Transformation of Sacred Spaces, Pilgrimages and Conceptions of Hybridity in the Post-Soviet Caucasus

Funded by

Volkswagen Stiftung (01.02.2013 - 31.07.2016)
Program: Between Europe and the Orient - A Focus on Research and Higher Education in/on Central Asia and the Caucasus


Dr. Tsypylma Darieva
Michael Stürmer

Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena
Department of Caucasus Studies
Jenergasse 8 in 07747 Jena

Tel.: 03641/944884


Head of the Project                              

Prof. Kevin Tuite, Department of Anthropology, University of Montreal
PD Dr. Florian Mühlfried, Department of Caucasus Studies, University of Jena


Dr. Tsypylma Darieva, Department of Caucasus Studies, University of Jena


Michael Stürmer, University of Jena
Katrin Töpel, University of Jena


Prof. Bruce Grant, New York University
Prof. emer. Johanna Nichols, Universiy of California
Dr. Silvia Serrano, Université Blaise Pascal Clermont Ferrand


The Caucasus landscape, like those of Europe and Central Asia 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 the three years research project, 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 prominence of shrines and sacred places all over the Caucasus, including North and South, transcending the nominal religious boundaries of Christianity and Islam creates a social sphere of interrelated spaces. As a consequence, the investigation of regimes related to shrines such as offerings or pilgrimages may provide a corrective to a stereotypical image of the Caucasus as primarily a region of conflict.

Based on anthropological and ethno-historical methods, the purpose of the three-year research project is to undertake a multi-sited long term investigation and comparative analysis of sacred sites - shrines, churches, mosques, graves, trees, springs, and other types of pilgrimage sites - in the contemporary North and South Caucasus. The six research teams cover different regions in the Caucasus and cooperate closely with local colleagues and experts. The geographical spectrum of selected sites covers both lowland and mountain areas in Armenia, Georgia, Russian Federation and Azerbaijan. Given the growing urbanization and migration process, we have included a set of sacred sites located in smaller and larger urban centers.

Sacred spaces under investigation are defined as ziyara (Arabic for place of pilgrimage), pir (Persian synonym), salotsavi, xat'i (Georgian), matur, surb (Armenian) svytie mesta, svyatilisha (Russian). A preliminary typology of sacred places divides them into the following types:  'Traditional' shrines, many of which are associated with medieval religious figures and missionaries venerated as saints in Islam and Christianity (Daghestan, Georgia, Armenia); shrines and natural places, landscapes and objects related to local heroes and events (health, death and regeneration rituals, national celebrities) in Georgia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Armenia, Daghestan; and newly emerged or re-established pilgrimage centers and holy places (shrines of 19-20th centuries Sufi sheikhs in Daghestan, oligarch churches and monuments in Armenia, sacred sites of diasporic importance).

Not all sacred sites under study are shared by different confessions, in some areas like Daghestan and Armenia religious landscapes are more homogenous. In North-West Caucasus however sacred spaces are more mosaic and hybrid in terms of their confessional belonging. For example, the Choana-Church in Karachay-Cherkessia is shared by Russian-orthodox Ossetians, Pontic Greeks and Karachay Muslims.

Through comparative research the project will attempt to gain knowledge and understanding on the social functions of sacred places and their change.


Armenia Prof. Levon Abrahamian
Armenian National Academy of Sciences, Yerevan
Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography

Dr. Vladimir Bobrovnikov
Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow
Institute of Oriental Studies

Dr. Tsypylma Darieva
Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena
Department of Caucasus Studies


Prof. Igor Kuznetsov
Kuban State University
Center for Ponto-Caucasian Research

Dr. Florian Mühlfried
Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena
Department of Caucasus Studies

Georgia Prof. Kevin Tuite
University of Montreal
Abteilung für Anthropologie



"Transformation of Sacred Spaces: Research Design and Approaches"
3. - 5. 4. 2013
Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena


"Classifying Sacred Spaces: Theory and Practice"
25. - 28. 6. 2014
Yerevan, Armenia

Final Conference

"Sacred Places, Emerging Spaces: Pilgrims, Saints and Scholars in the Caucasus and Beyond"
9. - 10. 10. 2015
Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena

Lecture Series

"Sakralität und Mobilität in Südosteuropa und im Kaukasus"
in cooperation with the institute of Slavic studies
(Prof. Thede Kahl and Dr. Svetlana Toncheva)

Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena
Department of Caucasus Studies
Jenergasse 8, Room 002

Schedule and Program (pdf)


Bobrovnikov, Vladimir (2014) Hybrid Religiosity in the Cult of Saints among the Muslims of South Dagestan (in Russian), in E. Larina (ed.), Festschrift in Memory of Sergey P. Poliakov (Moscow: Moscow State University), pp. 122-135.

Darieva, Tsypylma (2014) Transformation of Sacred Spaces in the Caucasus: A new Research Project in Germany, in: A Journal of the Anthropology of the Contemporary Middel East and Central Eurasia, Volume 2, Issue 1, Summer, p. 46.

Darieva, Tsypylma (2014) Transformation Sakraler Räume im Kaukasus. Ein neues Forschungspropjekt in Jena, in: Georgica. Zeitschrift für Kultur, Sprache und Geschichte Georgiens und Kaukasiens, pp. 113-121.

Агабабян А. Г. Моление фамилии Ампар //  Археология и этнография понтийско-кавказского региона. Вып. 2. Краснодар: Кубанский гос. университет, 2014. С. 43-88.

Сысоева М. Э. Образ Святого Георгия в осетинских религиозных верованиях // Археология и этнография понтийско-кавказского региона. Вып. 2. Краснодар: Кубанский гос. университет, 2014. С. 127-138.


Агабабян А. Г. Фамильное моление Аг-ных в Бзыбской Абхазии // Этнографическое обозрение. 2015

Bobrovnikov ,"Muslim Cults of Saints" (in Russian) to the Great Russian Encyclopaedy,

Bobrovnikov, Ziyara (pilgrimage to Muslim sacred space in the Caucasus, in Russian)" in Lexicon (Islam in the Former Russian Empire, in Russian), edited by Prozorov in St. Petersburg

Darieva, Tsypylma, Prayers House or Cultural Center. Restoring a Mosque in Yerevan, in: Schröder, P. (ed.) Central Asian Survey, Routledge Publications