Sabancı Üniversitesi


A Global Humanities Network Seminar: Esra Özyürek


Post-Kemalism during the 75th and 100th anniversaries of the Turkish Republic

During 1997, the 75th anniversary of the Turkish Republic I conducted my PhD research. This project was later published as Nostalgia for the Modern: State Secularism and Everyday Politics in Turkey (Duke University Press, 2006). In this project I trace the consequences of a growing political Islam for secularist beliefs and rituals. As Islam grew out of its designated private realm in modern Turkey in the 1990s, it challenged secularism as an imported, disingenuous, and even forced, lifestyle. Secularists in return tried to legitimate their views and values as authentic and sincere by circulating modernist state symbolism in the private sphere through the market, the home, civil society, life history, and emotional attachment. I ask why and how citizens who used to be strong believers of “etatism” translated the history and symbolism of state-led modernization into the conceptual frameworks of the market and love. In the last 25 years a lot has changed in Turkey. In the last 20 years Islamist Justice and Development Party ruled the country and went through different stages where they supported neo-liberalism and later nationalism and authoritarian tendencies. In the time that passed, however, the secularist Kemalist ideas and the sense of nostalgia for them have not changed. Added to the emotional nostalgic connections to the ideology, have been some new concepts such as meritocracy and competency, which are novel. This presentation will trace the continuities and changes in the nostalgic emotional and political approaches to Kemalism over the last 25 years and will make speculations about its future. 

Esra Ozyurek is Sultan Qaboos Professor in Abrahamic Faiths and Shared Values at the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge. She is the author of Nostalgia for the Modern: State Secularism and Everyday Politics in Turkey (2007, Duke University Press); Being German, Becoming Muslim: Race, Religion, and Conversion in the New Europe (2014, Princeton University Press); Subcontracting Guilt: Holocaust Memory and Muslim Belonging in Post-War Germany (2023, Stanford University Press).