Justin Neuman’s “Religious Cosmopolitanism? Orhan Pamuk, the Headscarf Debate, and the Problem with Pluralism” originally appeared in Issue 77 of the minnesota review.
Ka, the protagonist of Orhan Pamuk’s novel Snow (2005), is an Istanbul-born secular intellectual who “couldn’t see how [he] could reconcile . . . becoming a European with a God who required women to wrap themselves in scarves,” and so, in dismissive fashion, he “kept religion” and its “bearded provincial reactionaries . . . out of his life” (96). Returning to Turkey after a dozen years in Germany as a poet in exile, Ka travels to the eastern Anatolian city of Kars, where he encounters a range of Islamic practices and performances among the observant members of the population: a Kurdish sheikh, the Islamist mayoral candidate, young men labeled radicals and terrorists, and the leader of a group of girls protesting the ban on headscarves at the local university. As he discovers, however, these locally specific and globally networked forms of religious experience are a far cry from the Atatürk-era conception of Islam as the parochial antithesis of modernity and worldliness. Continue reading