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A Comparative-Historical Sociology of Secularisation: Republican State Building in France (1875-1905) and Turkey (1908-1938)

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Thesis type
(Dissertation) Ph.D.
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Author: Peker, Efe
This dissertation features a comparative-historical examination of macrosocietal secularisation in France (1875-1905) and Turkey (1908-1938), with particular attention to their republican state building experiences. Bridging the literatures on secularisation theory (sociology of religion) and state formation (comparative-historical sociology), it is the purpose of this work to contribute to “historicising the secularisation debate” by scrutinising the “sociopolitical conflicts” involved in the making of macro-level secularisation (Gorski, 2003b, 2005). The existing literature often interprets different patterns of secularisation through voluntaristic perspectives (overemphasising the ideologies/beliefs of rulers and individuals) or deterministic lenses (anticipating civilisational or modernist path dependencies). To overcome the duality, this study provides a comparative-historical approach that investigates secularisation as a non-linear, uneven, and dialectical process contingent upon the course of sociopolitical struggles and structural transformations Differing from many other national states, why did France and Turkey converge to embrace secularism as a central principle and doctrine, based on an accentuated form of “separation” from and “regulation” of religion? What accounts for their divergence, that is, why did the “separation” aspect prove more dominant in French laïcité, whereas “regulation” came to be prominent in Turkish laiklik? Resting on a rich array of archival and bibliographical sources, my analysis proposes to explain the convergence and divergence between France and Turkey through the interaction of “extra-religious” and “religious” sets of variables. The former set takes into account geographically specific class struggles/alliances, and dynamics of internal/external sovereign state building. The latter set explores the doctrinal/institutional configuration of dominant religions, and the situation of religious minorities. Highlighting the interplay of these “extra-religious” and “religious” dynamics, the dissertation offers an analytical framework to contribute to the social scientific understanding of secularisation/desecularisation beyond the French and Turkish cases. The highly contentious histories of France and Turkey reveal that secularisation is not merely about the conflict of ideational visions. Secularisation is also a concrete state building strategy operationalised through a combination of “separation” and “regulation”. As part of the struggle against religiously affiliated/legitimated sociopolitical contenders, these dual strategies are utilised by bourgeois-national state builders to bring about “differentiation”, “societalisation”, and “rationalisation” (Wallis & Bruce, 1992). While the strategy of separation “differentiates” (and transfers to the state) diverse social functions previously assumed by “religious authority” (Chaves, 1994), the latter’s remaining prerogatives are placed under the regulation of “societally” and “rationally” organised secular-bureaucratic institutions. In this sense, secularisation is intimately linked to the consolidation of sovereign infrastructural power (Mann, 1984; Soifer, 2008) in “legal-institutional”, “socio-educational”, “symbolic-ideological”, and “property-distributional” spheres. France and Turkey allow for a cross-religious and cross-regional comparison to crystallise the national and extra-national social forces and mechanisms that influence the ebbs and flows in the secularising process.
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Thesis advisor: Teeple, Gary
Thesis advisor: Weil, Patrick
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