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
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?