When Sociology Contradicts Philosophy: Afterthoughts on the Forbidden Modern

By Daglier, Uner | CEU Political Science Journal, February 2010 | Go to article overview

When Sociology Contradicts Philosophy: Afterthoughts on the Forbidden Modern


Daglier, Uner, CEU Political Science Journal


1. Introduction

Political events in the past decade lead various commentators writing on Turkey to a paradoxical conclusion. What was for long thought to be the prime inspiration behind reactionary politics there is now regarded by many as the best chance for the possibility of a liberal polity. Thus, all of a sudden, Islamists are carrying the laurels of liberty and appear to be the true champions of modernity. In contrast, the secular establishment which has been the engine of modernization in Turkey for the most part of the past three centuries is now, by and large, frowned upon for its elitist tendencies. At the same time, competing evaluations of the degree and extent of the modernist credentials of the existing regime and its alternatives gain prominence in determining political legitimacy.

Within this context, recently advanced arguments on Islamic modernity in Turkey and Europe gain prominence. However, arguments on Islamic modernity which challenge the established scholarly position on Islamic inadaptiveness are not founded upon a sufficiently comprehensive understanding of modernity. According to Jurgen Habermas, the notion of modernity corresponds to three interrelated traits: these are the rationalization of a given social structure "around the organizational cores of the capitalist enterprise and the bureaucratic state apparatus", the development of "patterns of socialization that are oriented to the formation of abstract ego identities" that result in the individuation of the growing child, and "the reflective treatment of traditions that have lost their quasinatural status." (2) It is plausible to argue that arguments on Islamic modernity neglect the significance of the third characteristic trait of modernity, or the reflective treatment of traditions. The debate over the status of women in Islamic communities throughout the world is a case in point. Within this framework, the present study aims to criticize the eminent Turkish sociologist Nilufer Gole's thesis on veiled modernity among Islamic women.

According to Gole, veiled Islamic women are not the relics of a tradition that subjects women to servitude but free and independent social agents who experiment with innovative practices that negotiate between modern life, on the one hand, and traditional beliefs and ways of life, on the other. By making their own interpretation of modernity instead of slavishly emulating the Western paradigm, these women define history. By contributing to the making of local or multiple modernities, they escape from being the passive outcasts or the soulless followers of a rigid definition of Western modernity.

2. The Status Quo Position

The groundbreaking significance of recently advanced arguments on Islamic modernity may be judged by way of a contrast with the yet dominant perspective on the contemporary state of the Islamic civilization. In his monumental article "The Roots of Muslim Rage," Bernard Lewis first spelled out the compelling slogan of "a clash of civilizations." (3) The idea was later popularized by Samuel Huntington. (4) There Lewis stated that Islamic fundamentalism has two major targets: secularism and modernity. The orthodox interpretation of Islam, its sources, and traditions rule out secularism. The union between religion and politics in Islamic countries can take two separate courses. Either the political and religious leadership are merged in the hands of a single authority, as in the case of the prophet and his early successors, namely the caliphs; or the political and communal leadership is liable to the opinions of the clergy, namely the ulema, albeit in varying degrees depending upon the existing power configuration between the religious and secular wings of the polity. As such, it is unfair to attribute hostile attitudes towards secularism in the Middle-East and Islamic diasporas throughout the world, ranging from discomfort to outright rejection, merely to religious radicalism or a minority group of fanatics. …

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