Culture of Vagueness: A Study of Ezidis in Denmark

Student thesis: Master Thesis and HD Thesis

  • Gitte Limskov Stærk Christiansen
  • Sara Boye Lester
4. term, Global Refugee Studies, Master (Master Programme)
The master thesis “Culture of Vagueness: A study of Ezidis in Denmark” investigates the ethnic identity of Ezidis in Denmark. Based on interviews with Ezidis living in Denmark and participant observation, we describe the ethnic identity of Ezidis as an empty shell. Through Fredrik Barth, Benedict Anderson, Robin Cohen, Judith Shuval, Barbara Tint, Jack David Eller, Robert Bellah, David Middleton & Derek Edwards’ theoretical perspectives on ethnicity and diasporas, we find that Ezidis define themselves through an ethnic boundary by emphasizing how they are different from Muslims. This ethnic boundary makes up the shell. In relation to this, we find that Ezidis identify through a collective memory of the sufferings of Ezidis caused by Muslims. Furthermore, we encounter various identifications with a Kurdish identity. We describe the ethnic identity as empty as the narratives of the informants are often incoherent and ambiguous. The informants tell various interpretations of the traditions and tales. They emphasize the importance of their religious holidays, but do not celebrate them. We describe these, along with additional incoherent narratives we encounter, as a ‘gray area’ that the theoretical perspectives on ethnicity and diasporas are unable to capture. Therefore, we develop the concept of ‘vagueness’ which challenges a tendency of clear representations within cultural studies. Our conceptualization of ‘vagueness’ draws inspiration from anthropologists Kathleen Stewart and Rane Willerslev’s research of the unfinished and incoherent. With the concept of ‘vagueness’, we argue for the importance of taking the vague and incoherent into account as it can take on meaning of its own. We find that the ethnic identity of the Ezidis in Denmark is both situational and instrumental. The boundary making is relevant for the Ezidis’ current situation in Denmark. It serves as a tool to advance their interests by separating themselves from the negative discourse on Muslims. Furthermore, by defining themselves as a vulnerable group through their collective memory, Ezidis utilize their ethnic identity for the purpose of a certain agenda. Similarly, we find that the vagueness in the ethnic identity of Ezidis is instrumental. The vagueness enables Ezidis to keep their religion alive as it allows for flexibility. We see flexibility of the religious traditions and rules. Yet, we also find that the relationship between Ezidis in Denmark and co-ethnic members in other countries maintains the endogamy as it provides the Ezidi men with marriageable women. Furthermore, we find Ezidis keep the religion alive as the vagueness allows them to maintain the idea of an imagined community.
Publication date1 Sept 2017
Number of pages63
ID: 260988021