Inclusion in Society through Religious Orientation? Biographies of Male Students Participating in the ‘Gülen Movement' in Germany

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 11:30 AM
Room: Booth 60
Oral Presentation
Thomas GEIER , University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany
Magnus FRANK , Universität Duisburg-Essen, Germany
The so-called ‘Gülen movement’ (Ebaugh 2009), a global network revolving around a Turkish-Islamic preacher, has become increasingly visible inside Germany. Founding private elementary and secondary schools, as well as centers for private coaching, supporting  intercultural and interreligious dialogues, and issuing statements such as “Our Jihad is education”, the movement acts to render possible the educational success of children of Turkish immigrants. By referring to themselves and their practices as hizmet (service), network participants also aim to alter the common view of ‘backward Islam’, a view perpetuated by popular discourse, and to contribute to a perception of a ‘modern’ Islam, which can be synthesized with the natural sciences and with globalized multicultural meritocracies.  And so, to lead a Muslim life the ‘Gülenian’ can be understood as a promise to become successful, educated members of society.

In our lecture, we wish to present some reconstructive results of an analysis of biographies of male students who attend a weekly religious sohbet (discussion circle) in hizmet. By this we wish to discuss how inclusion and exclusion can operate as productive concepts for understanding the students’ narratives about becoming members of hizmet. Our claim is that participation in the hizmet functions not only as a religious orientation, but also plays an important role in resolving crises among young Turkish adults. These crises result from discriminatory discourse in the public sphere in Germany against Turkish migrants and Islam, and from the construction of cultural, religious and ethnic difference in schools and classrooms. In this sense, becoming a member of hizmet also means acquiring specific cultural, social and symbolic capital, which is used in the students’ stories to explain their own place in hizmet and in society.