The Sohbet: Talking Islam in Turkey

In: Sociology of Islam
Smita Tewari Jassal Associate Professor of Anthropology, Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey

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As Islam moves to the center of Turkey’s public life, an opportunity emerges to explore how Islamic knowledge is transmitted through the discursive practice of pious reading circles known in Turkish as sohbet (conversation). Constituting a ritualistic practice of Turkish Muslims who are inspired by the influential faith community leader, Fethullah Gülen, this article investigates how sohbet is practiced by a group of middle class housewives in Ankara. In so doing, the article addresses the meanings and interpretations that pious women ascribe to the reading of religiously oriented texts, and to discussions on prayer, family, and community that take place at sohbet. It also explores how new Islamic subjectivities are fashioned, how Islamic knowledge is reclaimed, and how spirituality is integrated by women into their roles as mothers and wives. Methodologically anchored upon ethnography, this article concludes that the distinctive features of sohbet in the so-called Gülen community, among other effects, facilitate social coherence, and subsequently, a greater capacity for women to synthesize their experience with modernity and tradition.

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