Religion, Culture & Governance
Secular State and Muslim Society: The Case of Turkey
Nur Vergin
Professor, Istanbul University, Faculty of Political Science, Istanbul, Turkey

Years ago I lectured on religion and politics. Very soon it became obvious to my students and to me that we were at the core of the essential problem that shapes the Turkish socio-political reality. Lecturing on the theoretical sources of the relationships of the state and religion, I soon realized that we were in fact sailing toward the very questions that Turkish society has been trying to find adequate answers for the last decades. These lectures are over now but the dilemmas driven from the Western political thinkers and the Turkish reality do not seem to come to an end.

Relationships between state and religion is of course a tremendously vast subject that I am not going to relate in this paper. My aim will only consist of inviting all those interested on the subject to think on two main topics that create much turmoil in the social and political life of Turkey. One of these topics is related to some of the perspectives on this issue. For the sake of sounding more academic we may also call them theoretical models. The other topic I want to focus on is secularism, a topic that creates a real polarization within the Turkish society, especially since the electoral success of the now banned religious party (the Welfare Party) in 1995. This polarization is aggravated by the unexpected emergence of new fundamentalist religious communities within the last two or three decades.