Religions (May 2021)

Religion in Creating Populist Appeal: Islamist Populism and Civilizationism in the Friday Sermons of Turkey’s Diyanet

  • Ihsan Yilmaz,
  • Mustafa Demir,
  • Nicholas Morieson

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 12, no. 5
p. 359


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Drawing on the extant literature on populism, we aim to flesh out how populists in power utilize religion and related state resources in setting up aggressive, multidimensional religious populist “us” versus “them” binaries. We focus on Turkey as our case and argue that by instrumentalizing the Diyanet (Turkey’s Presidency of Religious Affairs), the authoritarian Islamists in power have been able to consolidate manufactured populist dichotomies via the Diyanet’s weekly Friday sermons. Populists’ control and use of a state institution to propagate populist civilizationist narratives and construct antagonistic binaries are underexamined in the literature. Therefore, by examining Turkish populists’ use of the Diyanet, this paper will make a general contribution to the extant literature on religion and populism. Furthermore, by analyzing the Diyanet’s weekly Friday sermons from the last ten years we demonstrate how different aspects of populism—its horizontal, vertical, and civilizational dimensions—have become embedded in the Diyanet’s Friday sermons. Equally, this paper shows how these sermons have been tailored to facilitate the populist appeal of Erdoğan’s Islamist regime. Through the Friday sermons, the majority—Sunni Muslim Turks are presented with statements that evoke negative emotions and play on their specific fears, their sense of victimhood and through which their anxieties—real and imagined—are revived and used to construct populist binaries to construct and mobilize the people in support of an authoritarian Islamist regime purported to be fighting a “civilizational enemy” on behalf of “the people”. Finally, drawing on insights from the Turkish case, we illustrate how the “hosting” function of the civilizational aspect plays a vital role in tailoring internal (vertical and horizontal) religious populist binaries.