Disciplines of Presence in Modern Turkey

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University of Arizona

DISCIPLINES OF PRESENCE IN MODERN TURKEY: Discourse, Companionship, and the Mass Mediation of Islamic Practice

O ye who believe! Fear Allah and be with those who are true in word and deed. —Quran IX.119 Whoever makes himself like unto a people is one of them. —Hadith Discourse involved in practice is not the same as that involved in speaking about practice. It is a modern idea that a practitioner cannot know how to live religiously without being able to articulate that knowledge. —Talal Asad (1993:36) In recent years, and increasingly since the events of September 11, 2001, one hears in the media, in policy circles, and even in some academic environments almost exasperated discussions surrounding versions of the question “Why doesn’t Islam behave like a religion should?”1 The “problem” seems to be that Islam continually oversteps the boundaries of the properly religious and “interferes” in the political, the economic, the public (or conversely, the private), and so on.2 Recent anthropological work on Islam has shown how such questions and concerns are only possible from the ground of an assumption that there is something called religion CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY, Vol. 23, Issue 1, pp. 118–153. ISSN 0886-7356, online ISSN 1548-1360. the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. DOI: 10.1525/can.2008.23.1.118. C

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that not only is analytically separable from (most importantly) the political but moreover normatively should be so separated.3 This secular-liberal expectation is itself a historical and cultural product, having emerged from the North Atlantic experience of Christianity, against the background of power struggles among princes, the church, and a newly emergent bourgeoisie. The process of what came to be known as secularization thus did not merely differentiate a preexisting, essential sphere called the religious from other spheres of life; this process produced the notion of a bounded sphere of religion in the first place. “Religion” as a particular sphere of existence, centering on private belief or personal choice, is one side of a coin, the other side of which is secularism; thus defined, religion and secularism are two aspects of the same phenomenon. That the category of religion has been deployed simultaneously in analytical and (usually implicitly) normative modes in much social science is worth highlighting at the outset of a discussion of Islamic practice, lest we find ourselves, despite our intentions, stumbling backward into versions of the question invoked above. The institutionalization of a distinction between the public and the private is considered central to the functioning of liberal political culture, as is the situating of religion in the private.4 It is then the very transformation of Islam into a religion on the liberal model that is in question and at stake in many parts of the world and has been for the last century or so. This transformation is not a forgone conclusion (nor, for that matter, is the universality of the category of religion); this way of distributing things and assigning spheres is not natural or universal—rather, specific historical processes produce this arrangement. It is, however, the case that this transformation is essentially completed in Turkey. The genealogy of this state of affairs is complex (and has been underelaborated) and can only be addressed briefly here.5 Late Ottoman Islamic and state reform movements involving the incremental differentiation of Islam to a religious sphere were undertaken for Islamic reasons (on the basis of Islamic legal reasoning); hence there is an Islamic genealogy to the “secularization” or differentiation of Islam as a religion in Turkey (Abu-Manneh 1994).6 Thus, while the privatization of Islam along liberal lines is not universal or natural, neither is it the case that any Muslim society that is structured this way is...
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