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Turkey is not becoming pious, in fact it is moving away from religion

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

“The government pokes its nose into everything, but I really don’t care. Why do I have to respect your orders when you don’t respect my choices? Leave your orders for the faithful and leave me with my drink. Religion is a personal thing.”

ONE: If Turkey is getting more conservative… The new generations would be more pious than previous ones.

Sinan Yılmaz of Marmara University’s Faculty of Theology conducted a PhD dissertation researching 2,790 different families. Eighty-seven percent of these families stated that they believed interest in the topic of religion has decreased in the newer generations, prompted by the influence of Western values. TWO: If Turkey is getting more conservative… There would be a drop in the public visibility of LGBTIs. In 1993, when there was a wish to hold a “Pride March” in Turkey for the first time, guests attending from abroad were held up at the airport and then sent back. The parades were cancelled. At that time, a writer in a secularist newspaper described homosexuality as a “perversion.” Later, in 2003 and 2004 the “Pride March” was held in Turkey with around 15-20 participants. This year, 40,000 people tried to walk in the center of Istanbul, during Ramadan. It was not public crowds that interfered in the march to prevent it, but the police. THREE: If Turkey is getting more conservative… There would be a drop in pre-marital flirting. Is there an increase in pre-marital flirtation from past to present, or a decrease? There is a significant increase. How do we know? I conducted interviews with many high-school students, and nowadays students go to each other’s homes, they send naked pictures to each other on WhatsApp, there is talk about students kissing at school. Before 1995, the only means for flirtation was through land-based phone lines, which was seen as very dangerous. Nowadays, girls text their boyfriends even while sitting at the dinner table with their fathers.

Raki - The alcoholic drink secular Turks love

FOUR: If Turkey is getting more conservative… There would be a drop in pre-marital or extra-marital sex. Graduate and doctoral studies conducted in universities show that new generations are much more open to pre-marital sex compared to older generations.

Let us give a popular example: Arda Turan is the most respected, most popular footballer in Turkey. This summer I read stories in the newspapers about his vacation.

He vacationed with his girlfriend, who he is not married to, but no one found this odd unlike in the past. Turkish society has, perhaps unconsciously, started to internalize such attitudes. FIVE: If Turkey is getting more conservative… There would be an increase in belief in supernatural powers. My paradigm of secularization is not just about Islam, but also about metaphysical forces. If a society is getting more conservative, then not just organized religion but also belief in supernatural forces must have more of an impact on society. In the 1990s there was a certain kind of TV program, in which supernatural topics would be discussed like “sheep with ‘Allah’ written on their wool,” or “the rock that came out of nowhere.” These would attract a great deal of attention, but nowadays such programs would only be mocked on Twitter or Facebook. Although there is still a special interest in astrology, fortunes and psychics, they have no effect on everyday life. SIX: If Turkey is getting more conservative… There would be a decrease on the marriages between groups with different beliefs. Today, Alevi-Sunni marriages and friendships are rising. Due to the increase of education and the increase of urbanization, Sunnism and Alevism - at least compared to the past - have become less definitive as identities. SEVEN: If Turkey is getting more conservative… Clothes that cover up the body would be increasingly preferred. Both the conservative and secular women are tending to prefer clothes that bring out their body lines compared to their mothers. It is not only women; men are also increasingly comfortable showing their body lines. EIGHT: If Turkey is getting more conservative… There must be an increase of the prestige and power of religion in the public sphere. If a society is getting more conservative then the prestige of men of religion would be expected to increase. But let’s look at the situation of imams. They used to be the people who had the final word in villages. They used to be administrators in every aspect: Health, economy, etc. But now with 80 percent of Turkey’s population now living in towns, no one is left to ask imams for their opinion. Now, other experts respond to the questions once answered by the imams.

In one newspaper, there is a description of high-school teenagers and non-married couples about how to have sex via text messages. In another, a writer shares details of a group sex session he witnessed on a Greek island. Would these have appeared in the mainstream media 20 or 30 years ago? Or let’s look at the example of the most popular TV programs: Many shows aired on prime time, watched by millions, present a highly secular lifestyle as the norm. NINE: If Turkey is getting more conservative… Secular references would be being replaced by religious ones. If abortion and drinking are discussed in a truly religious society, then you tell the public that “religion prohibits this” and the subject is dropped. But politicians in Turkey, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, do not usually use the Quran or Islam but secular references regarding these topics. They talk about them in terms of human rights and health. If society has become more pious, then why are the religious references pushed to the side and secular references taking their place? TEN: If Turkey is getting more conservative… The “sacred” effect on our daily practices should increase. The “sacred” has less of an impact on ordinary lives compared to the past, and the pious are aware of this. The Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) has recognized this, saying: “The youth of today sees the past generation’s world as narrow and unacceptable. We must work on a new language and tone with this in mind.” In a society becoming more conservative and pious, the Diyanet would not feel the urge to make such statements. It is aware that new generations do not have the same rhetoric anymore. In the world of Islam, we are facing a youth that values being a free individual.

The prohibition of selling alcoholic beverages on high-speed trains in Turkey, the desire to ban extramarital sex, the discussion of boys and girls living under the same roof, the statements that the Justice and Development Party [AKP] is raising a ‘pious generation’… All these are about the relation between the state and religion.

But I am talking about the relation between religion and society. Society is not becoming more pious, the political arena is. The two are separate things. The number of woman wearing Islamic headscarves is actually decreasing. If other scientific developments, capitalism and urbanization are taking place in a society, then it is very difficult for that society to be altered from above. Kemalists tried to do that for 90 years but still failed. These changes cannot happen with impositions from a higher institution. “

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