Beyond Sacred and Secular: Politics of Religion in Israel and Turkey

Beyond Sacred and Secular: Politics of Religion in Israel and Turkey

Beyond Sacred and Secular: Politics of Religion in Israel and Turkey

Beyond Sacred and Secular: Politics of Religion in Israel and Turkey


The global rise of political religion is one of the defining and most puzzling characteristics of current world politics. Since the early 1990s, religious parties have achieved stunning electoral victories around the world.

Beyond Sacred and Secular investigates religious politics and its implications for contemporary democracy through a comparison of political parties in Israel and Turkey. While the politics of Judaism and Islam are typically seen as outgrowths of oppositionally different beliefs, Sultan Tepe's comparative inquiry shows how limiting this understanding of religious politics can be. Her cross-country and cross-religion analysis develops a unique approach to identify religious parties' idiosyncratic and shared characteristics without reducing them to simple categories of religious/secular, Judeo-Christian/Islamic, or democratic/antidemocratic. Tepe shows that religious parties in both Israel and Turkey attract broad coalitions of supporters and skillfully inhabit religious and secular worlds simultaneously. They imbue existing traditional ideas with new political messages, blur conventional political lines and allegiances, offer strategic political choices, and exhibit remarkably similar political views.

This book's findings will be especially relevant to those who want to pass beyond rudimentary typologies to better assess religious parties' capacities to undermine and contribute to liberal democracy. The Israeli and Turkish cases open a window to better understand the complexities of religious parties. Ultimately, this book demonstrates that the characteristics of religious political parties- whether Jewish, Muslim, or yet another religion- can be as striking in their similarities as in their differences.


Some religions are the harbingers of democracy and progress,
whereas others are not. It may be argued that in a number of coun
tries neither capitalism nor democracy could develop because the be
liefs associated with the religions that dominated there were incom
patible with an autonomous and progressive civil society.

Politics based on the sacred is often seen as antithetical to liberal democracy. Even scholars such as Tocqueville, who saw religion as an asset to democracy, warned, “When … any religion has struck its roots deep into a democracy, beware that you do not disturb it; but rather watch it carefully, as the most precious bequest of aristocratic ages.” This concern is based on the idea that private beliefs have distinctive public consequences. Being a good believer and a good democrat may pull individuals in opposite directions: Being a faithful believer means often deciding today's social issues in accordance with a prophesied future, taking some religious ideas as unquestionable facts, and basing public decisions on the exercise of beliefs rather than reasoning based on contesting positions. Being a good member of a democracy, on the other hand, requires a skeptical mind, the belief that today's decision shapes an open-ended future, the willingness to negotiate on important, even religious, issues, and the compliance to consent to the majority's ideas in order to secure the community's overall well-being. Attending to these crosscurrents, even scholars who valued religion's potential also questioned whether the greater role of religion in today's societies made them more susceptible to authoritarian forces, especially when they lacked free and vibrant civil milieus. Others have argued that to the extent that religion has made inroads into politics and effectively commands unqualified loyalty . . .

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