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October 16, 2004

Turkey & religiosity

I just finished Samuel Hungtington's Who Are We?. Before I comment much on this book I feel I should reread the voluminous critiques of the book/thesis on the more rational non-conservative blogs (I'm talking about you Matthew Yglesias!). Since I am busy with non-blog activities that might be a while, but, I wanted to offer some data that I think might illuminate something I've been questioning of late: how "secular" is Turkey?.

Here is data from the 1990-1993 World Values Survey on the percentage within each nation who affirm "strong religiosity."1 I am inserting in a variety of nations for context, but focus on the number for Turkey:


  • Nigeria - 93%
  • Poland - 85%
  • Turkey - 71%
  • United States - 65%
  • Italy - 57%
  • West Germany - 44%
  • Britain - 38%
  • France - 34%
  • Sweden - 26%
  • Japan - 19%

I highlighted France & "West Germany" (remember that the time frame was contemporaneous with reunification) because they are large EU nations. Poland is an example of a "religious" nation that just joined the EU. The United States is supposedly a right-wing evangelical God-crazed nation which scares the shit out of rational secular Europeans. Note that Turks affirm more religiosity than Americans!

Two points though:


  • "Strong religiosity" is often not precisely defined, so there will be a great deal of individual variation in what it exactly means.
  • "Strong religiosity" might have different implications in different cultural contexts.

Now, Poland is clearly an example of a religious nation that has joined the EU. I would argue though that Polish Catholicism is a difference of degree from the more moderate religiosity of Italy (or Spain), while Turkish religiosity, being Muslim, is qualitatively different (though this is open to dispute).2 Second, there is the old joke that the United States is a nation as religious as India governed by an elite as secular as Sweden, but it seems to me if there is any correspondence between American and Turkish religiosity, a similar assessment might also apply to the Turkish polity.

1- I estimated the numbers off a graph, so I am likely off 1% here and there.
2 - I have argued elsewhere that differences of doctrine and practice mask cross-cultural cognitive similarities in various classes of believers, so any qualitative difference is tempered by that reality. Nevertheless, I do think that religious phylogenies have more validity than arbitrary accidents of theological disputation. To be more specific, strongly religious Turks (and Kurds) can draw upon a long history of Hanafi shariat law, while religious Poles do not have such an explicit Catholic legal tradition (Canon Law is applied within the Church) to challenge the Civil Code.

Posted by razib at 04:56 PM