Şerif Mardin (1927 – 6 September 2017) was a prominent Turkish sociologist, political scientist, academic and thinker. In a 2008 publication, he was referred to as the "doyen of Turkish sociology."
Early life and education
Mardin was born in Istanbul in 1927. His father is Şemsettin Mardin, a Turkish ambassador. Şemsettin Mardin was a member of very long-established family and was uncle to Arif Mardin and Betul Mardin. Şerif Mardin's mother is Reya Mardin who was the daughter of Ahmet Cevdet, the founder of an Ottoman newspaper called İkdam.
Mardin completed high school education in the US in 1944. He obtained a bachelor of arts degree in political sciences at Stanford University in 1948. Then he received a master of arts degree in international relations from Johns Hopkins University in 1950. He completed PhD studies in political science at Stanford University in 1958. His PhD dissertation was published by Princeton University Press with the title of The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought in 1962.
Mardin began his academic career at the Faculty of Political Science, Ankara University in 1954 and his tenure lasted until 1956. Then he worked as a research associate at the Department of Oriental Studies of Princeton University from 1958 to 1961. He worked as a research fellow at the Middle East Institute of Harvard University for one year (1960-1961). He returned to Turkey and joined the Faculty of Political Science of Ankara University in 1961. He became associate professor in 1964 and professor in 1969. His academic studies at Ankara University continued until 1973. Then he worked at the Department of Political Science of Boğaziçi University from 1973 to 1991. Next, Mardin joined the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences of Sabanci University in 1999, and he still works there.
In addition to these academic posts, Mardin also worked as a visiting professor at different universities, including Columbia University, Princeton University, University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Berkeley, Oxford University, Ecoles des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and Syracuse University.
Focusing on the Ottoman Empire, Mardin develops many hypotheses about the societal structure of Ottomans. For instance, he argues that in the Ottoman Empire, there was no 'civil society' in the Hegelian terms that could operate independently of central government and was based on property rights. Therefore, the lack of civil society led to a difference in the social evolution and political culture in Ottoman society in contrast to Western societies. Mardin applies the terms center and periphery to the Ottoman society, and reaches the conclusion that the society consisted of city dwellers, including the Sultan and his officials and nomads. The center included city dwellers, and the periphery nomads. The integration of center and periphery was not achieved. These two societal characteristics, namely the existence of center and periphery, and the lack of successful integration of them, also existed in the modern Turkish society and remained to be the major duality in Turkey. Mardin also emphasized the importance of Jon Turks' thought, addressing the attention of the English-speaking world. He analysed the thought of Said Nursi, who was part of this movement in the early years of his life.
Instead of following mainstream accounts of modernization process in Turkey, he adopts an alternative approach in this regard. He claims that Turkish modernization is multi-dimensional. Therefore, reductionism in the form of binary accounts that were resulted from Kemalism cannot provide a satisfactory analysis of Turkish modernism. On the other hand, Mardin maintains that the gap between center and periphery continued during the process of Turkish modernization. Mardin also deals with the achievements of Kemalism. For him, Kemalism has been unsuccessful. But, the reason for this underachievement is not related to the fact that it has been insensitive to popularly held beliefs. Instead, Kemalism cannot be sufficiently linked to the heritage of Enlightenment. In short, Kemalism could not develop texts and philosophy of ethics to describe itself and to pass over next generations.
Mardin coined the concept of "Turkish Exceptionalism" to reveal the reasons for the Turks in dealing with Islam and their vision of the state in a different fashion in contrast to other Moslem countries. Mardin objects the idea that the separation between religion and the state in Turkey was a product of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s movement. Instead, he argues that this separation began during the Ottoman period. Concerning secularism, Mardin also posits a view that reflects the exceptional use of the term in Turkey. He states that secularism in Turkey does not refer to a hostile state approach towards religion. Instead, secularism for Turks means that the state comes before religion by just “one millimeter”. Mardin further asserts that religion, Islam in this context, and its representatives, including clerics, function as a mediator between the individual and the state. Islam was also a unifying code for those in the periphery during the late period of the Ottoman Empire.
In 2007, he coined the term “community pressure” ("Mahalle baskısı" in Turkish) to describe a sociological reality that has been experienced in the secular Turkish society as a result of raising of Islamic life-style in the country.
Mardin published many books on religion, modernization and society in the context of Turkey, and some of them are given as follows:
- Religion and Social Change in Modern Turkey: The Case of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1989
- The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought: A Study in the Modernization of Turkish Political Ideas, Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, July 2000
- Laicism in Turkey, İstanbul: Konrad Adenauer Foundation Press, March 2003
- Center and periphery in the Ottoman Empire, New York: Syracuse University Press 2005
- The nature of nation in the late Ottoman Empire, Leiden: ISIM 2005
- Religion, society, and modernity in Turkey, Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, July 2006
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