University Distinguished Lecture
Turkey, Islam, Nationalism, and Modernity
Carter V. Findley
Humanities Distinguished Professor in History
Department of History
Turkey, Islam, Nationalism, and Modernity: A History, 1789-2007, reexamines the transition from Ottoman Empire to nation-state. Ottomans and Turks, Findley argues, triangulated over time among three reference points: Islam, nationalism, and modernity.
Choices among these reference points gave rise to two strategies for engaging with modernity: a radical, secularizing current of change and a conservative, Islamically committed current. As competing alternatives oscillated before them, most people resisted choosing. With time, however, the recurrent crises punctuating the transition from empire to nation-state sharpened the differentiation of the two currents and forced choices.
The radical current arose with the formation of new civil and military elites and the advent of “print capitalism,” symbolized by the emergence in 1860 of privately owned, Turkish-language newspapers. The radicals engineered the 1908 Young Turk revolution and ruled empire and republic until 1950. They made secularism into a lasting “belief system” and still retain powerful positions.
The conservative current arose with a series of Islamic renewal movements. Most influential were the movements launched by Mevlana Halid (Shaykh Khalid al-Naqshbandi, 1776-1827), Said Nursi (1873-1960), and Fethullah Gülen (1938- ). Powerful under the empire, Islamic conservatives did not again control the government until the 1980s. By then they, too, had created their own powerful print and electronic media.
Although the radical movement has been studied extensively, the conservative one has been less so, and the interaction between the two has not. This book differs sharply from earlier histories that saw a linear evolution from religion and autocracy toward secularism and nationhood. Findley sees instead a dialectical interaction between two powerful forces that alternately clashed and converged to shape late Ottoman and modern Turkish history. From sultans and saints to singers and sinners, the profuse illustrations reinforce the argument by documenting both sides of this dialectic.