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Transnational Imams, Religion and Politics in Turkey's Mosques Abroad: An Ethnographic Approach

March 11, 2019 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
Philippines Conference Room

While studies of political Islam and its influence on the European and American Muslim communities have multiplied since the early 2000s, only a few works have addressed the case of the Turkish diaspora, most often from the perspective of Turkish foreign policy and political science.  In this talk, I will present the first findings of my current research, an original ethnographic study of the imams sent by the Diyanet (the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs) to France, the UK and the US. This research aims to go beyond a state-centered analysis of Turkish religious policy abroad in terms of “soft power” or “religious diplomacy”. Instead, it proposes to evaluate the modalities and limits of this policy by concentrating on the training, motivations, mobility and achievements of the Diyanet imams, as well as on their interactions with the local communities.

Assuming that these agents and interactions on the ground are as decisive as policy-makers in promoting national and religious ideologies abroad, my study will analyze the circulation of an official version of Turkish Islam in the diaspora mosques, and identify possible gaps between the objectives of the imams’ missions and their actual fulfilment. It will also question the relationship between this state-controlled network of mosques and processes of radicalization: while the Turkish authorities are promoting an increasingly conservative version of Islam, can these mosques and their imams still be seen as one way to counter the influence of more radical Islamist discourses among the youth? After discussing these research hypotheses, this talk will present the first results of a six-month ethnographic fieldwork conducted in two Turkish mosques in London.

Mehmet Kurt is Christopher Family FSI-Humanities Center International Visitor, 2018-19 and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Global Fellow at London School of Economics (LSE) and Yale University. He is a scholar, filmmaker, and human rights activist from Turkey. His research lies at the intersection of political science, sociology, and political ethnography with a specific focus on political Islam and civil society in Kurdish Turkey and among the Turkish diaspora in Europe. Kurt has published a monograph titled Kurdish Hizbullah in Turkey: Islamism, Violence, and the State (Pluto 2017). He has published widely in both English and Turkish on religion, civil society, human rights, and politics across Turkey and the Middle East. In addition to his academic scholarship, Kurt has co-directed an array of highly-received documentaries and ethnographic films, including The Tears of Soil: Lalish (2017), I Miss my Country (2016), and Tandoor House (2015). He is also a regular contributor to media outlets across Europe and the Middle East, including the BBC, Open Democracy, Al Jazeera, and Jadaliyya.

Event Sponsor: 
Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies, CDDRL
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