The Politics of Secularism
Secularism, Islam & Europe’s Margins

Secular Geographies of Nation and Religion on the Margins of the New Europe: Mosque Communities and Civil Society in Turkey and Croatia

Jeremy F. Walton, CETREN Postdoctoral Fellow

In recent years, the critical study of secularism, spanning a swath of academic disciplines including Religious Studies, Anthropology, Sociology, Comparative Literature and Post-Colonial Studies, has forwarded a robust, provocative model of secularism as a distinctive modality of modern state power, one which organizes and polices the relationship between politics and religion through the very process of defining the latter. My project CETREN-funded project, “Secular Geographies of Nation and Religion on the Margins of the New Europe: Mosque Communities and Civil Society in Turkey and Croatia” seeks to expand and complicate the cardinal themes of the study of secularism by plumbing the less ramified, transregional logics and processes, both legal-governmental and extra-legal, that link specific pious communities and contexts to broader discourses of belonging and civilization. The principal research for the project will involve extensive fieldwork among two mosque communities, one in Istanbul and the other in the Croatian port city of Rijeka. Above all, I will focus on how different categories of social and political belonging—e.g. nationality and ethnicity; the ummah, or universal community of Muslims; Europeanness—articulate with a cartography of transregional secular power, (perhaps) too easily glossed as “European.”

One key inspiration for this project is the parallel yet distinct trajectories of Turkey and Croatia in relation to Europe over the past decade. As I argue, the two countries’ divergent fates as European Union candidates are symptomatic of broader debates over belonging, identity, and the place of religion within the legal, political, and cultural geography of the new Europe. In spite of their vastly different positions within the political geography of the Cold War, with the dawn of the new millennium, both Turkey and Croatia yoked their respective political cultures and destinies to the EU; both nations became official candidates for membership in October 2005. In the eight years since their mutual promotion to candidacy, however, Croatia and Turkey have followed radically different paths. Croatia succeeded in quickly implementing the various Copenhagen Criteria necessary for membership, and became a full EU member in July of this year. Turkey’s path to EU accession has been decidedly more difficult. Simmering tensions rooted in the Cyprus conflict, broad-based concerns over human rights in relation to Turkey’s minorities—especially the large Kurdish population—and, above-all, a persistent, ambient anxiety over the prospect of a “Muslim-majority” EU member have all hampered Turkey’s progress toward full accession. Although the EU process has entailed massive legislative and judicial reform within Turkey itself, Turkey’s negotiations with the European Commission have stalled, and are expected to last for at least another decade, if not longer.

With this regional, geopolitical backdrop in mind, my project will interrogate how mosque communities grapple with dilemmas of nationhood and religion in these two distinct contexts. National identity in both Turkey and Croatia achieves definition in relation to a hegemonic religious identity, Sunni Islam in Turkey’s case and Roman Catholicism in Croatia’s. Put another way, in both the Croatian and the Turkish public sphere, debates over national belonging, state practice, and geopolitics inescapably provoke questions of religious identity as well. And yet, these domestic formations of religion and nationhood articulate very differently with the broader political and cultural geography of Europe. While the role of Catholicism in Croatian public life is a central matter in Croatia today, this debate is of little concern to the EU; Croatia’s “European-ness” does not depend upon the relationship between Catholicism and Croatian-hood. On the other hand, the ostensible compatibility of Turkey and Europe is inextricable from the relationship between Turkish national identity and Islam and the anxious domestic debates over this relationship. This broad contrast between Croatia and Turkey suggests a fertile context in which to explore many of the recent apical questions and themes in the study of secularism. On the basis of my comparative ethnography of Islamic practice and Muslim community in both Turkey and Croatia, I aim to pursue the following theoretical question: How do two distinct yet parallel domestic arrangements of secularism, and the modes of religiosity that they permit and foreclose, articulate with the broader “secular geographies” of contemporary Europe?

In light of the guiding themes of CETREN, my research will also emphasize the “politics of the new” in relation to transregional discourses of and about both Europe and Islam. More specifically, how does the new political-legal administrative apparatus of the EU articulate with both older and broader conceptions of “Europe” and “Islam”? This question dovetails directly with the overarching goals and themes of the pilot project “The Politics of Secularism and the Emergence of New Religiosities,” namely “to comparatively analyse secular governance and the production of religion…by attending to the justifactory discourses and counter-discourses used by regulatory powers and religious actors, the forms of coercion and punishment imposed, and the relationships among surveilled practices and institutions and both formal and local politics.

Banners of Atatürk, Ali, and the Turkish Flag at the Cem Foundation, an Alevi organization

The Conference on Hunger and Poverty, sponsored by several different Muslim civil society organizations in Istanbul

The courtyard of the Rüstempaşa Madrasa, renovated by the Istanbul Science and Culture Foundation

Protestors against the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Istanbul, November 2006

At the tombs of the parents of the famous theologian Bediuzzman Said Nursi

Atatürk, father of the nation

Dr. Jeremy F. Walton (2013-2015)

CETREN Postdoctoral Researcher in the project “The Politics of Secularism and the Emergence of New Religiosities"

Center for Advanced Study of Southeast Europe, University of Rijeka



Jeremy F. Walton joined the CETREN Transnational Research Network at Georg August University of Göttingen as a research fellow in the pilot program, “The Politics of Secularism and the Emergence of New Religiosities”, in autumn 2013. During the 2012-2013 academic year, he was a Jamal Daniel Levant Postdoctoral Fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS). Prior to this, he was an Assistant Professor and Faculty Fellow in New York University’s Religious Studies Program (2009-2012). He received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Chicago (2009), and is currently in the process of revising his book manuscript, Pieties of Pluralism: Mediations of Islam, Civil Society and Secularism in Turkey. A comprehensive essay summarizing much of this research was published in the February 2013 volume of American Ethnologist, under the title ““Confessional Pluralism and the Civil Society Effect: Liberal Mediations of Islam and Secularism in Contemporary Turkey.” Dr. Walton co-edited, with John Kelly, Beatrice Jauregui, and Sean T. Mitchell, the collection Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency, and has book chapters in Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency, Orienting Istanbul: Cultural Capital of Europe? and The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies. His teaching and research broadly interrogate the myriad relationships among Islamic practice, the politics of contemporary secularism, and global regimes of power and publicity. Dr. Walton conducted fieldwork for his dissertation in Istanbul and Ankara from 2005 to 2007. Under the auspices of CETREN, his new research project, tentatively titled “Secular Geographies of Nation and Religion on the Margins of the New Europe: Mosque Communities and Civil Society in Turkey and Croatia,” will plumb how transregional discourses of belonging and identity affect pious actors, practices, and communities in distinct yet related political contexts.


T: +49 551 39 21286
F: +49 551 39 21284


Georg-Universität-Universität Göttingen
Heinrich-Düker-Weg 14
37073 Göttingen