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Governing piety: Islam, empire and moderation in late modernity

Dunya D Lepori, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Based on ethnographic fieldwork, textual analysis, and data culled from interviews, this manuscript explores how Islamic ethics shape the epistemic approaches of Muslim intellectuals to liberal democracy and corollary paradigms of western modernity. Specifically, it examines a critical discursive field of resistance generated by Muslim intellectuals in Turkey affiliated with Islamist NGOs and publishing houses. In response to the promotion of a ‘mild Islam’ compatible with democracy and liberalism in the context of Turkey, itself represented as the ‘model country’ in such regional schemes of democratization as the Greater Middle East Project, a radical movement emerged that appropriates the Islamic identity as a basis of resistance to the processes of hybridization, identitarian eclecticism and postmodern pluralism. The significance of this activism resides in the articulation of a discursive domain that (a) does not conform to the liberal protocols of intelligibility but (b) is produced through contact with liberal-democratic discourses of moderation. How does moderation as a normative standpoint create a space for political intervention? Through this question, I map out the processes and mechanisms by which ‘moderation’ as a transcendental and universal concept, concomitant with democratic subjectivity, operates as a political discourse and a moral-political practice of governmentality, functioning to suture democracy with liberal norms of conduct. ^ My objective here is threefold: first, I detail the interaction between global paradigms of a neo-liberal, democratic postmodernity (with its ideals of tolerance, dialogue, religious pluralism) and local modalities of resistance embedded in Islamic piety. Second, by excavating local efforts at defamiliarizing the democratic paradigm within the intellectual community of Qur’anic Generation, I draw the contours of an Islamic epistemology of resistance, an antidiscipline which reinvents civil society as a space for moral resistance to democratic norms. Third, I problematize the extent to which scholarly production reinforces the liberal-democratic universal imaginary, which I accomplish by highlighting the ubiquity of liberal epistemological commitments found in democratic theory and empirical studies on civil society in the Middle East. Perceptible in western democratic theory is a recurrent ontopolitical pattern in theorizing the democratic subject through an ascetic norm of dispassionateness and moderation. ^

Subject Area

Islamic studies|Political science

Recommended Citation

Lepori, Dunya D, "Governing piety: Islam, empire and moderation in late modernity" (2012). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3545958.