The Politics of Secularism

Religion, Diversity, and Institutional Change in France and Turkey

Murat Akan

Columbia University Press

The Politics of Secularism

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Pub Date: September 2017

ISBN: 9780231181808

376 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $65.00£54.95

Pub Date: September 2017

ISBN: 9780231543804

376 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $64.99£54.95

The Politics of Secularism

Religion, Diversity, and Institutional Change in France and Turkey

Murat Akan

Columbia University Press

Discussions of modernity—or alternative and multiple modernities—often hinge on the question of secularism, especially how it travels outside its original European context. Too often, attempts to answer this question either imagine a universal model derived from the history of Western Europe, which neglects the experience of much of the world, or emphasize a local, non-European context that limits the potential for comparison. In The Politics of Secularism, Murat Akan reframes the question of secularism, exploring its presence both outside and inside Europe and offering a rich empirical account of how it moves across borders and through time.

Akan uses France and Turkey to analyze political actors' comparative discussions of secularism, struggles for power, and historical contextual constraints at potential moments of institutional change. France and Turkey are critical sites of secularism: France exemplifies European political modernity, and Turkey has long been the model of secularism in a Muslim-majority country. Akan analyzes prominent debates in both countries on topics such as the visibility of the headscarf and other religious symbols, religion courses in the public school curriculum, and state salaries for clerics and imams. Akan lays out the institutional struggles between three distinct political currents—anti-clericalism, liberalism, and what he terms state-civil religionism—detailing the nuances of how political movements articulate the boundary between the secular and the religious. Disputing the prevalent idea that diversity is a new challenge to secularism and focusing on comparison itself as part of the politics of secularism, this book makes a major contribution to understanding secular politics and its limits.
Murat Akan has given us an incredibly thorough account of how ideas about secularism have traveled between France and Turkey and how to relate these ideas to broader understandings of the relation between religion and society. His sophisticated theoretical approach is deeply informed by his empirical research. This book will clarify many misunderstanding in the comparative study of secularism and multiple modernities. It is a must read for scholars from a wide range of social sciences as well as for an informed public. Peter van der Veer, author of The Value of Comparison
Comparative studies on France and Turkey often emphasize the opposition between rigid anticlerical secularism and moderate liberal secularism. This brilliant and incisive work by Murat Akan demonstrates that a binary approach ignores the central problem of political constructions of secularism: the civil religion of the state. With the meticulous erudition of a historian and theoretical mastery of a sociologist, Akan shows how liberal secularism won under the Third French Republic and how Kemalism in Turkey set the path for the hegemony of the AKP. Akan's is the best book I have read on the subject and will significantly refresh global conceptions of secularism. Jean Baubérot, École pratique des hautes études (Sorbonne)
Akan makes significant contributions to the study of religion and secularism, especially (but not only) in France and Turkey. The book also offers deep archival engagement; with his native knowledge of Turkish and fluency in French, Akan makes an original contribution to Turkey-France comparisons. The Politics of Secularism is comparative history at its best. Cihan Tuğal, University of California, Berkeley
Preface
1. Traveling Through Analytical and Hermeneutical Approaches
2. Accounting for Institutional Outcomes and Trajectories: Political Ends, Ideas, and Institutions
3. The Institutional Politics of Laïcité in the French Third Republic
4. The Politics of Laïcité Positive and Diversity in Contemporary France
5. The Institutional Politics of Laiklik in Kemalist Turkey
6. The Sincere Government (Samimi Hükümet), the Institutional Politics of Religion, and Diversity in Contemporary Turkey
Conclusion
Notes
Bibliography
Index

About the Author

Murat Akan is associate professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Boğaziçi University. He was a guest researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Germany in 2012–2013.