Birmingham Centre for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies Seminars
Dr Caroline Tee (University of Bristol)
Said Nursi's notion of sacred science: Its function and application in Hizmet High School education
This paper explores the teaching of natural science subjects in the high schools of the Gülen-Hizmet movement in Turkey, and the apparent reconciliation of scientific learning within a pervasive – albeit unofficial – Sunni Islamic religious culture within them. The framework for such an accommodation can be found in the teaching of Fethullah Gülen, upon which they are founded. Following the ideas of Said Nursi, Gülen advocates the pursuit of science and indeed of intellectual knowledge as a pious and spiritually meritorious act in and of itself. Drawing on fieldwork amongst two Hizmet high school communities in Turkey, this paper explores how this ‘sanctification’ of science and learning is enacted in the schools’ academic culture. It highlights firstly the principle of fedakarlık (self-sacrifice), which motivates the teaching staff to invest substantially in their students and, secondly, the schools’ highly disciplined and competitive learning environments with particular reference to preparations for the prestigious International Science Olympiads. The paper suggests that, whilst teacher commitment and prestigious competitive awards certainly bolster the market competitiveness of the Hizmet schools, the challenge they face concerns the prospects of their students pursuing careers in, and making contributions to, the natural sciences. The alternative, which this paper discusses, is that the movement’s engagement with science, at least at present, is predominantly a reflection of its interest in equipping what Gülen has called a ‘Golden Generation’ to compete with secularist rivals in Turkey for valuable social success.
Dr Caroline Tee is a post-doctoral research assistant in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Bristol. Her research, which is funded by a grant from The John Templeton Foundation, explores engagement with the natural and technological sciences within an Islamic theological framework in the Gulen-Hizmet Movement in Turkey. She was awarded her PhD in Social Anthropology at the University of Bristol in 2012, and MA in Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter in 2008.