Said Nursi’s Notion of ‘Sacred Science’: Its Function and Application in Hizmet High School Education

in Sociology of Islam
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


This paper explores the teaching of natural science subjects in high schools associated with the Gülen-Hizmet movement in Turkey. It focuses on the apparent reconciliation of scientific learning in a pervasive, albeit unofficial, Sunni Islamic religious culture. The framework for such an accommodation is found in the teachings of Fethullah Gülen and his predecessor, Said Nursi. Following Nursi, Gülen encourages scientific pursuit, and intellectual knowledge in general, as a pious and spiritually meritorious act. Drawing on fieldwork conducted at two Hizmet-affiliated high schools in Turkey, this article explores the “sanctification” of science and learning in the Gülen Movement by highlighting the principle of fedakarlık (self-sacrifice), as the primary motivation of the teaching staff. Focusing also on the schools’ highly disciplined and competitive learning environments (as exemplified in preparations for the prestigious International Science Olympiads), the article suggests that although teacher commitment and prestigious competitive awards bolster the Hizmet schools’ market competitiveness, they fail in actually producing students who pursue careers in natural science fields. By contrast, this article concludes that the movement’s engagement with science, at least at present, is less interested in furthering scientific inquiry than it is in equipping what Gülen has called a ‘Golden Generation’ with the tools it needs to compete with secularist rivals in Turkey.*

Said Nursi’s Notion of ‘Sacred Science’: Its Function and Application in Hizmet High School Education

in Sociology of Islam



  • Abu-RabiIbrahim M. ed. (2008). Spiritual Dimensions of Bediüzzaman Said Nursi’s Risale-i NurAlbany, NY: State University of New York Press.

  • AgaiBekim (2002). “Fethullah Gulen and his Movement’s Islamic Ethic of Education.” Critique: Critical Middle Eastern Studies Volume 11 (1): 2747.

  • ArslanBerna (2009). “Pious Science: The Gülen Community and the Making of a Conservative Modernity in Turkey.” [Unpublished PhD thesis]. Santa Cruz, CA: University of California in Santa Cruz.

  • BalcıBayram (2003). “Fethullah Gülen’s Missionary Schools in Central Asia and their Role in the Spreading of Turkism and Islam.” Religion State and Society Volume 31 (2): 155177.

  • NursiBediüzzaman Said (2010). The Words: The Reconstruction of Islamic Belief and ThoughtNew Jersey: The Light Inc.

  • EdisTaner (2007). An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in IslamAmherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

  • GolshaniMehdi (2003). The Holy Quran and the Sciences of Nature: A Theological ReflectionNew York: Global Scholarly Publications.

  • GuessoumNidhal (2011). Islam’s Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern ScienceOxford: IB Tauris.

  • GülenM. Fethullah (2010). Pearls of WisdomSomerset, New Jersey: Tughra Books.

  • —— (2006) Toward a Global Civilization of Love and ToleranceSomerset, New Jersey: The Light Inc. and Işık Yayınları.

  • —— (2005a). The Statue of Our Souls: Revival in Islamic Thought and ActivismSomerset, New Jersey: The Light, Inc. and Işık Yayınları.

  • —— (2005b). Essentials of the Islamic Faith Somerset New Jersey: The Light Inc. and Işık Yayınları.

  • —— (2004). Emerald Hills of the Heart: Key Concepts in the Practice of SufismVolume 3Somerset, New Jersey: The Light Inc. and Işık Yayınları.

  • —— (1998). Towards the Lost Paradise Istanbul: Kaynak.

  • —— “Worldly Means and the Criteria for Planning the Future.” In The Broken Jug (online blog)

  • HefnerRobert W. and ZamanMuhammad Qasim eds. (2007): Schooling Islam: The Culture and Politics of Modern Muslim EducationPrinceton: Princeton University Press.

  • HendrickJoshua (2013): Gülen: The Ambiguous Politics of Market Islam in Turkey and the World. New York: NYU Press.

  • —— (2009). “Globalization, Islamic activism, and passive revolution in Turkey: the case of Fethullah GülenJournal of Power Vol. 2 (3): 343368.

  • KlausByron D. (2006). “Charisma.” In Encyclopedia of Religion Communication and Media: A Religion and Society Encyclopedia. Edited by StoutDaniel A.7174. NewYork: Routledge.

  • KocabaşÖzlem (2006). “Scientific Careers and Ideological Profiles of Science Olympiad Participants from Fethullah Gülen and other Secondary Schools in Turkey.” [Unpublished MA thesis]. Ankara: Middle East Technical University.

  • MandavillePeter (2011). “Transnational Muslim Solidarities and Everyday LifeNations and Nationalism Volume 17 (1): 724.

  • MardinŞerif (1989). Religion and Social Change in Modern Turkey: The Case of Bediuzzaman Said NursiAlbany, NY: SUNY Press.

  • NasrSeyyid Hossein (1993). The Need for a Sacred Science Richmond Surrey. Curzon.

  • ÖzdalgaElisabeth (2000). “Worldly asceticism in Islamic casting: Fethullah Gülen's inspired piety and activism.” Critique: Critical Middle Eastern Studies Volume 9 (17): 83104.

  • PandyaSophia and GallagherNancy eds. (2012). The Gülen Hizmet Movement and its Transnational Activities: Case Studies of Altruistic Activism in Contemporary IslamFlorida. BrownWalker Press.

  • ShanklandDavid (1999). Islam and Society in Turkey Huntingdon. Eothen.

  • ——Trends in International Math and Science Study’ (2007). (Accessed July 5 2013).

  • TuramBerna (2007). Between Islam and the State: The Politics of EngagementStanford, California: Stanford University Press.

  • TurnerColin and HorkucHasan (2009). Said Nursi: Makers of Islamic CivilizationOxford: I.B. Tauris.

  • ÜnalAli and WilliamsAlphonse (2000). Advocate of DialogueFairfax, Virginia: The Fountain.

  • VahideŞükran (2005). Islam in Modern Turkey: An Intellectual Biography of Bediuzzaman Said NursiAlbany, NY: SUNY Press.

  • YavuzM. Hakan (2013). Towards an Islamic Enlightenment: The Gulen MovementOxford: Oxford University Press.

  • WeberMax (1947). Theory of Social and Economic Organization: being Part 1 of Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft translated by A. R. Anderson, London: Hodge.

  • —— (1978). Economy and SocietyBerkeley, CA: University of California Press.

  • 19

    According to Weber (1947) the emergence of charismatic authority figures is contingent partly upon there being a sense of crisis (Klaus 2006). Gülen’s “creation” of a sense of worldwide crisis brought about by unbelief and moral degeneration provides a context for his emergence as a charismatic leader. For more on Gülen’s charisma see Hendrick 2013: 78-88.

Index Card

Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 90 90 3
Full Text Views 140 140 0
PDF Downloads 11 11 0
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0