Is Secularism Possible in a Majority-Muslim Country?: The Turkish Example

56 Pages Posted: 8 Jun 2008 Last revised: 15 Sep 2008

See all articles by Adrien K. Wing

Adrien K. Wing

University of Iowa - College of Law

Ozan O. Varol

affiliation not provided to SSRN


This article is the second in which Dean Wing explores the notion of secularism in different societies. The first was Critical Race Feminism Lifts the Veil?: Muslim Women, France and the Headscarf Ban, 39 U.C. Davis Law Review 745 (2006) (with Monica Nigh Smith). The article abstracted here examines the past, present, and future of secularism in the Republic of Turkey. The co-author Ozan Varol is a Turkish national, who was able to access Turkish sources. Part II provides an overview of the principle of secularism generally, and in Turkey specifically, and describes how Turkish secularism differs from the Western notion of secularism. Part III discusses the role of religion in the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor to the modern day Turkey, in order to provide a background for the legal developments that occurred after the Empire's collapse. Part IV outlines the reforms that Turkish founding president Atatýrk and his supporters implemented following the downfall of the Ottoman Empire and demonstrates how a fundamentalist empire became a strictly secular government in less than twenty years. Part V provides a thorough examination of the various provisions of the Turkish Constitution that relate to secularism. Part VI demonstrates the application of the principle of secularism in Turkey by discussing the legal history of the ban against the wearing of the Islamic headscarf in Turkish educational institutions. This Part also analyzes the November 10, 2005 decision of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Leyla Sahin v. Turkey, which upheld the Turkish government's ban and did not find it violated the European Convention on Human Rights. Finally, Part VII speculates on the future of secularism in Turkey and discusses whether it is possible to implement any fundamental changes in the regime.

Keywords: Turkey, Religion, Secularism, Islam, Human Rights, Constitutionalism

JEL Classification: K10, K19, K30, K33, K39

Suggested Citation

Wing, Adrien Katherine and Varol, Ozan O., Is Secularism Possible in a Majority-Muslim Country?: The Turkish Example. U Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-17, Texas International Law Journal, Vol. 42, No. 1, 2007, Islamic Law and Law of the Muslim World Paper No. 08-33, Available at SSRN:

Adrien Katherine Wing (Contact Author)

University of Iowa - College of Law ( email )

410 blb
Iowa City, IA 52242
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319-335-9098 (Fax)

Ozan O. Varol

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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