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Responding to Religious Claims in a Secular Democracy: The Turkish Case

This article examines state responses to claims made by religious groups, unorthodox communities and minority religions in Turkey and argues that paradigmatic changes have taken place, especially under the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) governments since 2002. Under the AK Party governments, the conventional meaning attached to secularism gradually changed from a restrictive one to a relatively inclusive and libertarian one, as evidenced by the lifting of the headscarf ban in the public sphere. Currently, responding to the claims of unorthodox and non-Muslim communities has become part of the social fabric of Turkey, although room for improvement remains.

Responding to Religious Claims in a Secular Democracy The Turkish
For the first time in the Turkish political history, a member of parliament wearing a headscarf, Lütfiye Selva Çam, taking oath in the National Assembly. PHOTO / HAYDAR AKTAŞ
 

Despite the homogenizing of ideology and policy implementation since the formation of a secular nation in Turkey, the multiethnic, multilingual and multicultural societal legacy that the country inherited from the Ottoman Empire has continued to survive. The state ideology has permeated art, culture, education and the media, in addition to Turkish bureaucracy and the military, especially under the single party regime and within the political landscape following military interventions.

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