Creeping conservatism?

I’ve been asking around, and many of my religiously liberal and secular Turkish friends are convinced that Turkish society has become more conservative.

Possibly. The common examples they give show that a more orthodox religiosity has become more of a default assumption in public. One obvious sign is not just that many more women are visible with headscarves, but that headscarves have become expected in many situations. Another example a friend gave had to do with the imminent arrival of Ramadan. Fifteen or twenty years ago, the company he worked in would have had employees sign up for alternative arrangements if they were going to be fasting. The default would have been to take lunch as usual. But today, the company takes the names of those who will not fast, and the special arrangement is to take lunch as usual.

I can see that these (and a lot more) may be signs of creeping religious conservatism. But maybe not. An alternative explanation is that the defaults have changed to better reflect the continuing social conservatism of the majority. After all, two thirds of Turkish women cover their heads in public. I very much doubt that this number was less twenty years ago. Most Turks are observant Muslims, and they fast during Ramadan. I doubt the proportion has changed much. It makes a kind of democratic sense for the defaults to reflect this majority.

What has changed is that in recent decades, religious conservatives have enjoyed much more political, economic, and cultural power. My friends are seeing this. It’s a lot more difficult to tell whether there is increasing conservatism as well.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University