In comparative and theoretical discussions, Turkey—where secularism is imposed from above as one of the irrevocable founding principles of the constitution—is criticized for being religiously hostile, aiming to repress religion in the public sphere in a coercive manner. This view is faulty on two grounds. First, it essentializes religion by assuming that religion is an objectively identifiable concept and that as such it can be separated from the realm of the secular and become an object of state power. The separation between the secular and the religious, as this article argues, is premised on particular definitions of religion, the roots of which are historically contingent and intimately linked to the rise of the modern nation-state. As the article argues, a particular conception of Islam is integrated into the nation-state's projects of rationalization, homogenization, and disciplinization, and as such it is turned into a disciplinary tool through which new citizens are created. Second, the claim that the state represses “religion” relies exclusively on legal and constitutional machinery that restricts the use of religion for political purposes and consequently misses how a particular conception of religion is disseminated by state institutions in the private realms of culture and education in order to form new Islamic selves that agree to put the nation's “sacred” interests above all “particular” interests. The article problematizes the way military service is normalized in defending the secular constitution through an appeal to the Islamic conception of martyrdom, wherein “good” citizens are promised to be rewarded not in the secular time but in the hereafter.
Sinem Gürbey; Islam, Nation-State, and the Military: A Discussion of Secularism in Turkey. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 1 December 2009; 29 (3): 371–380. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201X-2009-025
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