Challenging religious neoliberal governmentality under the AKP

By Yusuf Sarfati
Submitted to Session P5027 (Islamism, Liberalism, and Beyond in Turkish Politics, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
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There is a growing literature on the evolving relationship between neoliberal projects and religions worldwide (Tugal 2009; Bugra and Savaskan 2014; Dawson 2016). Building on this body of work, a closer look to the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalk?nma Partisi, AKP) governments in Turkey can be fruitful for understanding how centralized religion, authoritarianism, and economic logic of neoliberalism could co-operate. Since AKP entered politics, it tried to harness neoliberalism and Islam. Particularly after its third term in office, AKP’s brand of Islamism became increasingly authoritarian, where centralized religion has turned into a means of controlling and organizing the society and shape identity categories toward an economic logic.
This paper’s aim is two-fold, first we delineate the socio-economic apparatus that AKP has constructed, with the assistance of centralized religion delivered by the Directorate of Religious Affairs, and its particular gender-, family-, and community-focused tenets. In order to discuss these, we use the data from Korkut and Eslen-Ziya led ‘Gender construction in Turkish Mosque sermons’ project, collected in 10 Turkish counties with a study of 400 sermons between 2011-2013. In this effort, following Foucauldian framework of ‘conduct of conduct’, we present how centralized religion shapes, guides or affects the conduct of some groups under state guidance (Gordon 1991, 2).
Second, we focus on the societal resistance to neoliberal governmentality – a theoretically underdeveloped topic. Recent academic literature on the AKP explains the stability of its power with the insecurity that it caters to (Carkoglu and Yildirim 2015) and the coalition of the pious that AKP claims to represent (David 2016). Looking at the Labor and Justice Platform (Emek ve Adalet Platformu), a youth-based Islamic formation that emphasizes an egalitarian and pluralist Islamic politics, and Reçel blog, an Islamic feminist online site, we argue that ‘conduct of conduct’ can face opposition from the very groups that it associates with its power apparatus. These organizations challenge the hegemony of the ruling AKP’s neoliberal, conservative authoritarianism and propose alternative conceptions of morality, citizenship, gender, and economic relations from an Islamic perspective. We will present data from activist interviews and textual analysis of policy papers, declarations and blog entries.
Our discussion goes beyond studies on Islamism in Turkey that largely focus on AKP and reveals that the Islamic public sphere in Turkey is multivocal and Islamic politics cannot be reduced to the dominant religious actors.