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Did Secularism Fail? The Rise of Religion in Turkish Politics

  • Zeynep Taydas (a1), Yasemin Akbaba (a2) and Minion K. C. Morrison (a3)

Religious movements have long been challenging the modernist and secularist ideas around the world. Within the last decade or so, pro-religious parties made significant electoral advances in various countries, including India, Sudan, Algeria, and the Palestinian territories. In this article, we focus on the rise of the pro-religious Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi- AKP) to power in the 2002 elections in Turkey. Using the Turkish experience with political Islam, we evaluate the explanatory value of Mark Juergensmeyer's rise of religious nationalism theory, with a special emphasis on the “failed secularism” argument. Our analysis indicates that the theoretical approach formulated by Juergensmeyer has a great deal of explanatory power; however, it does not provide a complete explanation for the success of the AKP. The rise of religion in Turkish politics is the result of a complex process over long years of encounter and confrontation between two frameworks of order, starting with the sudden imposition of secularism from above, when the republic was established. Hence, to understand the rise of religion in contemporary Turkish politics, an in-depth understanding of history, politics, and the sources of tension between secularists and Islamists is essential. The findings of this article have important implications for other countries, especially those that are experiencing a resurgence of religion in politics, and are struggling to integrate religious parties into a democratic system.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Zeynep Taydas, Department of Political Science, Clemson University, 232 Brackett Hall, Clemson, SC 29634. E-mail:; Yasemin Akbaba, Department of Political Science, Gettysburg College, 300 North Washington Street, Gettysburg, PA 17325. E-mail:; Minion K. C. Morrison, Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Mississippi State University, P.O. Box PC, Mississippi State, MS 39762. E-mail:
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Politics and Religion
  • ISSN: 1755-0483
  • EISSN: 1755-0491
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