a religious ceremony to primarily a touristic and cultural endeavor. I explain how various Mevlevis and academics under the banner of the International Mevlana Foundation utilized the discourse of authenticity to define an “authentic” Mevlevi Sema ceremony while still keeping the ceremony in the domain of culture. Thus the paper concludes that the real-world dynamics of the case of the Mevlevi Sema ceremony demonstrates how the discourse of authenticity has a great deal of power in society, and how it can complicate traditional academic standpoints in relation to the category of authenticity.