Religion, Society, and Modernity in Turkey by Serif Mardin (Modern Intellectual and Political History of the Middle East: Syracuse University Press) A selection of the finest essays by Serif Mardin, offering a historical and cultural analysis of the late Ottoman period and Republican Turkey.
This book collects Serif Mardin’s seminal essays written throughout the span of his prolific career. Comprising some of the author’s finest and most incisive writings, these essays deal with the historical background, political travails, and socioeconomic metamorphosis of Turkey during a century of modernization.
With his characteristic sophistication and breadth of vision, Mardin provides readers with a remarkably objective analysis of ideology, civil society, religion, urban life, and violence in late Ottoman and Republican Turkey.
Mardin moves easily from sociological topics on violence and class-consciousness to the history of the Ottoman Empire, and the philosophy and culture of modern Turkey within the greater Middle East. These influential pieces—collected for the first time in one volume—represent an invaluable addition to the field of Middle East studies.
Excerpt: Most of the articles that appear in this collection have a common latent theme: they stem from an attempt to find clues that I hoped would offer alternative explanations to those provided among social scientists in the 1960s and 1970s in the climate of opinion prevailing in Turkey at that time. These views included "Marxisant" versions of Turkish social and political history; positivist views that belief systems could not be counted among the "facts" of history; a conviction that Turks had, by the 1960s, slipped into an easy relation with the Western world and, that, "in the end" Turks could become indistinguishable from Frenchmen or Englishmen if they unerringly followed the "road" traced by "science."
Such versions of the inevitability of Turkish modernization seemed to me overly reductionist. They were also self-contradictory in the sense in which they also carried with them an anti-Western subtext, i.e., that Turkey could modernize as it itself decided and within a narrow nationalist frame. These themes were, however, the intellectual residue of an ideology, i.e., Kemalism, that had been promoted by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic (1923), and had energized a generation of followers. The scaffold holding this ideology in place had a double foundation inherited from the nineteenth century, namely, the primacy of the nation and scientism. For the founding fathers of modern Turkey, the primacy of the nation was translated into the idea that the first goal of Republican Turkey was the forging of a nation. For these founders, such a project was structured around a vivid recollection pinpointing the failure of the policies of their predecessors, the Young Turks. The latter had, at first, aimed at establishing a constitutional parliamentary system (roughly 1908-1913) under the umbrella of which it was hoped—with some trepidation—the disparate ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups of the Ottoman Empire would be united. This policy was soon replaced by one of national unification that shattered the earlier relative equilibrium between the ethnoreligious components of the Ottoman Empire. Whether the Young Turks or the unwillingness of the leaders of Ottoman ethnic and religious groups were to blame for this failure has not yet been resolved.
In short, the Republic's emphasis on Kemalist nation building was a response to the earlier history of Turkey in the twentieth century. The idea of a national will, with echoes originating in the thought of Maurice Barrès and other writers of his time, was seen by Kemalists as a necessary component of the concept of a nation, and this, in turn, demanded a national ideology guiding this will. Various attempts to place "Turkishness"
in the center of the Republican system answered such an imperative. But this Republican ideology sidestepped a problem: that of understanding the relation between the structure the Republic had inherited and the system it wanted to install. Here the Ottoman experience with social engineering, which had already been transformed into the attempt to build a penetrative state by nineteenth-century Ottoman reformers, was further transmuted among Young Turks and Kemalists into a project of national mobilization. This ambitious project did find some implementation in the practice of the state between 1923 and 1950. The Republican People's Party, the single party in power up to 1950, was the primary instrument through which this partial—and in the end, elite creating—mobilization was carried out.
Neither the nineteenth-century reformers nor their Republican successors, however, had a clear understanding of the sophistication of the ancien regime they were trying to replace. The best way to express their confusion would be to underline what may be called the "False Consciousness" of their predecessors, the nineteenth-century Ottoman reformers, who by taking their examples from enlightened despotism, believed that they had just "renovated" the Empire, whereas in fact they had propelled it into a qualitatively new setting where the "balancing act" of the patrimonial ruler described by Eisenstadt (1963) had been transcended by a new, different, more "penetrating" state, the pattern of which they now had to implement. Today's critiques of the power of officials in Republican Turkey can also be seen as inadequate in the sense that this view of the problem too has failed to adequately pinpoint the specific social frame that gave Ottoman officials their power, a power that appears even today in a residual form. When the bureaucratic centralization of nineteenth-century reforms (the Tanzimat) began to emerge, violent protests from Ottoman citizens affected by this change were primarily an attempt to reestablish the looser, earlier system of diffuse linkage of the political with the social that was the other face of Ottoman bureaucratic hegemony. An ideological nostalgia created by the new memory of this "loose" social-organizational style worked in tandem with the more concrete privileges that the dissenters or the insurrectionists against the Tanzimat were trying to protect. In explanations given by students of Turkish history, however, a study of social protest as arising from the unraveling of traditional social structure has never clearly been taken out of its economistic setting.
Traditional Ottoman officials were not really happy with the looseness of their grip on the social system of the Empire, reformist bureaucrats of the nineteenth century inspired by new Western models tried to tighten it, and the founding fathers of the Turkish Republic finally achieved a centralization that partly established this control. Yet to neglect the weight of the residual social frame within which the Republican reformers necessarily operated and to be blind to the element of local cultural parameters that they encountered is to lose sight of a perspective from which contemporary Islamic Turkish religious revivalism becomes understandable, because it was religion that operated as the practical and ideological integration of the social system (i.e., family, craft, localities, quarters of towns, religious foundations and lodges of "mystic" orders). The following chapters are attempts to retrieve the encounters of the forces of "modernization" with this social system. In short, it seemed to me to be a major theoretical obfuscation to approach Ottoman/Turkish history of the last two centuries simply from the perspective of the secondary reflections of a distant, self-propelling capitalist (i.e., world) system—as the`economistic explanation proposed. The entire history of the transition from Empire to Republic appeared much more explainable as a set of interactive resonances arising out of European expansion, capitalism, its materialism or "materiality," the ideological and institutional history of Europe as well as localistic components of the Ottoman scene. Among these one could count tarika operating as networks as well as religious segmentation that lived after the founding of the Republic and created its main problem.
The second foundation of Kemalism, "science," was quite convincing on the surface, but its promoters seemed to have been left in a nineteenth-century world. Only some of the Kemalists realized that the whole course of Western philosophy and sociology in the twentieth century was the attempt to transcend nineteenth-century "materialist" positivism. Turkish intellectuals had not yet achieved such a rapport with the nineteenth-century models of physical science and social science as was provided by Pierre Duhem, Nietzsche, and Husserl. The influence of French thought of Hegelians such as Alexandre Koyre, and the seminal ideas of the later (1930s) "Collège de Sociologie" seemed completely outside their ken, although they seemed to be impressed by Bergson's élan vital. This may have been understandable in the 1920s, but in the 1950s and 1960s the primary approach of bien pensant Kemalists was still that institutional Islam as it existed in Turkey and religion in general were residues of an earlier unscientific, superstitious age that would, with time, have its asperities shorn and merge into a form of a deism anchored in the psyche of individuals. This, of course, was a stand the conceptual naïveté of which placed it several levels below the sociological sensitivity of Ziya Gokalp, who was in tune with elements of Republican nationalism but not with its simplistic stand regarding Islam. Once again, Republican ideology, despite its approval of "science," was out of touch with the then available innovative critiques regarding the role of rationality in society (i.e., Evans-Pritchard, 1940) and the extensive studies on Max Weber (who had died in 1920).
Even in the 1960s most of Turkey's ills were still considered by my academic colleagues to be a function of a residue of constituted religion. Together with this attribution came a reluctance to investigate the process by which Turkish Islam had achieved the evil influence it was attributed. A type of curiosity that, in the 1950s, was considered suspicious if not outright treasonable, directed me to investigate the matter, and some of the articles are the result of such a search. Today these strictures are disappearing and the new research has produced increasingly interested findings that do take current Western social science seriously. However, the earlier patrimonial sultanic power of officials now transmuted into that of the modern secular reformist social scientist has once again blocked from view a primary problem of modern sociology, namely, the linkage between these macrostructures and the micro social world (Helle and Eisenstadt 1985). Two of my articles attempt to bring the subject to the fore. A good example of the linkage of these micro forces with macro politics (and world capitalism) has been the contemporary buildup of provincial Islamic capitalism in Turkey.
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