Purity and Creed: Discourses of Contemporary Sunni-Muslim Tariqas on Everyday Life Practices and Politics in Turkey

By Utku Balaban
Submitted to Session P6656 (The State and its Aftermaths: Civil Society, Religion, Violence, and Identity Formation, 2021 Annual Meeting
Cultural Studies; Democratization; Ethnography; Identity/Representation; Media; Modernization; Political Economy; Sociolinguistics; Turkish Studies; Urban Studies;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
In this presentation, I share the findings of my research project about the discourses of prominent Sunni-Muslim tariqas in Turkey on everyday life practices and politics in Turkey. With the support of the MESA Global Academy Scholarship, my research team and I conducted a content analysis this year to assess the material produced by major tariqas in Turkey during the 2010s.

My focus in this project is the norms set by the tariqas for their followers about ordinary and ritualistic everyday life practices such as daily hygiene, worship practices, conduct of behavior in public spaces, and sartorial practices.

I used the publications by the Directorate of Religious Affairs of the Turkish government and the literature on contemporary Sunni tariqas in Turkey to establish the list of major tariqas and focused on twenty Naqshbandi and Salafi groups out of forty-seven major Sunni tariqas as my sample. For the qualitative content analysis, we compiled the visual, audio, and print material produced by these tariqas such as their fatwah sessions on YouTube and publications. My two research assistants blind-coded the material. This initial reading was followed by the interrater consensus-building process that we finalized with my involvement as a tiebreaker in the cases of persistent disagreement between my assistants.

My preliminary analysis substantiates four findings. First, tariqas with smaller follower groups produce more material on everyday life practices than larger tariqas. Second, guidelines by Salafi tariqas for their followers have a stricter tone about everyday life practices than the Naqshbandi tariqas’. Third, older tariqas produce less explicit messages about the connection between everyday life-related norms and party politics than newer tariqas. Last, tariqas in general work to differentiate their guidance about everyday life practices in order to draw symbolic borders with other tariqas and, thereby, to symbolically isolate their follower base from the potential influence by their competitors.