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Community Formation: Identity Crisis and Threat

by Enes Ergene on . Posted in An Analysis of the Gülen Movement

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The new methodology of social science has the tendency to read social and civil movements in democratic societies as part of the pluralist paradigm. But when the issue comes to the political, social, and civil formations in the Muslim world, there seems to be no place for such optimism; most social movements in the Muslim world are subject to theories of identity crisis stemming largely from the economic and social ruptures in the society. The understanding of "plurality" weakens the assessments of movements in the Muslim world, and comments clearly take their cues from modernization theories. Theories of identity crisis incorporate a method of reading into the ideology of modernity. They consider movements of this kind as movements that emerged in a void created by modernity. Industrialization, urbanization, and rationalization represent the melting pot of modernity. This pot consumes all sorts of traditional structures, identities, and forms of organization within its framework of modernity and rationality. This approach was the way forward to consolidate both the central national state and the contemporary secular civilization.

In parallel to the tendency of modernization, many scientists have, since the 1700s, believed that religiosity would decline. Sociology, too, at first believed that religion was at its last breath in the same line as the positivist thinking. The idée fixe of the ideology of secularism that religion would disappear was based on the presumption that, along with industrialization, urbanization, and rationalization, religiosity would automatically decline. This represents the essence of modernization theories, for the most basic principle in modernization is secularization. With modernization, there came a rapid decline in church attendance in many parts of Europe. The pioneering theorists must have witnessed this decline. Yet, in the sense of "individual religiosity," these theories had no real currency. Despite a decline in church participation, individual belief did not decline during the industrial period: rather, it rose.

David Martin, for instance, is a contemporary sociologist who opposes theories of secularization as they are represented in social theory. According to Martin, there is no definite or satisfactory evidence for the assumption that secularization will spread consistently, and he demonstrates how in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, secularization theory served ideological and polemical, rather than conceptual, purposes. In the year 2000, the ideology of secularism started to show signs of decline. Social scientists referred to this phenomenon as "the return of the sacred." These social scientists claimed that secularization had been a false prediction and that religiosity was becoming more apparent in new and fresh ways. Modernity and religion appeared to be compatible after all.

Regardless of the anti-secularization currents typical of the modern era, religion today does not appear as a mere vestige among rural and uneducated villagers. On the contrary, religion is on the rise among educated and successful urban people, the very people who emerged bearing the fruits of modernism and rationality. Today, in Japan, new automobiles are blessed in Shinto temples; in Russia (the land of Marxism), masses of people flocked to the Orthodox Church after the easing of the regime.

In the 1960s, one of the most fervent defenders of secularist ideology was Peter Berger. Today, even he accepts that this ideology has collapsed. He argues modern secularism has not proven effective in improving the individual acts of people and ameliorating the general injustice in the world. Neither the great "the myth of progress," the incredible victories of natural sciences, nor the relative successes of revolutionary movements have been able to offer sustained solutions to those who suffer from material or spiritual deprivation. As a result of secularism’s failure, religion’s capacity for consolation has gained a new credibility in people’s eyes. In fact, both in the Third World, as well as in the European and Western worlds, religious movements have always existed. They are either stationary or on the rise; they are new or old, antique or modern. Many practicing believers were frightened by the all-encompassing nature of secularist ideology. Consequently, while some religious movements developed an attitude against modernization, most religious movements suggested that these processes of modernization and secularization encourage religious feelings rather than facilitate their destruction.

My purpose here is to draw attention to the fact that the rise in religious leaning does not necessarily involve a rejection of modernism. Moreover, in analyzing this rising awareness in the context of community formation, we cannot treat religion as an entity that threatens the modern way of life. Rather, we must assume that religion is an undeniable and indispensable part of our individual and social lives. If there appears to be a "religious problem"—and many claim that "religious violence and terror" point to such a problem—it can only be said that this arises from political, ideological, and radical ideals.