Theses Doctoral

Re-thinking Popular Sovereignty and Secularism in Turkey and Beyond

Gürbey, Sinem

The dissertation analyzes two interrelated issues, popular sovereignty and secularism, through the lens of the Turkish experience with democracy. Its objective is, first, to deconstruct Turkish secularism, laiklik, linked to the political theology of the homogeneous, sovereign nation and the attendant citizenship regime that only includes Muslim Turks. The dissertation, secondly, aims to reconstitute secularism and popular sovereignty differently in order to make room for pluralism, law, and ethics in the processes of collective will and identity formation, that is, to open up democracy to its others. The prevalent assumption in the literature that Turkish secularism is hostile to religion, aiming to eliminate Islam from the public sphere in a coercive manner is challenged through an analysis of religion textbooks used in public and military education from 1923 to 2010. This analysis suggests that secularism in Turkey does not simply entail the control of religion, but also the instrumentalization of Islam in securing political legitimacy, social integration, and sacrifice for the nation through the Islamic notion of martyrdom. The dissertation also questions the new, allegedly passive version of secularism defended by pro-Islamic conservatives that combines the ontological sovereignty of God with the political sovereignty of the people understood in majoritarian terms. Both of these models, despite their different underlying premises, are authoritarian, thereby, cannot guarantee the freedom of conscience. As opposed to both of these models, the dissertation defends a strict wall of separation between religion and politics at the church-state level, rejecting symbolic, material or political recognition of religion by the state; and a more permeable wall of separation at the level of political interactions among citizens when they are engaged in public debate about coercive laws and policies. With respect to the related question of popular sovereignty, the dissertation takes issue with the political theological concept of the people as a unitary, homogenous subject endowed with a pre-political will (the early republican conception) as well as its seemingly more mundane version articulated in terms of the majority principle (the pro-Islamic conservative conception). The concept of "the people," in its both nationalist and majoritarian versions, the dissertation suggests, is inherently linked to the Schmittian conception of the political as friend-enemy distinction which sacrifices constitutionalism and modern individual rights. Following the insights of Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida on the nature of democratic constitutional state, the dissertation defends a conception of "friendly living together among strangers" by means of positive law, based on a weak, internally differentiated conception of popular sovereignty. The dissertation, in other words, affirms the internal, albeit paradoxical, relationship between popular sovereignty and human rights.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Cohen, Jean L.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 15, 2014