Gülenism as “Religionist” Kemalism


Insight Turkey Volume 19 No. 3, 2017

Since the 2000s social science literature on the group led by Fetullah Gülen, which was assumed to be a religious movement, has focused on two major themes. The first has been the ideals, values and ideology of its leader. In the post 9/11 atmosphere, most interpretations framed this community as an alternative to Islamist movements which advocate radical change to secular political systems and evincing a worldview that clashes with the Western interests and ideals, most often using violent means. Gülen’s worldview, in contrast, has been widely seen as an example of “moderate” (as opposed to “radical”) Islam. This perspective was reinforced by his advocacy of dialogue among religions, apparent acceptance of the Western ideals of multiculturalism and tolerance, and his emphasis on the compatibility of these ideals with Islam. The second line of inquiry has focused on whether, as a religious movement, it could be considered as a part of civil society through the study of Gülen’s followers as a social movement.

The interpretations differed according to the definitions of civil society scholars have adopted. Whether it is conceptualized in neutral terms or as having liberal-democratic traits was consequential in the conclusions drawn about the role of the movement in democratization. Thus, there are evaluations of the movement as contributing to democratization, pluralism and erosion of Kemalist statism both in terms of its discourse through studies of Gülen’s writings and lectures as well as its practices through analysis of its public activities in the spheres of education, business, trade, the media and health. This article offers a different perspective to both these lines of inquiry by utilizing Antonio Gramsci’s conceptualization of hegemony and Ali Shariati’s Notion of “religion of legitimation” to compare the official ideology of the Turkish Republic (namely, Kemalism) and the ideology of Gülen movement (namely, Gülenism).

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