Shari`a in the Secular State: Evolving Meanings of Islamic Jurisprudence in Turkey (Hardback) book cover

Shari`a in the Secular State

Evolving Meanings of Islamic Jurisprudence in Turkey

By Russell Powell

© 2016 – Routledge

154 pages | 1 B/W Illus.

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Words in both law and religion can shape power relationships and are often highly disputed. Shari`a lies within the overlap of these two spheres and provides a unique subject for the study of meaning in that liminal space. This book contributes important insights related to Islamic jurisprudence and secularism in the Turkish context and regarding the role of language in contested legal and religious contexts.

The study begins by providing a historical framework for the ideas and terms covered, including concepts of religion in general, Shari`a in particular, and secularism in the Turkish state. It goes on to examine empirical research to describe and analyze contemporary Turkish understandings of religion and Shari`a. The author’s research indicates that there is often a disconnect between supporting the adoption of Shari`a and supporting the regulation of everyday behavior through civil codes. Thus, “Shari`a” seems to have taken on new meanings as groups have sought either to appropriate or criticize it. It is a quintessential example of fractured and contextual meaning at the center of both religious and legal traditions.

This book is essential reading for both academics and those interested in law, linguistics, history, political science, anthropology, sociology, religious studies, or Near Eastern studies.


`Moving easily through social theory, theology, newly created data, and insightful interviews, Russell Powell's brilliant book presents an illuminating, nuanced, and persuasive account of the relationship between the diverse lived experiences of religion and law in Turkey. But the discussion also has profound implications for the relationship between law and religion in the United States and elsewhere. This is an exceedingly important book.'

Steven H. Shiffrin, Charles Frank Reavis Sr. Professor of Law, Emeritus, Cornell University Law School, USA

'Professor Powell’s study is a compelling exploration of the complex ways in which religious identity is constructed within the legally secular framework of modern Turkey. Meticulously researched and supported by quantitative data from empirical studies, it is particularly insightful into the contradictory understandings of Shari?ain contemporary Turkey, from a symbol of faith for some to one of oppression for others.'

Professor Ali Asani, Director, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program, Harvard University, USA

'Russell Powell’s conclusion that most Turks of different educational backgrounds and degrees of religiosity support traditional moral values while holding relatively libertarian views on freedom of religion offers an important corrective to much of the literature. Conceptually clear and methodologically innovative, this book makes an important contribution by identifying an enduring role for religion in shaping the moral universe of secular Turks and the constitutive role of Turkish secularism in framing the preferences of religious Turks concerning state implementation of Shari?a.'

Professor Asli Ü Bâli, Director, UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies, UCLA School of Law, USA

Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables



Note on Transliteration, Names and Dates


Chapter 1 Religion in Context

Religion as the metaphysical or theological

Psychological definitions of religion

Religion as the social

Religion and politics: Boundaries and interactions

Religion and politics: The dynamic of competition

The role of secularism

Chapter 2 Historical Meanings of Shari`a

Classical Tradition and fiqh

The classical tradition of Ottoman jurisprudence

Range of modern approaches



Chapter 3 Landscapes of popular religion in Turkey

Sources of influence in Turkish popular religion


Religious organizations

Religious leaders

The media



Chapter 4 Turkish secularism


Social science considering law and religion in Turkey

Empirical studies considering preferences regarding Shari`a


Chapter 5 Descriptive Analysis of Data

Preference for Shari`a


What is Shari`a

Shari’a process

Shari`a rules

Methodological approaches to Shari`a

Analysis of significant correlations in survey data

Linear regression and crosstab analysis

Binary logistic regression model



Chapter 6 Analysis of Qualitative Interviews

University educated

High school educated

Primary school education or less

Reflections on the survey group of interviews

Hizmet/Gülen-affiliated participants


Chapter 7 Influences in the Formations of Views Toward Shari`a
















Hizmet/Gülen-Affiliated Participants






About the Author

Russell Powell is Professor of Law and Associate Provost for Global Engagement at Seattle University, USA. He has previously worked as a diplomat and holds degrees in Near Eastern Studies, Philosophy, and Law. He has published widely on law, religion and secularism, and Islamic jurisprudence.

About the Series

Law, Language and Communication

Law, Language and Communication
This series encourages innovative and integrated perspectives within and across the boundaries of law, language and communication, with particular emphasis on issues of communication in specialized socio-legal and professional contexts. It seeks to bring together a range of diverse yet cumulative research traditions related to these fields in order to identify and encourage interdisciplinary research. The series welcomes proposals - both edited collections as well as single authored monographs - emphasizing critical approaches to law, language and communication, identifying and discussing issues, proposing solutions to problems, offering analyses in areas such as legal construction, interpretation, translation and de-codification.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES / Linguistics / Historical & Comparative
LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES / Linguistics / Sociolinguistics
LAW / General
LAW / Comparative
LAW / Jurisprudence
RELIGION / Islam / Law
RELIGION / Religion, Politics & State
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Islamic Studies