Carving Nation from Confession: Haven Nationalism and Religious Backlash in Turkey, Israel, and Pakistan

26 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 21 Aug 2009

See all articles by Sener Akturk

Sener Akturk

Koc University

Adnan Naseemullah

University of California, Berkeley

Date Written: 2009


How do we explain the rise of religious politics in Israel, Turkey and Pakistan, three states that were founded on the basis of secular constitutional rule? Rather than focusing on the strength of religious movements in domestic and global contexts or the weakness of secular institutions, we contend that the answer lies in the ideational origins of these states as based on haven nationalism, a peculiar type of an Andersonian 'imagined community'. We argue that nation-building in these particular cases was conducted under the perceived or actual threat of annihilation of a religious community, and this imperative led to the ethnicization of these communities as a means of creating internal cohesion and mobilization for an independent nation-state. We call this haven nationalism, because the new 'nation'-state served as a refuge for a religiously defined community (Muslims of Anatolia and of the Indian Subcontinent; and Jews around the world) under threat. These national projects were all founded and executed by a migrant or muhajir elites with a particular set of secular values, and they maintained disproportionate power in the state vis a vis other groups. Ironically, by defining religion as ethnicity, this secularism sows the seeds of its own destruction by creating religious homogeneity and then suppressing the public and political manifestations of religiosity. Over time, the old universalism of secular values is eroded by the particularistic power exercised by muhajir elites, slowly replaced by a new universalism of religious faith, propagated by newer migrants or 'sons-of-the-soil', that exposes the gap between the ideals of the nation and the realities of the state. In this way, the elite nature of secularism is supplanted by populist Islamism in Turkey and Pakistan or new forms of assertive Jewish orthodoxy in Israel. We further explicate our conceptual framework by applying comparative-historical analysis to these countries from their creation until the present day.

Keywords: nationalism; religion; ethnicity; Islam; Judaism; Turkey; Israel; Pakistan

Suggested Citation

Akturk, Sener and Naseemullah, Adnan, Carving Nation from Confession: Haven Nationalism and Religious Backlash in Turkey, Israel, and Pakistan (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Sener Akturk (Contact Author)

Koc University ( email )

Rumelifeneri Yolu
34450 Sar?yer
Istanbul, 34450

Adnan Naseemullah

University of California, Berkeley ( email )

310 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

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