Project Description

A project by the Centre for Near and Middle Eastern Studies (CNMS) at Philipps University of Marburg in cooperation with the Department of Sociology at Bahçeşehir University in Istanbul.

The purpose of this research project is to investigate contemporary discourses on atheism in Turkey. The relevance of this subject must be seen in the context of Turkey's currently ongoing Kulturkampf. For a considerable period of time now, the country's ruling elite has been striving to establish its culture of a pious conservatism as the commonly accepted norm in order to consolidate its power in state and society. Morally and religiously sensitive topics such as nudity, sexuality, alcohol consumption, evolutionary theory, or criticism of religion have increasingly been systematically banned from education and the media, while at the same time religious education has been strengthened by the state and religious references have grown more visible in politics and society. The self-declared goal of educating a new, pious generation is contesting the current model of Turkish secularism and the concept of national identity that derived from it. Individual human rights guaranteed by the constitution – in this case namely the freedom of belief and conscience and the freedom of and from religion – seem to face increasing pressure due to the latest developments. The public visibility of non-religious, atheist lifestyles poses a challenge to the cultural hegemony of pious conservatism and therefore the claim to power of the ruling elite. Demanding public space, consequently, can be an efficient means to lay claim to political power. In this sense, atheism is studied as part of a (counter)hegemonic discourse on the Politics of Culture.

* "Happy is the one who calls himself an atheist." Adaption of the phrase "Ne mutlu Türküm diyene" ("Happy is the one who calls himself a Turk"), which goes back to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Until a few years ago, Mustafa Kemal's words have been an integral part of the Turkish Student Oath. In its function as a pledge of allegiance to the Turkish nation, the phrase has to be considered politically sensitive; not only as a reference to Mustafa Kemal, but as a symbol for the denial of cultural pluralism in Turkey.


Dr. Pierre Hecker
Philipps-Universität Marburg, Centrum für Nah- und Mittelost-Studien
Deutschhausstraße 12
35032 Marburg
+ 49 6421 28 24 957