The Rise and Fall of the Gülen Community

Şen M.

SOZIALE WELT, vol.25, pp.356-382, 2022 (SSCI)

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 25
  • Publication Date: 2022
  • Doi Number: 10.5771/9783748931607-356
  • Journal Name: SOZIALE WELT
  • Journal Indexes: Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.356-382
  • Middle East Technical University Affiliated: Yes


Until the coup attempt on 15th July 2016, most scholars had regarded the
Gülen community (GC) as a civil society organisation demonstrating the compatibility
of Islam with science and democracy. The failed coup radically changed the
academic approach to the GC. Following the attempt, many suddenly realised the
GC’s unknown inner structure and authoritarian potential. Most scholars now
accept that before Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP – Justice and Development
Party) rule, the GC was politically active and maintained a hidden organisation
within the state. However, some perceive these secret activities to be a necessary
consequence of the Kemalist state suppressing the Sunni majority. I argue that this
approach is terminally insufficient for explaining the GC’s rise and fall and the
state-religion relationship in Turkey. This study presents two main arguments
against this narrative. Firstly, employing Jessop’s strategic-relational approach, I
regard the state as a social relation and a site of strategy and struggle among various
social forces and state projects. I will focus exclusively on the GC's rise and fall as a
case study demonstrating the struggle within the state among social forces and
explaining its emergence and rise as a state project. Secondly, I argue that it is not
sufficient to interpret the Republican period simply as one sanctioning the exclusion
of Sunni Islam. Rather, since the Republic’s establishment in 1923, accommodative
policies concerning Sunni groups have always been present. Thus, I will analyse
the GC as an example of accommodating an organised Sunni group into the
Turkish socio-political life and focus on the socio-political contexts for GC’s formation,
rise, transnationalisation, and fall.