Faculty Travel Seminar in Turkey


A group of seminary faculty traveled through Turkey during the last days of May.

In partnership with the Niagara Foundation, nine faculty met for three days in Istanbul, then proceeded to the cities of Bursa, Izmir, Konya and Kayserai. "We set four goals for this trip: first to introduce Turkey to our colleagues; secondly to travel with Muslim friends in Turkey for interreligious dialog and conversation; thirdly to create a space for faculty from different seminaries to compare notes and get beyond introductions; and fourhtly, simply to enjoy the people and observe the challenges of Turkey," said Ken Sawyer, convener of this group. Ken added, "This was a great group of teachers -- it was a pleasure to travel with colleagues eager for conversation, and so open to new experiences."

Participants included Peter Vethanagamony and Ray Pickett from the Lutheran School of Theology, Joanne Terrell and Julia Speller from Chicago Theological Seminary, and Ann Rosewall, Linda Eastwood, Walter Whitehouse, and Ken Sawyer from McCormick, and Raj Nadella, now of Columbia Seminary in Decatur Georgia.

Ken Sawyer continued, "It was an ambitious itinerary, but our group was up to the challenge of staying on the move during our journey into Anatolia."

As the recent demonstrations have shown, profound economic and social change has been uneven and sometimes contentious. Turkey is a key actor in the region with its secular constitution and Muslim religious and cultural identity, and so is central to most of the issues of our times -- modernization and secularization, mosque/state relations, the role of women, the shifting boundaries within the Islamic world, the emerging markets of Turkic peoples rather than the European Union, and the place of the past for contemporary cultures. While the group will not force a viewing of slides from the trip, students will benefit from examples and illustrations drawn from this trip will be seen in our classrooms and lectures in the coming years.

Following are Ken Sawyer's personal comments to continue the discussion on the trip:

The news stories and personal stories we are now reading reflect the distinct communities contending for the present/future of Turkey. Last week we traveled with the people of the "new" middle class -- people for whom Erdogan's programs have created space and promise and hope. For example, a guide in Ephesus was so bold as to say that the government was "perfect," creating opportunity for him and those like him. Other groups in the country are quite convinced that Erdogan's changes are too costly for them and that any change (whatever it is) is certain to be for the worse, not for the better.

In the newspapers in the week leading up to the eruption of protests, articles in the Hurriyet Daily complained that the many too many projects in Istanbul had "made the city unliveable" -- one article mentioned the neighborhood of Eyup (where we had dinner one night, after visiting a mosque and tomb complex) as one of the sole remaining liveable neighborhoods -- but it bears noting that this neighborhood is one that supported Erdogan's in overwhelming numbers.

Also, we observed the government effort to regulate alcohol sales and consumption. In what many view as an example of legislative over-reach and ill-considered interventionism, the government managed to unite various groups into the beginnings of an opposition. A fine example of unintended consequences! Those who poured into the streets are a disparate mix of critics -- more critics than a political opposition, but they may provide the foundations for a viable opposition party, given the heavy-handed rhetoric and police work in response to the demonstrations. Now some unions have authorized strikes in solidarity. After 11 years in office, some say the remarkably disorganized opposition groups may come into sharper focus. The party of Erdogan will now be judged as much by its ability to learn from dissent as by its aggressive building program. Support for Erdogan can shift towards others if he fails to recognize the need to include concessions as part of his governance.

Links to the two main English edition papers in Turkey, bringing two very different perspectives.

And a look from the NY Times:

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo is also paying attention: