Religion, Politics and Nationalism in Contemporary Turkey

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Jenny White
Boston University

Date: March 25, 2015

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Turkey is at a crossroads. Under the Islam-rooted AK Party that has been in power for more than a decade, Turkey has been transformed in both positive and negative ways, modernizing, globalizing, and fostering entirely new ways of being Turkish and being Muslim. Since 2011, however, the country has begun to slide into a one-man autocracy beset with corruption allegations and all-out war between the Sunni AKP and its former Sunni ally, the Hizmet movement. The government has begun to dismantle democratic institutions and enormous tensions are building.

Speaker Bio

Jenny White

Jenny White is a professor of anthropology and director of undergraduate studies at Boston University. Her research focuses on Turkish politics, with interests including political Islam, civil society, and ethnic identity. Her most recent book, Muslim Nationalists and The New Turks, examines how contemporary Turkish nationalism and Islam intersect to produce a new conception of Turkish national identity. She is also the author of Islamic Mobilization in Turkey: A Study in Vernacular Politics and Money Makes Us Relatives: Women’s Labor in Urban Turkey, as well as three critically acclaimed historical novels set in nineteenth-century Istanbul. White is a former president of the Turkish Studies Association and has received numerous grants and fellowships, including from the Social Science Research Council, the MacArthur Foundation and the National Science Foundation. She earned a B.A. from the City University of New York, an M.A. from Hacettepe University (Ankara, Turkey) and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.

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BU anthropology professor Jenny White speaking about religion, politics and nationalism in Turkey.

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Further Reading

Mustafa Akyol, Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty (New York: Norton, 2013).

Philip Dorroll, “‘The Turkish Understanding of Religion’: Rethinking Tradition and Modernity in Contemporary Turkish Islamic Thought,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 82:4 (December 2014): 1033-1069.

Dexter Filkins, “The Deep State,” New Yorker, March 12, 2012.

Fethullah Gulen, “Turkey’s Eroding Democracy,” New York Times, February 3, 2015.

Suzy Hansen, “The Global Imam,” New Republic, November 10, 2010.

Cinar Kiper, “Sultan Erdogan: Turkey’s Rebranding into the New, Old Ottoman Empire,” Atlantic, April 5, 2013.

Jenna Krajeski, “Hrant Dink’s Voice,” New Yorker, January 27, 2012.

Nate Lavey, “Video: Elif Batuman Explains a Hit Turkish Television Show,” New Yorker, February 14, 2014.

Ahmet T. Kuru and Alfred Stepan, ed., Democracy, Islam, & Secularism in Turkey (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012).

Iren Ozgur, ed., Islamic Schools in Modern Turkey: Faith, Politics, and Education (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

Philip Shishkin, “In Turkey, a Judge’s Murder Puts Religion in Spotlight,” Wall Street Journal, March 30, 2007.

Yuskel Sezgin, “Why Is Tunisian Democracy Succeeding while the Turkish Model Is Failing?” Washington Post, November 8, 2014.

Semiha Topal, “Everybody Wants Secularism—But Which One? Contesting Definitions of Secularism in Contemporary Turkey,” International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 25 (2012): 1-14.

Berna Turam, Between Islam and the State: The Politics of Engagement (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007).

Ufuk Ulutas, “Religion and Secularism in Turkey: The Dilemma of the Directorate of Religious Affairs,” Middle Eastern Studies 46:3 (May 2010): 389-399.

Jenny White, Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012).

Jenny White, “The Turkish Complex,” National Interest 10:4 (March/April 2015).

Jenny White, “Turkey at a Tipping Point,” Current History 113 (December 2014): 356-361.

In the News

Hundreds of Turkish soldiers recently crossed the border into Syria to protect the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of Ottoman Empire founder Osman I, from attack by the Islamic State. Turkey’s veneration of its Ottoman heritage has contributed to a growing strain of nationalism in Turkish politics, which Jenny White will discuss at the Boisi Center on Wednesday, March 25.