The Predicament of Islamic Decoloniality in Turkey: Sufi Political Thought and the “Great East” Project of Necip Fazıl Kısakürek

ACGIS Guest Lecture with Alev Çınar

Wednesday, April 26, 2023 12:00 PM to 1:15 PM EDT
Horizon Hall, 3rd Floor Conference Room #3225

The Predicament of Islamic Decoloniality in Turkey:  Sufi Political Thought and the “Great East” Project of Necip Fazıl Kısakürek

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 is the author of Modernity, Islam and Secularism in Turkey: Bodies Places and Time (2005); co-editor of Urban Imaginaries: Locating the Modern City (2007), and of Visualizing Secularism and Religion: Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, India (2012). Her articles have appeared in journals such as Comparative Studies in Society and History; International Journal of Middle East Studies; Theory, Culture and Society; Theory & Society; and Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 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, and Institute for Advanced Study membership, Turkish Tubitak Research Grant, a Distinguished Teacher Award from Bilkent University, and the Boğaziçi University, Üstün Ergüder Research Award in Political Science. Her 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 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.


Refreshments will be served. 


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