Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Healing Secular Life

Healing Secular Life: Loss and Devotion in Modern Turkey

Christopher Dole
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 320
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Healing Secular Life
    Book Description:

    In contemporary Turkey-a democratic, secular, and predominantly Muslim nation-the religious healer is a controversial figure. Attracting widespread condemnation, religious healers are derided as exploiters of the sick and vulnerable, discredited forms of Islamic and medical authority, and superstitious relics of a pre-modern era. Yet all sorts of people, and not just the desperately ill, continue to seek them out. After years of research with healers and their patients in working-class neighborhoods of urban Turkey, anthropologist Christopher Dole concludes that the religious healer should be regarded not as an exception to Turkey's secular modern development but as one of its defining figures. Healing Secular Life demonstrates that religious healing and secularism in fact have a set of common stakes in the ordering of lives and the remaking of worlds. Linking the history of medical reforms and scientific literacy campaigns to contemporary efforts of Qur'anic healers to treat people afflicted by spirits and living saints through whom deceased political leaders speak, Healing Secular Life approaches stories of healing and being healed as settings for examining the everyday social intimacies of secular political rule. This ethnography of loss, care, and politics reveals not only that the authority of the religious healer is deeply embedded within the history of secular modern reform in Turkey but also that personal narratives of suffering and affliction are inseparable from the story of a nation seeking to recover from the violence of its own secular past.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0635-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-30)

    Speeding through the streets of Ankara in his new Passat, Zöhre Ana’s son-in-law incessantly looked into the rearview mirror for the trailing cars. Behind me, in the back seat, sat Gülay, Gülay’s husband, and their freshly circumcised eight-year-old son. I had not recognized Gülay initially. More than five years had passed since I had last seen her, while she was on a visit from the Netherlands, and even then we had exchanged only brief introductions. I knew Gülay’s father well, though, as someone who figured among the most passionate followers of Zöhre Ana, a woman whose ability to perform miracles—...

  4. Chapter 1 Medicine and the Will to Civilization
    (pp. 31-57)

    On May 19, 1919, as history textbooks eagerly recount, Mustafa Kemal disembarked from a ship anchored off the Black Sea town of Samsun and, as the new Inspector of the Ninth Army, was rowed ashore to one of the port’s wooden jetties. This is the moment, the story goes, when the history of modern Turkey begins. Nurturing a long-incubating plan for a new nation, and set into motion by a recent Greek invasion of Anatolia and the Ottoman Empire’s reassignment of him to the hinterlands, Kemal splashed toward the port’s shallow quay not as the great war hero of Gallipoli...

  5. Chapter 2 Healing Difference at the Limits of Community
    (pp. 58-91)

    When I stopped by to visit Erol, I found him, as I had many times before, sitting in front of his house, book in hand, taking in the afternoon sun. With no work available that day—Erol had been intermittently employed as a day laborer since being laid off from his former job several years earlier—he was passing the hours reading What Is Alevism? a book that was quite popular while I was living in Hürriyet. After talking for a few minutes, he invited me in for tea. His wife joined us and, amid the television evening news, we...

  6. Chapter 3 Hagiographies of the Living: Saintly Speech and Other Wonders of Secular Life
    (pp. 92-128)

    Along the far edges of the city, separating the sprawling neighborhoods of Aktepe and Hürriyet from a similarly sprawling military base, runs a highway that leads eastward out of Ankara toward the Black Sea port of Samsun. Lest we forget, Samsun was the site of the nation’s conception, where Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) landed on May 19, 1919, and, casting his eyes across a newly imagined homeland, began his campaign of organizing the countryside for a war of national liberation. Traveling in the opposite direction along the Samsun Highway—as its name changes from May 19 Boulevard (commemorating Atatürk’s landing), to...

  7. Chapter 4 The Therapeutics of Piety: Ethics, Markets, Value
    (pp. 129-159)

    Few are loathed as much as the cinci hoca. Inextricable from a history of secular reform that turned with particular passion on the figure of the cinci hoca—as a regressive form of religiosity, as the embodiment of irrationality, as an affront to individual autonomy and freedom of consciousness, as a corrupting force within the civilizing mission of secularism, as an anachronistic submission to “tradition” that undermines the health of individuals and the nation—the cinci hoca today continues to be derided as untrustworthy in his deceitfulness and dangerous in his cunning. Indeed, accounts of the cinci hoca’s many exploits...

  8. Chapter 5 A Malaise of Fracturing Dreams: The Care of Relations
    (pp. 160-186)

    To arrive at Zöhre Ana’s dergâh in the afternoon was to enter a space defined as much by its air of quiet anticipation as by the intense desperation and determined yet fragile hope of those waiting there. By this point in the day, visitors had been waiting hours to meet Zöhre Ana, the living saint who figured so prominently in our earlier discussion. Spread throughout the dergâh’s open cement courtyard, clutches of visitors—often families escorting ill or disabled relatives—passed the time in idle conversation. Others spent the afternoon wandering the grounds—drinking tea in the tea salon, taking...

  9. Chapter 6 Healing Secular Life: Two Regimes of Loss
    (pp. 187-213)

    Niyazi Berkes, the celebrated historian of Turkish secularism, in a discussion of secularist historiography during the early years of the republic, writes:

    The secularist historiography brought to attention also a facet that was either ignored or rejected previously—the Turkish national spirit shows itself at its best within Islamic religiosity not through orthodoxy, but through the unorthodox varieties of Islam. This could be judged from the survivals of the national culture wherever and whenever non-orthodox Islam prevailed among the Turks and from the extinction of any trace of national tradition where and when orthodoxy reigned. Amazingly abundant and variegated, the...

  10. Conclusion: Fragments
    (pp. 214-232)

    The preceding chapters reflect my continuing effort to make sense of the urgency with which the theme of secularism circulated through the stories of loss, healing, and being healed I listened to over the course of my research. What began as a study of the experiential and embodied qualities of therapeutic processes developed, over time, into an exploration of the vital entanglement of therapeutic power and political life. As such, this book has traced the experiences of religious healers and their patients in settings of urban poverty as they sought recovery and new future possibilities in the interstices of religious...

  11. Appendix: Genres of Healing
    (pp. 233-238)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 239-262)
  13. Glossary
    (pp. 263-264)
  14. References
    (pp. 265-282)
  15. Index
    (pp. 283-288)
  16. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 289-291)