Ottoman Ulema, Turkish Republic: Agents of Change and Guardians of Tradition

By Amit Bein | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT
Past Legacies, Future Prospects

Turkey has undergone remarkable changes in almost every aspect of the state and society since the 1950s. Yet, some underlying sociocultural and political issues from the early days of the republic have remained unresolved and highly controversial through coups d’état and restorations of democracy, transitions between statist and liberal economic models, and prolonged periods of contestation between ultranationalists, Marxists, Islamists, conservatives, liberals, and Kemalists of various stripes. The relations between religion and state in general, and the roles and jurisdiction of the Diyanet in particular, are one of the most important and most controversial of these topics.1 Debates about the official role that religious institutions and functionaries ought to play in a modern state, if any, in fact hark back to late Ottoman times.

The establishment of the republic and the new policies it implemented failed to eradicate the long-term impact of Ottoman institutions and legacies they set out to supplant. Indeed, recent academic studies, popular literature, and public debates in Turkey all point to the persistence of Ottoman legacies in many facets of the republic. In the past it was primarily Islamists who lamented the demise of the “Islamic empire” and its replacement by the “Kemalist republic.” More recently, liberal scholars and intellectuals have also sought to recover the Ottoman past as a vision for the future, though they usually underscore the empire’s pluralist character and long track record of tolerance toward minorities. Yet the desirability and serviceability of past Ottoman models for today’s Turkey has remained a highly controversial topic, as is evident in the contentious tone of recent public discussions about the purported “return of Ottomanism,” or neo-Ottomanism, ostensibly promoted by the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) government at home and abroad.2 On this backdrop, the jurisdiction and roles of the Diyanet have recently also come under new

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