Turkey: Secularism and Revivalism in Turkey: A Hermeneutic Reconsideration

Article excerpt

Secularism and Revivalism in Turkey: A Hermeneutic Reconsideration, by Andrew Davison. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998. viii + 196 pages. Append. to p. 203. Notes to p. 242. Bibl. to p. 264. Index to p. 270. $37.50.

Reviewed by Sabri Sayari

Andrew Davison's Secularism and Revivalism in Turkey seeks to provide a reassessment and reinterpretation of the policies that were initiated by Kemal Ataturk during the 1920s and 1930s concerning the role of Islam in Turkish politics and society, and their implications for the evolution of state-society relations in later years. Davison believes that studies on the subject by "anglophone political scientists" do not offer a full understanding of the real meaning and objectives of these policies because of their "secular modern prejudices." The author proposes to use an alternative approach grounded in hermeneutic political inquiry whose task is "to grasp the meanings that constitute the features of political life-that is, political action, relations, practices, and institutions" (p. 3). The book is not intended as an analysis of the political, social, and economic context of the reassertion of Islam in Turkish politics and society since the transition to a democratic system after the Second World War. Rather, it is an attempt to reassess the different interpretations of the original intent and meaning of Ataturk's policies and the intellectual debates surrounding the relations between state and religion in modern Turkey through a close rereading of the relevant texts and literature on the subject matter.

The first two chapters of Secularism and Revivalism in Turkey are devoted to a discussion of the conceptual and methodological questions concerning modernity and the nature of interpretive political inquiry in the hermeneutics tradition. In his chapter on the interpretations of modernity, the author goes over some of the familiar territory concerning the shortcomings of the early modernization theories that tended to view modernity and tradition as polar opposites. Davison emphasizes the need to accept the existence of "multiple modernities" and to see the revivalists as "participants in the contest of modernity, and not simply relics from the past" (p. 46). In the next chapter, the author provides a detailed discussion of the intellectual context of interpretive political analysis, with special emphasis on Hans-Georg Gadamer's work on the concept of prejudice.

It is only in the second half of Secularism and Revivalism in Turkey that Davison gets into the specifics of the Turkish case. He does it, first, by reexamining the political and sociological thought of, Ziya Gokalp, whose ideas on culture, identity, religion, and nationalism had a profound impact in shaping the ideological orientation of the Kemalist one-party regime. Davison maintains that Gokalp's thinking on religion and its role in society was not adequately understood either by the Kemalists or social scientists who sought to interpret his views. After critically analyzing Gokalp's own writings, as well as the two major works on him by Uriel Heyd and Taha Parla, Davison proposes an alternative interpretation of his outlook on religion and secularization. The author maintains that, as a disciple of sociologist Emile Durkheim, Go"kalp was fully cognizant of the functional role and vitality of religion in society. At the same time, Gokalp also believed in the complete separation of the political and religious spheres in the newly-established Republic. …