FRAL - Franco-allemand en sciences humaines et sociales

New Religiosities in Turkey: Reenchantment in a Secularized Muslim Country ? – NEORELIGITUR

New Religiosities in Turkey: Reenchantment in a Secularized Muslim Country?”

This project intends to study the emergence and development of new religiosities in Turkey, a secularized Muslim country. Using diachronic and synchronic standpoints, it raises the question - until now not tackled by research on religions in Turkey, which is dominated by studies on Islam (Sunnism, Alevism) and Sufism -, - of religious reconfigurations, of their forms and registers, and of their historical complexity.

New Religiosities in Turkey: a Scientific Topic caught between a Secularizing Historical Paradigm and the Essentialization of Islam

The concept of “new religiosities« has emerged as a fertile tool for the study of beliefs and practices associated with the New Age currents, modern esotericism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. New religiosities are perceived as corollaries of the processes of secularization, individualization and globalization of Western societies. This debate has been very little extended to non-Western societies, in particular to the Muslim world, for lack of scientific interest, but also because these societies have been, in a sometimes essentialist approach, considered as isolated from these processes and their study sometimes dominated by divisions separating studies on Islam and the history of Turkish secularization. We therefore intended to remedy the insufficiency of studies on the new religiosities in Turkey, favoring a non-confessional and non-apologetic approach in the study of the new religiosities in Turkey, and deconstructing the essentialist postulates on the links between nation and religion. We also wanted to contribute to articulating the French and German academic research and discourses, still too disconnected, on new religiosities. Finally, we aimed to lay the foundations for a comprehensive and comparative understanding of new religiosities including the Muslim world, thus questioning the cultural stereotypes at work in a number of previous works on new religiosities around the world.

Our project was conceived as an interdisciplinary program. It gradually gathered more than 35 researchers. While this group has relied on current theories and methods in religious sciences, history, anthropology, sociology and literature, our work program has been organized along theoretical and methodological lines favoring interdisciplinary approaches. It also aimed to integrate French and German scientific debates on the issues. On the German side, where the existence of a strong tradition of Religionswissenschaft is a major asset, researchers have mobilized many fundamental works for the study of new religiosities. On the French side, modern and postmodern critics of secularization and modernity have been mobilized to nurture and deepen the questioning and reflection on some key words of Turkey's historiography. The knowledge accumulated at the end of this project has laid the foundations for a global and comparative analysis of new religiosities, around issues of secularization, individualization and globalization.

Our results make it possible to question the essentialist assumptions that underlie these three themes and postulate that the nature of Europe and that of Islamic cultures would condition their respective attitudes towards modernity. This critical posture also nourishes a work of deconstruction of the notion of «Turkish Islam« and «Turkishness«. Our research questioned the place of Sufism but also of therapies as spaces of religious reconfigurations, the figures of authority, the role of circulations, the gender in Islam, or the connection of some phenomena with the urban middle classes. They also contribute to the scientific debate on the definition of religion and its borders.

The large number of scientific meetings on the themes and fundamental questions of our project allowed a satisfactory deepening, as well as it consolidated the links between the researchers of the project. We have been careful to frequently invite specialists from other areas to compare our assumptions and results. The representation of our project, in the form of panels, at numerous international congresses of turcology, research on Islam and esoterism, has also allowed us to confront our work and open it to the interest of new institutions and researchers. Publications, those already completed and those in progress, consolidate these results.

With Neoreligitur, the unknown domain of the new religiosities of the Ottoman Empire and Republican Turkey was the subject of combined research and was brought to the attention of international academic circles. The acquisition of resources and the establishment of international scientific networks have encouraged the mobilization of common spaces for reflection and inquiry between the disciplines involved (sociology, anthropology, history, literature) and put into discussion different national traditions in research. The research perspectives thus opened up are as much comparatist as theoretical and epistemological. The questioning of the essentialist and secularist assumptions accompanying studies on Turkey, and the enhancement of the circulation of religious spaces with other fields, contribute to the development of decompartmentalized studies on new religiosities in other spaces. For example, members of the project co-founded with Mark Sedgwick (Aarhus University) a new network, ENSIE (European Network for the Study of Islamic Esotericism), whose first international symposium was held in June 2018 in Venice, and which is brought to develop its scientific activities.
The major questions that the project has reached and to which it provides avenues for further deepening relate to the relationship of new religiosities with the dynamics of (de) secularization and individualization, and the role of circulations and global-local identities in their development. Finally, one of the major extensions of the Neoreligitur project will be to feed the scientific debate on the definition of religion, religion and their borders, for example forms of spiritualism.

The variety of forms of scientific meetings devoted to our work have favored novel research. Each workshop (11 in total) was devoted to a thematic set bearing the main issues of our scientific program: role of state actors and religious institutions; religious authorities; evangelism and migration; appropriation of sciences and their challenges within new religious dynamics; uses of the media; New Age and alternative religious authorities; sacred texts and religious fiction between hermeneutics and literature; geography and global-local circulations; history and reconfigurations of spiritualism; identity, biography and self-transformations as spiritual constructions; gender and body. We have also presented our research in many international conferences (esotericism, neo-shamanism, therapies, eschatologies), Some members co-founded a scientific network of research on Islam and esotericism, the ENSIE network (European Network for the Study of Islamic Historicism).
The publications program resulted in a special issue on Sufism and its media (published in the European Journal of Turkish Studies in 2017: The place of Indian spiritualities (Hinduism and Buddhism), a major object of our research, was approached from the angle of political, literary, conceptual and translation circulations, but also under that of the new religious movements (NMR) and therapies, in a dedicated collective publication to be published by IB Tauris.

“New religiosities” have recently been established as a fruitful concept for the study of beliefs and practices associated with the new age stream, modern esotericism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. These new religiosities are seen as corollaries of the secularization, individualization and globalization of Western societies. Non-Western societies and especially the Muslim world have been ignored in these debates, both due to a lack of data and due to the assumption of a lack of similar processes in these cultures.
Our project proposes to study the emergence and development of new religiosities in Turkey, a secularized Muslim country, whose legal approach to religions has been designed with reference to French laicism.
New religiosities are widespread in Turkey, but almost unstudied: for one, since the attitudes of local scholars are largely hostile or dismissive, and for another, since Islamic studies and Turkology regard such phenomena as insufficiently “authentic” to be worthy objects of study.
Our project proposal is designed as an interdisciplinary research program for our research group of 25 scholars from a variety of academic disciplines. The research group will employ theories and methods from religious studies, history, anthropology, sociology, and literature. Our working plan is organized along theoretical and methodological lines and is supposed to compel the scholars to engage with theories and methods beyond their own discipline.
The project intends to help integrate important French and German academic discourses. While German academia has done fundamental work on new religiosities unnoticed in France, it would benefit from French modern and postmodern critiques of secularization and modernity. The knowledge produced by our research will help lay the groundwork for a global and comparative understanding of new religiosities, which is intrinsically linked to the conceptions of secularization, individualization, and globalization. We will utilize the research results as part of our theoretical and comparative endeavor to question the essentialist assumptions underlying those concepts, as they pertain to the proposed exceptionalism of Christian Europe and the supposed “nature” of Muslim cultures. This critical stance will also enable us to embark on a deconstruction of “Turkishness” that shall positively impact the Turkish approach to new religiosities.
Furthermore, we will contribute to the academic debates on the construction of identity, circulation, religious authority, gender in Islam, and the definition and borders of religion. Institutionally, our research project will foster the promising cross-border ties among the young scholars and the research institutes involved.

Project coordination

Nathalie CLAYER (Centre d'Etudes Turques, Ottomanes, Balkaniques et centrasiatiques) –

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


CETOBAC Centre d'Etudes Turques, Ottomanes, Balkaniques et centrasiatiques
OII Orient-Institut Istanbul

Help of the ANR 219,539 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: January 2014 - 36 Months

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