“Islamic Activism” in Transition: The Dialogue Discourse and the Contested Identity of the Gülen Movement.
The Gülen Movement has been the subject of much popular and academic controversy. For some, it is an intransparent, missionary, religious sect seeking to subvert secular systems and Islamize the world. For many others, it is one of the driving forces able to reform and liberalize Islam and be a bridge between the West and the Islamic world, between the traditional and the modern. The majority of scholars frame the movement according to the second direction. In this project an analytical distinction between the Gülen Cemaat and the Gülen Movement is made. The Gülen Cemaat is commonly considered the most influential Islamic group in Turkey. The members of the group, the adherents of Fethullah Gülen, who is regarded as the founder or inspirational source of this community, run private schools, universities, charity organizations, hospitals, newspapers, TV and radio stations. Since the beginning of the 1990s, the Gülen Cemaat has initiated in Turkey, an activity with the mottos tolerance and dialogue. Since then, they have conducted dialogue activities that focus on different areas, such as the political, interfaith, interregional and intercultural. In the interim, the so-called dialogue centers have been established in large cities all over the world. Today, the Gülen Movement cannot easily be thought to be equal to the Gülen Cemaat, the classic Islamic core network consisting of Fethullah Gülen’s adherents. Rather, the network of the Gülen Movement today, as a global player, encompasses a variety of actors with different regional, cultural, political and religious backgrounds. Of course, these supporters, who are committed to the activities of the movement, and who contribute to the movement substantially on an organizational and discursive level, will not become Fethullah Gülen’s adherents or members of the Gülen Cemaat. On the contrary, they can still retain their initial, particular positions or identities, e.g. Christian, Jewish, conservative, or leftist. So, the Gülen Movement tends to function as a platform that brings a variety of actors from different orientations and institutions together.
This PhD project seeks to examine the structures and processes by which Gülen Movement can succeed in overcoming the polarity of specific concerns of different actors, and mobilize them. Regarding the heterogeneity of those involved, this question is particularly interesting in the case of the Gülen Movement, because it has been assumed that there is irreconcilability between Western values, such as secularism, and Islamic activism. This project assumes that a particular discourse revolving around dialogue, tolerance, and peace has a constitutive and mobilizing function for this heterogeneous togetherness. However, the aim of my project is not to reconstruct the ‘true identity’ of the movement, but to develop a framework for analyzing the interactive mobilization processes and their consequences. To explain the structure and relationship of discourse, identity, and agency, I apply two approaches: The discourse and hegemony theory of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe from the post-structuralist school and, secondly, frame analysis, which has been developed in the social movement theory, based on the symbolic interactionist tradition.
First Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Cilja Harders
Second Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Schirin Amir-Moazami