Confessional pluralism and the civil society effect: Liberal mediations of Islam and secularism in contemporary Turkey

by Jeremy F. Walton

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By Jeremy F. WaltonFull Article: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/amet.12013/abstract

Practices and ideals of confessional pluralism and liberal interpretations of Islam have achieved new prominence in Turkish civil society in recent years. In this article, I marshal fieldwork conducted among a variety of Turkish Islamic civil society institutions to argue that confessional pluralism and liberal Islam have reoriented practices of politics and secularism in Turkey. As I demonstrate, liberal discourse about religious difference emerges within civil society as a foil to hegemonic, homogeneous visions of Islam on the part of the state. My principal theoretical contribution is the civil society effect: how the institutions and discourses of civil society are idealized and rendered distinct from state power. Ethnographically, I focus on two religious groups that have achieved organization within civil society: Turkish Alevis and supporters of the Sunni Hizmet Movement.

The iconography of the Istanbul's Cem Foundation expresses both Turkish Alevis' commitment to the Turkish state and their reverence for figures in the Shi'a tradition such as Ali.  15 June 2010.  Photo:  Jeremy Walton.
The iconography of the Istanbul's Cem Foundation expresses both Turkish Alevis' commitment to the Turkish state and their reverence for figures in the Shi'a tradition such as Ali. 15 June 2010. Photo: Jeremy Walton.

The iconography of the Istanbul's Cem Foundation expresses both Turkish Alevis' commitment to the Turkish state and their reverence for figures in the Shi'a tradition such as Ali. 15 June 2010. Photo: Jeremy Walton.