The First Turkish Friday Sermons: A Genealogy of Official Islam in Turkey

Dr. Hakkı Taş
2018 - 2019
Gerda Henkel Foundation



Research Questions:

By drawing on Foucault’s genealogical method of inquiry in order to elucidate ways in which discourse, power and knowledge intersect in Kemalist construction of official Islam, this project proposal aims to interrogate the instrumental and pedagogical role of religion in nation-building with a focus on the first Turkish Friday sermons in the early republican period (1923-1945). Shortly after the proclamation of the republic, the language and content of the Friday sermons, or khutbas, came to the agenda of the new nation-state. The Turkification of religious sources and rituals as part of the nation-building process and resulted in Türkçe Hutbeler (Turkish Friday Sermons) in 1927, and then Ahmet Hamdi Akseki’s Yeni Hutbelerim (My new Friday Sermons) in 1936 and 1937. These extensive works, illustrating the new nation-state’s approach toward religion, reflect an effort to introduce the public to the national consciousness and the republican values in a context poor of educational and media facilities. This project aims to scrutinize the instrumental and pedagogical role of religion devised by the founding elites with special reference to the state-sanctioned Friday sermons. How sermons were employed to penetrate potential sources of religious opposition and to generate a new interpretation compatible with the founding ideology will be at the core of the project. This requires an examination of the religious discourse in those texts vis-à-vis the state, the nation, and modernity.

Contribution to International Research:

Through an examination of first Turkish khutbas and related parliamentary proceedings and official documents in the archive, this study is expected to contribute to the academic literature as such:

  • to provide a solid textual analysis of Kemalist secularism, which has been mostly studied through the early republican reforms or Atatürk’s statements only,
  • to offer a genealogy of official religious discourse that has echoed and remained largely the same throughout the decades,
  • to dissect the elements of official Islam that is taken for grounded in the academic literature,
  • to examine how sermons were expected to contribute to the re-construction and dissemination of the new national culture.

Research Design and Methods:

The project adopts a constructivist approach dealing with the reconstruction of religion in line with the premises of Turkish modernity and secularism. It performs a genealogy of official Islam in Foucauldian sense, i.e. it employs a historical perspective and investigative method, which offers an intrinsic critique of the present. Genealogy provides people with the critical skills for analyzing and uncovering the relationship between knowledge, power and the human subject in modern society and the conceptual tools to understand how their being has been shaped by historical forces. By drawing on Foucault’s genealogical method of inquiry in order to elucidate ways in which discourse, power and knowledge intersect in Kemalist secularism, this project assumes all truth claims, including the official Islam, as products of power. This genealogical approach was supported by content analysis and archival research.

Content analysis would explore which themes and concepts with regard to the interaction among religion, state and modernity, are used how and in what frequency. Content analysis software, MAXQDA will be used to analyze the sermon texts. Each transcript will be read and coded into “nodes.” The coding process involves identifying nodes, which are “meaningful segments of text among the less valued data,” and labeling “these data so that they can be located along-side equally salient data”. Each excerpt can be coded more than once in accordance to its relevance across multiple nodes. This process is repeated until a text is thoroughly coded or becomes “saturated.” The nodes across all sermon texts will help formulate the main argument in this research. In support to this research method, critical discourse analysis will be employed to de-construct how religion is re-defined and located within the new nation-state. In order to contextualize the texts and examine their production and dissemination, the study will also rely on the archive research in the parliamentary proceedings and Republican Archives.

Research Team

Research Programme