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Scented Entanglements: Desires for Beauty, Quests for Healing in the Eastern Mediterranean

Rose water and cologne for sale on a Black Sea market in Turkey

Rose water and cologne for sale on a Black Sea market in Turkey
Image Credit: © Claudia Liebelt, August 2019

Principal investigator: Prof. Claudia Liebelt

This project focusses on the configuration of fragrances in embodied practices of beauty, hygiene and healing in the eastern Mediterranean. Grounded in ethnographic research with neotraditional healers, producers, distributors and consumers of fragrances in Turkey, it is designed to question secularist assumptions of a deodorized modernity on the one hand and dualist understandings of the bounded human body on the other. Fragrances are understood as cultural assemblages embedded in the multiple logics of healing, hygiene, and social etiquette, relationally entangled with more-than-human bodies and plants. In the field of religion, scholars have paid increasing attention to the material and embodied aspects of piety and the sensorial registers of ethical formation. They have written on the politics of sartorial choices and bodily comportment, sound and images, as well as sonic and visual experiences, especially in Christianity and Islam (Hirschkind 2006, Mahmood 2004, Meyer 2014, Tarlo 2007). Different kinds of scents and fragrances, however, have been conspicuously absent from this debate, in spite of the fact that they play a crucial role in multisensorial desires for beauty and quests for healing, in particular in the Eastern Mediterranean, where many of the raw materials for these fragrances are produced.

Based on original ethnographic material, Scented Entanglements seeks to contribute to timely interdisciplinary debates in the field of Religion, Sensory History, the Anthropology of the Body and Science and Technology Studies.