Religious or Secular Politics in The Turkish Republic: laicism and secularism
This thesis studies the interaction between religion and politics in Turkey. The problematic examined is whether, in the context of Turkish history and politics, these two fields of human endeavour are autonomous from each other. The secondary question examined is whether Turkey can be described as a secular/laic state. As the Turkish society throughout the Republic’s history underwent radical transformations, first transitioning to a secular society and then to a “post-secular” one, the nature and effect of these changes is an important area of social inquiry. The current political and social milieu and group conflicts in Turkey can only be understood in the larger context of the Republic’s history. The thesis examines the foundation principles of Turkey, including various competing narratives, and whether these principles have been properly applied and sustained. My main argument is that in contemporary Turkey the fields of religion and politics are indistinguishable, nationalism acting as a conduit. This is not necessarily a unique situation. These boundaries are porous in other societies as well. Turkey is a particularly intriguing society through which to study the interaction between the two fields because no Muslim majority country went to the length the Kemalists did, to achieve laicism and secularisation. I also argue that laicism has not been very successful, although the early Republican Kemalist state made enormous efforts to implement secularisation as part of westernisation and modernisation, the three-pillar strategy. The process of secularisation was followed by the process of de-secularisation as the tight grip of Kemalism loosened and the power of the Islamists grew. I argue that, while the de-secularisation process has been underway for some time, the secular has not disappeared but coexists with the non-secular in a hybrid form: “practical secularity” (as opposed to ideological secularity). Finally, I also argue that the Republican system established the founder Mustafa Kemal’s hegemony. This Kemalist hegemony was gradually replaced by the hegemony of Islamist Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi). The Kemalist and the Islamist narratives are examined in light of a variety of primary and secondary sources in several languages to construct a cohesive and analytical account of the Republic, tying it to the theoretical material related to the themes of the thesis.