In Conversation with Tahir Uluc
Last November I was invited to animate a Round Table conversation in the Faculty of Divinity at Necmeddin Erbakan University in Konya, Turkey. Konya was the home of the great Sufi mystic Rumi and the Faculty of Divinity has a large professoriate and well over 2000 students, mostly women. In my Round Table remarks I discussed American Evangelical Christianity including its current role in America culture.
Several of my remarks resonated with Tahir Uluc, Professor of Islamic Philosophy, and the author of a number of books largely on the Sufi tradition of Islam in Turkey. We met following the Round Table and discussed the gifts and challenges facing Turkey and our larger world. Professor Uluc is a keen observer of Turkey, a fine professor who has a deep interest in his students and in education in Turkey.
Some context is important to understand what continues to unfold in Turkey and Professor Uluc’s concerns. When the Ottoman Empire ended following the First World War Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the Republic of Turkey and becoming its first President in 1923. His political party led the modernization of Turkey and ushered in a secular state that modeled itself after elements in France following its Revolution in 1789. Religion was removed from its central place in Turkish culture, many religious leaders were executed, some banished, and others went underground. Fine contributions were mixed with virulent ones, as is so often the case with sweeping social change.
With the election of Recep Tayyip Erdogan as Prime Minister along with his Justice and Development Party in 2003 another set of remarkable changes were ushered in. I have visited Turkey a number of times in the last decade and appreciated many of these changes. I have also been a critic of how the Western press characterizes the changes coming about in Turkey. The fears expressed show little appreciation for this remarkable country and no understanding for its distinct form of Islam and its potential role in the modern world.