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The chapter presents the vaizeler’s engagement in inviting women to participate in the mosque’s public realm. This invitation (davet in Turkish) consists of a call of the vaizeler that dates back to the origins of Islam, a period reported as a “golden age” for women’s participation within the religious community. The Diyanet’s projects sought to invite women to mosques and to forge a “new religious woman” who is representing these old, traditional models in a modern way. In everyday life, inviting women to mosques requires the vaize to be aware of the communities’ heterogeneous attendance. Their sessions are places in which women share concerns with both the group and the preachers. Far from any wishful thinking about women’s resistance, victimization, or fears of “false consciousness,” the engagement of women in the Diyanet’s sessions embodies the concept of a “good Muslim woman” behaving piously in everyday life.
The chapter presents the religious guidance and moral support (irşad in Turkish) that the Diyanet preachers provide to women and families. In line with a redefinition of religious services as a pastoral care designed to enlighten the believer on any aspects of life, the irşad’s activities have been deeply reshaped. This has occurred through old and new institutions that have been put in place. The chapter refers to the fatwa services provided in local mufti offices, as a phone service and via online platform, and to the Family Guidance and Consultation Bureaus established in 2002 with the aim to provide religious counseling to women and families. It also emphasizes how religious officers’ activities are conducted outside the mosques, in prisons, hospitals, orphanages, and women’s shelters. The expansion of the Diyanet’s moral mission is thus characterized by a pervasive moral support that goes beyond the mosques to penetrate and reshape the spaces of the secular.
In Chapter 4, attention is paid to the professionalization of female preaching. This phenomenon is regulated by national competitions, standardized, and thus challenges the traditional female preachers belonging to religious communities. Women preachers (vaizeler) working for the Diyanet define themselves as theologians engaged in enlightening women about “true” religion (doğru din), far from any superstition and false beliefs. While performing their everyday activities, the vaizeler combine their role of civil servant withe one of religious scholar. Their “academic” interpretation of Islam is based on basic principles and thus easily shared by a larger audience, avoiding sectarian belonging. The feminization of the Diyanet through the emergence of a pious female bureaucrat working alongside male colleagues laid the groundwork for a blossoming of projects and publications directed at women and families.
The concluding section relates the questions and hypotheses advanced throughout the entire study to the fieldwork. It states that all the hypotheses advanced, each in its own way, contribute to explain the Diyanet’s decision to support its own feminization. In the early 2000s, a state amnesty allowed the reinstatement of those women who had been excluded from public sectors because of the head scarf ban. However, such a reconfiguration of the political opportunities structure led to a broader effect: the emergence of a pious female bureaucrat who calls into question the role of devout Muslim women within both religious circles and Turkish society. The general conclusion is that the vaize institution testifies to an accomplished reinstatement of a generation of women within the state bureaucracy. Moreover, the emergence of a pious female bureaucrat redefines the boundaries of the Turkish state vis-à-vis religion.
In this chapter, the debates over secularism, laicism, and secularization are presented. The oppositional ideas of an “official” and an “unofficial” religion, which date back to the Ottoman Empire, are pointed out in relationship to Turkish secularism (laiklik). In its assertive nature, the latter is not a static concept; it evolved from a state “mission” associated with modernization and westernization of society to an “instrument” by which the state could make use of religion as cement to promote national unity. Within this changing environment, the Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), a state institution charged with religious affairs, evolved as well. In the last forty years, its bureaucratic structure of an agency in charge of the management of mosques and the employment of religious officers has been reshaped as the bearer of a modern interpretation of Islam. The chapter provides a concluding section devoted to the crucial role that the Diyanet has played over the past decade.
The chapter introduces the topic of the feminization of the Diyanet within the context of Turkish secularism. It disrupts and breaks down the conceptualizations that are mainly associated with the decision to establish new offices for women within the Diyanet. It provides a conceptual and epistemic toolbox that allows for the gendering of the religious–secular divide. Four hypotheses are then presented and critically examined: The first relates the Diyanet’s decision to employ an increasing number of women to the debate on Islamic feminism. The second deals with devout women’s access within the Diyanet bureaucracy, pointing out their engagement within Islamist movements in the 1990s. The third relates the increase in Diyanet’s female personnel to the evolution of the Turkish state’s monopoly over religion. The fourth focuses on the state-sponsored moral support directed toward women and families within the frame of a redefinition of religious services. Finally, the chapter illustrates the methodology of the work, stressing the importance of ethnographic observations to include a perspective from within on public policies.
The chapter investigates how assertive laicism made women one of the battlefields in the conflict between religion and the state. However, to depict them as passive recipients of a conflict does not paint the whole picture. The increase in female schooling during the 1960s induced many conservative families to let their daughters study in religious vocational schools (Imam-Hatip). In 1976, the Imam-Hatip opened classes for female students and de facto accelerated a process of feminization of religious education. Many of these female students enrolled in the faculties of theology at universities, where the head scarf ban was introduced in the 1980s. The relationship between female religious education and the reinforcement of the head scarf ban is here carefully examined. Many of these “pious and educated” Muslim women joined Islamist movements and parties claiming the right of education and work. They experienced the reinstatement of the head scarf ban in universities and its reinforcement after the February 28, 1997, coup. Since the AKP’s rise to power in 2002 and the appointment of Ali Bardakoğlu as the Diyanet president in 2003, new political opportunities fostered the decision to include women within the Diyanet’s state bureaucracy.
In this chapter the actors and factors contributing to the Diyanet’s gender policy in the 2000s are presented. What emerges are figures of pious female bureaucrats connecting the state with the religious realm, which bears witness to an accomplished reintegration within the state bureaucracy of a generation of women who voiced their exclusion from the public sphere. Moreover, the ethnographic fieldwork casts light on three main aspects of vaizeler’s activities: the nature of vaizeler’s invitation (that is, how the preachers reach women and invite them to participate in the religious public realm); the way the vaizeler promote both a conscious believing and a daily performance of religious practices; and how the religious guidance and moral support of women and families contribute to enlarge the notion of religious services. Diyanet’s policies toward women, and in particular the feminization of religious services, are the lens through which the intertwined relationships between women, religion, and the state in Turkey are reassessed.
The chapter focuses on the vaizeler’s daily predication either as sermons or religious seminars. The Diyanet regularly provides preachers with suggestions about the sermons' content and structure. However, during the religious sessions, they are often confronted with women’s personal concerns so that their preaching resembles more dialogues with the communities than monologues. Vaizeler’s predications consist in enlightening women about religious knowledge and encouraging them to perform religious practices (ibadet in Turkish) in their everyday lives. To this end, preachers warn women to refuse secularism in all its forms and to perform a conscious piety, whose strength lies in being completely plunged into modernity. Piety and religious agency largely emerge from the vaizeler’s sessions, in which a new religious identity for Muslim women is divulgated. Women not only are engaged in learning about religious knowledge and practices but also in finding the group’s and the preacher’s support in dealing with personal and family problems.
Tracing the centrality of women in the definition of Turkish secularism, this study investigates the 2003 decision to increase the number of women officers employed by the Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet). It explores how, as professional religious officers, the female Diyanet preachers epitomize a pious, modern and highly educated woman whose role in society has been raised to prominence. Based on extensive fieldwork in Turkey, and drawing on a rich ethnography of the activities conducted by Diyanet women preachers in Istanbul, Chiara Maritato disentangles the state's attempt to standardize a multifaceted female religious participation. In using the feminization of the Diyanet as a prism through which to understand the significance of a renewed presence of Islam in the Turkish public realm, she casts light on a broader reformulation of religious services for women and families in Turkey, and pinpoints how this pervasive moral support has been able to penetrate and reshape even secular spaces.