Aliosha Bielenberg

Aliosha Pittaka Bielenberg

My name is Aliosha Pittaka Bielenberg. I am entering my second year in the PhD program at the Department of Rhetoric here at UC Berkeley, where I’m also completing a Designated Emphasis in the Study of Religion. Before coming to Berkeley, I received my bachelor’s degree from Brown University, where I completed concentrations (the equivalent of majors) in Archaeology and the Ancient World and in Critical Thought and Global Social Inquiry. I also completed an MA in Philosophy at KU Leuven in Belgium and worked for a year as a research assistant at the Science and Technology in Archaeology and Culture Research Center at the Cyprus Institute.


I came to Berkeley because the program in Rhetoric is unique in the world because of how its flexibility and interdisciplinarity allows for rigorous, thoughtful, and critical work drawing on multiple disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Take, for instance, my work this summer. I presented a paper in Marseille, France, at a meeting of the Mediterranean Music Study Group (part of the International Council on Traditional Music, or ICTM), entitled “Thinking about Music and Tradition in Cyprus.” This paper was based on ethnographic work I’d done the previous summer in Cyprus. I explored what it means to call music “traditional,” how this is situated within the history of Byzantine/Ottoman music (and more broadly the multi-ethnic, interweaving pasts of the Eastern Mediterranean), and how music might do important work today in the political and social environment of Cyprus. When I came to Berkeley last year, I was able to take a course in Anthropology with Charles Hirschkind, whose most recent book The Feeling of History: Islam, Romanticism, and Andalusia deeply influenced how I approached my subject. I am equally inspired by other professors I’m working with like Maria Mavroudi, who works on Greek-Arabic bilingualism and the Byzantine Empire, and Christine Philliou, who directs both the Modern Greek Studies and Turkish and Ottoman Studies Program (a very significant and possibly unique position, given the historical division of these fields and cultures). I was also lucky to be able to workshop this paper the week before I went to Marseille with colleagues at a beautiful lakeside house in southern Poland, at a meeting coordinated by a professor of Eastern European history I previously worked with, Holly Case. My thinking is also deeply shaped by faculty in my own department like Jim Porter and Pheng Cheah who are interested in topics such as (post)classicism, nationalism, and postcolonialism.

This summer, I returned to Cyprus to continue my fieldwork. I played clarinet at the Fengaros Music Village, where it was wonderful to connect with friends, old and new. I also continued my cooperation with other Cypriot NGOs like Histories of Bahçes, Hade, Avli, Historic Cyprus, and the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research. I participated in and led tours of historic sites, trying to highlight how a plurality of actors, humans and more, come together in different places around Cyprus. A lot of this work boils down to learning from partners and mentors with different specialties (e.g. architects, activists, archaeologists, environmental workers) and then sharing that knowledge by building connections. I’ve also spent time in Cyprus this summer learning Turkish and visiting libraries and archives in Nicosia, the capital of the island, laying the groundwork for future research.

I feel very grateful to have the support of my department and mentors at Berkeley to bring together knowledge and resources from this university with the communities I care about in Cyprus. Looking ahead, I’m very excited to work more intensively with professors here at Berkeley to deepen my knowledge and skills in history, philosophy, and anthropology, including this year by starting to work as a Graduate Student Instructor. At the same time, I’m committed to bringing that work into dialogue with the communities in Cyprus that I have been involved with in various ways since I was a child.

I hope to continue an academic career, because I think that my work on Cyprus may shed some light on themes of broad relevance and significance, and because I love learning and teaching at a great public university like this one. At the same time, it brings me a lot of joy to see how important and welcomed the knowledge I’m gaining at Berkeley is back in Cyprus. And, of course, I take great joy in experiencing life on the island in its many beautiful seasons. Maintaining and building connections in Cyprus is just as important as my research, teaching, and learning at Berkeley.