“The Predicament of Islamic Decoloniality in Turkey: Sufi Political Thought and the “Great East” Project of Necip Fazıl Kısakürek”
Professor of Political Science
Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey
In Hybrid Format:
Tuesday, March 14, 2023, 12:30 p.m.
To obtain online event details please send a message to department.
After winning its battle against the occupying colonial powers during The War of Independence in 1919-1922, Turkey set on a secular, Westernizationist path toward modernization under Mustafa Kemal’s leadership. Turkey spent what can be referred to as its postcolonial period under its founding ideology, Kemalism, which launched a West-oriented secular modernization project that framed the Ottoman system and Islam as inferior, backward, and uncivilized. First forms of what I refer to as “Islamic decolonial thought” emerged against this backdrop in the 1950s, which later developed into a collection of diverse intellectual movements constituting the current Islamic intellectual field (IIF) in Turkey. A constitutive feature of this field is the desire to break what is perceived as the hegemony of European intellectual paradigms, as well as the Kemalist project that has been termed as “self-colonization” by some of the Muslim intellectuals, and establish in their place alternative Islam-based systems of thought and knowledge. This study examines the Sufi-based political thought of Turkish Muslim poet and writer Necip Fazıl Kısakürek (1904-1983) as one of the pioneers of Islamic decolonial thought in Turkey. Necip Fazıl, who is current President Erdogan’s main ideological inspiration, was the founder and lead writer of the The Great East (Büyük Doğu) journal published in 1943-1978, which is considered to be Turkey’s first Islam-based political journal that was instrumental in inspiring numerous political and intellectual movements currently active in the IIF. This study demonstrates that Necip Fazıl’s work has been one of the first attempts in establishing an Islam-based decolonial intellectual paradigm and a political project that stands as an alternative to Eurocentric knowledge systems and modes of modernity. Necip Fazıl referred to this political project as “The Great East Revolution,” which sought to establish a totalitarian Sufi (Naqshbandi)-based political system that was introduced in The Great East journal and developed further in his book, Western Thought and Sufi Islam (1982), which provides a critical commentary on key names of Western thought from a Sufi perspective. Based on the analysis of these sources, I argue that while Necip Fazıl builds his thought on the emancipatory promise of decoloniality, his attempts to establish an Islam-based alternative intellectual paradigm reproduces the hegemony that it seeks to overthrow by offering in its place a totalitarian system that will suppress or eliminate rival Islamic as well as secular movements.
Alev Çınar is Professor of Political Science at Bilkent University, Turkey. She received her BA in Psychology and MA in Sociology from Bogazici University, and her PhD in Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania. She has worked as a research fellow in Urban Studies at the International Center for Advanced Studies-NYU; in Women’s Studies at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center-UMass at Amherst; as a “Fulbright Visiting Specialist in the Muslim World” at Bryn Mawr College; and at the Institute for Advanced Study, School of Social Sciences. Her current research interests include the intellectual foundations of politics; Islamic thought; political Islam; state-building and nationhood; modernity and decoloniality; gender and patriarchal statehood; nation-building, modernity, gender, urban space, secularism, and Islam in Turkey. She has received various awards and grants from different institutions including Fulbright, Ford Foundation, Social Science Research Council, Mellon Foundation, United States Institute of Peace, Institute for Advanced Study membership, and she received a Distinguished Teacher Award from Bilkent University in 2008, and the Boğaziçi University Üstün Ergüder Research Award in Political Science in 2017. She is currently conducting a research project titled “The Islamic Intellectual Field and Political Theorizing in Turkey,” under an EU-H2020, MSCA-Global Fellowship (2021-2024) at Stanford University.