Collaborative Research: The Role of Religion in Public Life: Islam in Turkey Today

  • Secor, Anna (PI)

Grants and Contracts Details


Overview The political role of religion has emerged as one of the most urgent philosophical and practical questions of our time. Despite the increasing presence of religious voices in politics and public life worldwide, there remains a critical gap in knowledge regarding how exactly these reconfigurations of the role of religion in public life happen, who drives them, and what implications they may have for pluralism in diverse public spheres. Turkey is a prime context within which to study the new role of religion in public life that marks our current era. A secular, democratic state in which religious lifestyles have been ascendant within the public sphere in the past decade, Turkey has been ruled since 2002 by a political party that has disavowed its roots in Islamist politics but has effectively combined Islamic values with neoliberal economic policies. Given Turkey’s unique status, many observers have suggested that Turkey could be a model for the new Middle East. But could it? Or is the Turkish model destined to flounder on the problem of how religious and non-religious ways of life can accommodate one another in a pluralistic public sphere? A study of Turkish society has the potential to answer some of the most pressing questions of our times about what the increasing political role of religion might mean for democracy. The objective for this application is to assess how devout Sunni Muslims are participating in the reconfiguration of Islam and public life in Turkey. Research on this devout sector (~50% of the population) is imperative because it is this segment of the population that has propelled changes in the role of Islam in Turkey’s public sphere. This project uses qualitative methods (interviews and focus groups) to examine how the devout sector’s attitudes and practices vary geographically and across class and gender, thereby providing the basis for a broader understanding of the role of this sector in redefining the political role of Islam and secularism in Turkey. There are three specific aims: 1) To evaluate the attitudes of the devout sector regarding Islam and pluralism in the public sphere in Turkey; 2) To determine how the devout sector uses and produces public spaces as arenas of Islamic piety and encounters with diverse others; 3) To identify how differences in geography, class, and gender affect pious individuals’ attitudes and practices regarding Islam and pluralism in the public sphere. The outcome of this research is a critical assessment of the devout sector’s internal variability and of what this variability means for the reconfiguration of Islam and secularism in Turkey’s public sphere. Intellectual Merit : Recent scholarship on the geography of religion has shifted the field’s focus away from either formal politics or ’officially sacred’ sites to include previously under-examined spaces and scales of religion. One of the concerns of this scholarship has been to show how religion interacts with the secular and political in public space. This project furthers this goal through an empirical investigation of the practices and attitudes of devout Sunni Muslims concerning the public role of Islam in Turkey. To what extent can a diversity of values and lifestyles be accommodated within Turkey’s evolving public sphere? The answer to this question contributes to geographies of religion, pluralism, and public space, and to broader debates about the changing nature of secularism and the political role of religion worldwide. Broader Impacts : There is a growing awareness of the importance of religion in global affairs. In August 2013 the US State Department opened a new bureau, the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives. As an important US ally with strong currents of religion in public life, Turkey will be a prime site for such initiatives. In 2012, an Independent Task Force Report by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) emphasized the importance of a US-Turkish partnership, yet also noted concerns about the status of democracy in Turkey and pointed to the need for the US to develop a greater understanding of Turkish society. This research contributes to the development of knowledge relevant for foreign policy and national security by investigating a key issue: the question of to what degree Turkey’s devout Sunni Muslims envision and enact a pluralistic public sphere within which both religious and secular values and lifestyles have a place. The answer to this question is significant for understanding the implications of the increasing role of religion in public spheres across the globe.
Effective start/end date8/15/141/31/18


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.