Moderation and al-Ghazali in Turkey Responses to Skepticism, Modernity, and Pluralism

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Taraneh Wilkinson

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Abstract

Turkish theology faculties are an important but understudied source of moderate Muslim responses to the challenges of modernity. Although it is strongly associated with questions of such Enlightenment values as tolerance and freedom of thought, modernity is also tied to skepticism, atheism, and pluralism. Thus one way to examine whether the label of “moderate” applies to a given case is to examine how such a position reflects both the positive values of modernity in addition to how it addresses modernity’s challenges. This paper deals with the resources for religious moderation found in the thought of al-Ghazali and how they are used and analyzed in modern Turkish theology faculties. By focusing on two recent works by Turkish theologians Mehmet Bayrakdar and Adnan Aslan, this paper explores skepticism, atheism, and religious pluralism. I argue that not only are both thinkers “moderate,” but that they also engage this label by using their own theological interests and interpretations of al-Ghazali. Both theologians were trained in Turkish theology faculties and did significant graduate study in Europe. Their work reflects an active engagement with the western intellectual tradition. Al-Ghazali plays a crucial – but not final – role in each of their responses to modernity and the western intellectual tradition. For Bayrakdar he functions as a symbol of Muslim intellectual independence, whereas for Aslan he serves as a fundamental resource for making sense of the religious “other.” Thus, a case is presented for the increasing relevance of Turkish theological responses to debates outside Turkey.

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