An Islamist Genealogy of Knowledge and Comparative Political Theory in Turkey

By Dunya Deniz Cakir
Submitted to Session P4726 (Provincializing Political Theory: Islamic Intellectuals and the Production of Knowledge in Turkey, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Turkey;
Under successive AKP governments, the easing of the secular state’s restrictions on Islamic civic life has led to a burst of activism in Turkey. Various networks of activist-intellectuals working through publishing houses and associations have produced a plethora of Islamist readings of contemporary political life. This paper explores one such “community of argument” congregated around the Islamist NGO Ozgur-der and engaged in shared debates through its monthly Haksoz.

Specifically, I aim to outline the contemporary making and dissemination of an Islamist canon in Turkey by Ozgur-der activist-intellectuals through textual analysis of Haksoz issues, other relevant Ozgur-der publications, and public events (eg. educational seminars) organized by the NGO in recent years. This canon composes a past intellectual heritage that sanctions particular practices of knowledge production in the present, and emerges from a collective intellectual effort to search back through time and space and select texts/practitioners of islah, ihya and tajdid (the cornerstones of Islamist revivalist thought). I argue that understanding the construction of a genealogy of knowledge is imperative to a more rigorous, reflexive engagement with Islamist intellectual discourses insofar as that canon contains the historical precedents that spur Islamist readings of contemporary political developments in Turkey. To that end, I ask: what sorts of discursive strategies and argumentative standards are deployed in an Islamist hermeneutics of past thinkers, perceived to make up a continuous genealogy of Islamic thought despite significant methodological and doctrinal variations? Moreover, through what reading practices do contemporary Islamist intellectuals construct and relate to a canon of Islamic revivalism understood to be stretching from Ibn Taymiyya to Ali Shari’ati? Relatedly, in what ways does this past discipline, authorize, extend, or transform Islamist knowledge-production in the present?

Increasingly since the 1990s, a growing literature has interrogated the historical marginalization of non-Euro-American thought traditions in the field of political theory and begun to treat such thought as productive of methodological and political-theoretic inquiry. In an effort to contribute to ongoing debates about how to engage non-western texts, I finally explore the implications that an Islamic mode of engagement with canonical texts (that is embodied in action) present for political theory and its methods of inquiry. Specifically, I probe the question: What sorts of methodological insights can be gained from a study of Islamist reading practices? Can they help us rethink the frames of inquiry and sets of criteria used in understanding and evaluating the activity called political theory?