Spiritism in secular Turkey, 1936-1969: the Ruhselman circle between religion and modern science
Embargo Lift Date: 2020-07-14
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Spiritism, established by Allan Kardec claims to study an immaterial world through scientific methods, proposes a doctrine of reincarnation and derives knowledge from communication with spirits. In contrast to its depiction in popular culture invoking scary and ominous imagery, communication with spirits was a serious venture for spiritists. This thesis examines Turkish spiritism, spearheaded by Bedri Ruhselman, between 1936 and 1969 in an effort to reveal why a group of intellectuals were interested in a supernatural and transcendental practice such as spiritism. To answer this question, the study examines the history of spiritism in Turkey and provides an in-depth analysis of its spiritist, scientific and moral teachings. It also offers a group biography of Turkish spiritists through a dataset based on prosopographical analysis and contextualizes spiritism in the mid-20th-century Turkey by explaining its reception by political/bureaucratic elites and its impact on the society. The results of the study demonstrate that Turkish spiritism was an attempt to construct a hybrid scientified spirituality that negotiated and reconciled modern science and religion and an attempt to provide a solution to the moral gap observed within republican reforms. This attempt thus challenged the antagonistic depictions of the relationship between modern science and religion. It also questioned monolithic portrayals of progressive and conservative intellectuals by introducing an unnoticed layer of republican elite. This study thus offers a more complex understanding of both Turkish modernization and of Turkish modernizers. In the process, the dissertation also traces the changes in approaches to modern science throughout Turkish modernization.