Washington, D.C. — Under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s newly re-elected Justice and Development Party, or AKP, will build on past initiatives to elevate the role of Islam in Turkish society. An important element of this effort is the realization of Erdoğan’s stated vision of “raising a pious generation” through broad-gauged enhancement of religious education.
The Center for American Progress has released a report analyzing the expansion of religious education under AKP rule and speculating on its potential effect on Turkish identity, stability, and foreign policy.
Under AKP rule, the state-sponsored Imam-Hatip parochial school system has been vastly expanded. Moreover, religion-focused electives have been added to curricula at secular schools; dress codes have been liberalized to allow female students to wear headscarves from fifth grade onwards; and AKP loyalists have tightened their grip on the country’s educational bureaucracy. These types of issues—which reflect an emotional secular-religious tension in Turkish society—tend to overshadow concerns about lagging educational quality in Turkey.
“Expansion of religious education is part of Erdoğan’s larger goal of chipping away at the radically secular state structure he inherited and implanting values more consonant with the Ottoman state he sentimentalizes. The AKP’s electoral triumph ensures that this process will continue,” said Alan Makovsky, CAP Senior Fellow and author of the report. “Education will remain a central battlefield in the seemingly perpetual political struggle between religious and secular Turks.”
The paper cautions against exaggeration, noting that Imam-Hatip schools teach both secular and religious subjects and are not known to purvey religious extremism. Still, Makovsky says, Erdoğan’s efforts to develop “a pious generation” bear watching since a more religiously conscious Turkey could—over time—come to identify more closely with its Middle Eastern neighbors and less with the United States and other long-time Western allies.
Click here to read the report.