Reading Islam

Life and Politics of Brotherhood in Modern Turkey


In Reading Islam Fabio Vicini offers a journey within the intimate relations, reading practices, and forms of intellectual engagement that regulate Muslim life in two enclosed religious communities in Istanbul. Combining anthropological observation with textual and genealogical analysis, he illustrates how the modes of thought and social engagement promoted by these two communities are the outcome of complex intellectual entanglements with modern discourses about science, education, the self, and Muslims’ place and responsibility in society. In this way, Reading Islam sheds light on the formation of new generations of faithful and socially active Muslims over the last thirty years and on their impact on the turn of Turkey from an assertive secularist Republic to an Islamic-oriented form of governance.

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Fabio Vicini is Senior Researcher in Anthropology at the University of Verona. He specializes in the study of Islam, secularism, and society, with a focus on Turkey and Italy. In the past, he has taught and conducted research at Istanbul 29 Mayis University, the Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies, and TÜBITAK. His work has appeared, among other places, in the British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Culture and Religion, and Anthropology & Education Quarterly.
‘For the better part of a century, Turkey has been a major center of intellectual, educational, and ethical reform in modern Islam. In this vividly written and theoretically sophisticated book, Fabio Vicini takes readers through a reading of the two most foundational currents in that reform movement, and shows their deep relevance for education, ethics, and civility in the broader Muslim world. This is a must-read book for all students of Islamic affairs.’
Robert W. Hefner, Pardee School of Global Affairs, Boston University

‘Fabio Vicini’s Reading Islam is both methodologically careful and theoretically insightful, reflecting the best qualities of ethnographic writing on the social life of Islam in Turkey. Vicini describes in rich detail the forms of piety and intellectual development encouraged in religious communities active in Turkey. It is certainly refreshing to read an analysis of religious practice that takes seriously the practitioners’ orientation toward transcendence in developing religious knowledge and ethical reasoning.’
Kim Shiveley, Kutztown University

‘This perceptive study of brotherhood, ethics and self-disciplining in religious communities focused on reading Said Nursi’s Risale-i Nur draws attention to aspects of religious tradition hitherto neglected in studies of Turkish Islam. Vicini’s thoughtful analysis engages critically with a large body of contemporary social theory and provides essential new insight into the interiorizing practices of these communities and Islamic piety in general, offering a sympathetic understanding of Muslim life in modern Turkey.’
Martin van Bruinessen, Comparative Study of Contemporary Muslim Societies, Utrecht University
Note on Transliteration and Turkish Pronunciation

Introduction: Reading Islam in Modern Times
 1 Reading is Transcending
 2 Accommodating Modernity
 3 Thinking Islam
 4 A Revival of Muslim Civility
 5 Fieldwork in Two Concealed Communities
 6 Before and after July 15
 7 Outline of the Book

1 Outreaches of Religious Service
 1 Reading the Risale
 2 Reforming Society through Educational Service
 3 From Hizmet to Individual Duty
 4 Modernity and the Displacement of Islamic Ethics
 5 The Islamic Revival, Urban Life and Community

2 Living the Brotherhood
 1 Daily Life in the Houses
 2 Discipline and Prayer
 3 Time and Prayer
 4 Living by Example
 5 Brotherhood between Pedagogy and Authority
 6 Brotherhood between Civility and Corporate Personality
 7 Virtues of Mutuality
 8 Living Sincerity

3 Reading, Reflection and the Search for Transcendence
 1 Appealing to the Imagination
 2 Iterative Reading
 3 Reading as Cultural Practice
 4 Genealogies of Reflection
 5 Toward a Sufi Cosmology
 6 Reflecting on Death

4 Putting Islam to Work
 1 Education, the Nation and the Islamic “Ethos”
 2 Accessing Quality Education
 3 Modern Times, Docile Methods
 4 From Jihad to Reforming Society
 5 Life and Tutoring in the Gülen Housings
 6 Romanticizing Prophethood
 7 Learning by Example
 8 Embodying Responsibility

5 Politics of Brotherhood
 1 “You’ll Be of Service to This Country”
 2 The Nur Self’s Spaces of Will and Freedom
 3 The Relativity of the Good: On the Modern Liberal Conception of the Self
 4 Being an Aware and Responsible Muslim
 5 On Brotherhood and Moral Reasoning


All interested in the study of Islam and Society in the Middle East. In particular, students and faculty of programs in Middle Eastern Studies, Religious Studies, Sociology and Anthropology.
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