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Religious and secular institutions in comparative perspective - article ; n°1 ; vol.16, pg 65-72


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Archives des sciences sociales des religions - Année 1963 - Volume 16 - Numéro 1 - Pages 65-72
8 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.



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Published 01 January 1963
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Language English

Niyazi Berkes
Religious and secular institutions in comparative perspective
In: Archives des sciences sociales des religions. N. 16, 1963. pp. 65-72.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Berkes Niyazi. Religious and secular institutions in comparative perspective. In: Archives des sciences sociales des religions. N.
16, 1963. pp. 65-72.
doi : 10.3406/assr.1963.2002
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/assr_0003-9659_1963_num_16_1_2002RELIGIOUS AND SECULAR
two and lized phases the guishing sectors become siastical authorities patterns of this HE mechanisms State have patterns mited of history of comparative the Western varied more and and social these presented so of religious has the far or are life political from religion developed civilization ways less the by readily in study one advantage themselves the established that in and and regime terminology spheres which for identifiable history of the political The the religious the to of principle secular theoretical in of maintenance simplifying another No relations life the power inherited as major and medieval Keeping in of spiritual appeared scheme secular between terms modern difficulty analysis from of these of derived modern institutions modus as the and Western the institutionalized because seems spheres institutions spiritual temporal vivendi from or and to politics the less the has apart arise contemporary and between institutiona well experiences been of in as temporal behavior although has defined Church distin eccle deli- also the
Though simple in its concepts and their referents this scheme presents the
sociologist who would study the religious and the secular within the institutional
configurations of the non-Western societies with difficulties The differentiation
found in the Christian societies is not found in many non-Western political
societies and in the non-Christian religions Nowhere outside the Christian world
have religious and ecclesiastical institutions developed before or outside the
State to the same degree of clarification In some societies religion will not be
found institutionalized into church or sect organization while what might be
called temporal political institution may in fact be found permeated with
religious functions and values
In his treatment of the relationships between the religious and the secular
institutions Joachim Wach takes in his Sociology of Religion what he calls the
historical forms of religion and the patterns of state for his units of compa
rison He overlooks the fact that no historical form of religion presents itself as
single system within the particular societies though it may make the claim
when it becomes institutionalized none of the historical forms and the
patterns to which he referred have the secular and religious institutions
distinguished by hard and fast lines unless one makes ideal constructions inspired
by the Western pattern of the discreet elements detached from the systemati-
zations of religion In many historical forms and patterns neither is the
State truly secular institution nor is the Religion religious institution in the
modem senses of the words The concepts of State and Religion are modern
abstractions many of the examples given by Wach can be forced into the scheme
only by likening them to modern Western institutions
Likening does not result only in distorting the actual institutional configura
tions of the religious and the secular in the non-Western societies It also
results in failure to understand the modern processes of secularization taking
place in these societies together with the nature of the present day religious
problems raised by such processes Outside of the Western world today national
and secular states are coming into being where the political authority of the
past was permeated by religious values In other words certain secularizing forces
that are disrupting the traditional institutional configurations are coming into
operation as factors of political and also religious change in these societies
Dislocations between Religion institutionalized only in diffused way and the
political and other secular institutions are the consequence The more the State
emerges as secular institution the less and less amorphous the Religion is becoming
as an institution The new political developments are so new to and so discordant
with the traditional institutional configurations that the political and reli
gious representatives of many non-Western societies are incapable of understan
ding the implications of the developments for their religious traditions as well
as for their contemporary political aspirations The Western observers however
are not in any better position in understanding the features of these developments
differentiating them from those of the Western secularism because of their
tendency to fit what they see into the conceptual scheme of their own religious
and political background and to interpret the process as mere reproduction or
imitation of Western secularism
We find that the starting point for the student of comparative sociology
should be not the historical Religions vis-a-vis the patterns of State but the
institutional configurations of particular societies within which religious-secular
elements are woven into complex whole often to the effect of great deal of
cohesiveness and integration It is the position of the religious within the value
system of the society that seems to be the most important point of departure
for the sociologist not whether or not the State and the Church are dissociated
as distinct institutions From this takeoff it will be possible to see whether or not
political institution has religious functions or religious institution some function
For the sake of analysis we may distinguish among the following frames
of reference the term religion for an historical system of beliefs rites
and rules an element of legitimization and orientation for the society diffused
into its institutional configuration and faith that operates through the
individual commitments of the believers with or without private organizations
We postulate that the formal outlook of religious system remains in most cases
ideal and theoretical and is found in actual social contexts in modified or
interpreted form that the institutional status of religion is determined not
exclusively by the principles of its ideal system but by the institutional configu
ration of the society and that in many cases the source of the ultimate values
is identified with the religion in question when these values constitute the core
of sacred tradition and when the society is challenged by secularizing forces
of change turned against the tradition The most important concern in the last
case is the maintenance of the order within which certain religous-secular
configuration had taken shape Religion then asserts itself as the dominant symbol
of un-change and this is expressed conventionally by the familiar words fana
ticism formalism traditionalism legalisin ritualism asceticism puritanism
caste system cesaro-papism etc
In analyzing the role of religion in the total configuration of society we may
therefore ask to what extent has an historical religion been able to occupy an
overascending position above other sources of value giving shape to the tradi-
tionalized institutional structure of the society To what extent has condition
of multiple religious institutionalization been realized in an integrated whole
How far is the secularization of the society connected with the bifurcation of the
traditional configuration into sets of religious and secular institutions We may
examine the situation either within the framework of traditionalized order
or in terms of the process of transformation in an institutional pattern under
the secularizing effects of the modern civilization
Even short comparative account along these lines can not be attempted
here shall to elucidate the above propositions confine myself to the case of
the Muslim Turkish society This is one of the examples of the non-Christian
variety it is an example representative of the Islamic religious-secular pattern
it provides contemporary form of non-Western secularisation with which the
equally interesting cases of the Indian Japanese and Muslim societies other
than the Turkish may be compared and contrasted
Islam was the source of the religious tradition of the pre-modern islamized
Turkish society Islam took its place in certain institutional setup and value
structure within that society It became supreme rallying point for the ultimate
values of the society when in the last two centuries the society was faced by
modem forces of change which threatened the traditional institutions We shall
here consider the position of religion in terms of the three points mentioned
above in the integration and distintegration of the pre-modern institutional
Contrary to the current opinion Islam was not the source of the political
institutions of any Muslim society When the Turkish polity entered history in
the fourteenth century Islam had already taken its shape insofar as its position
within political community was concerned Its chief concern had come to be
the regulation and sustenance of what we might call societal community we
use this term in order to denote that it constituted neither specifically religious
nor specifically political collectivity) that is religiously defined social core
the ummah of believers within political community This was to be achieved
by systematics of action called ah defining the conduct of the individuals
not only in ritual behavior but also in the sphere of social relationships within
the profane world and in terms of formal rules which were substantively a-political
This was in other words not sought in the establishment of specifically reli
gious association of the believers in church or sect The rules dealt with the
individuals and their actions not with the groups of men organized into any
form of institution the collectivities When the rules applied to an area of life
implying an they dealt with these as non-sacral spheres of action
Marriage and family for example do not appear as sacramental or religious
matters in this religious law The ah for convenience we shall use Law
as synonym was developed by the so-called men of Fiqh who were neither
priests nor jurists and who derived the rules from sacred sources to be applied
to the religious as well as to the worldly conduct of men and to constitute the
essence of the duty These rules were outside the age the time the
exigencies of today absolute and universal To the extent that they organized
the relations of the believers the ummah or the social core could be said to have
been religiously construed
The Law of course was an ideal construct Its implementation was dependent
upon either the voluntary submission of the believer in fact this is the real
meaning of Islam) or upon an imposition within the framework of political
organization whose nature remained outside the concern of the Law itself
That Islam created the Islamic State is modem fiction based partly upon the
pré-modem institutional configuration of the Muslim polities and
modem reaction to the heritage We can grasp the reason for this modem Muslim
identification of Religion with the State if we realize that the challenge of the
modem times was made against the medieval Muslim polities rather than against
Islam as religion and that however the origin of the secularizing forces making
the challenge was identified with Christianity The political institution remained
outside the definition of Religion that is the Law but it became the most
important element in the destiny of the Religion because of the intrinsic
institutional amorphousness and because of the a-political nature of its substra
tum the ummah not because of the ascendency of the political institution
over the religious The Law always faced politically enforced authority under
which it could operate through the voluntary consensual action of the individuals
who as such only constituted the societal community or the ummah
What we may call orthodoxy and antinomianism in Islam were born when
the political authority adopted the Sharpa as its law Then disagreement over
rule because of its failure to gain the adherence of consensual action became
intolerable and punishable heresy because politically supported rules
were to be obeyed and enforced Heresy was therefore manifestation of oppo
sition to or protest against not religion but the political authority that mitigated
the exercise of interpretation within the a-political realm of the Law and that
substituted the voluntary and rational submission of the believer with political
obedience When the political indifference of the Law was transformed into
tacit recognition of the authority of enforcement to ensure unity and
consensus an element inherently alien to the Islamic view of voluntary consensual
action was obtained to serve as link between the religion and the world This
recognition is the religious foundation of all Muslim politics
The coming into being of orthodoxy did not however exhaust the religious
potentialities of Islam It gave rise in the same voice so to speak to specifi
cally religious manifestation of Islam Born out of the religious protest against the
incorporation of the faith into politically enforced set of rules Sufism known
as Islamic mysticism developed specifically religious institutions which differed
from both the ecclesiastical organizations and the monastic orders of Christianity
In general Sufism did not produce monastic and lay differentiation or an
universal organization and articulate hierarchization the Sufi orders were
brotherhoods to which men belonged voluntarily Politically indifferent critical
of the formalism of the custodians of the Law called ülema the learned who
did not constitute religious institution and were in the service of the political
authority) and critical of the legalisin of the political community Sufism won
universal recognition among the Muslims as the means for the expression of their
genuine feelings of religiosity as an institutional focus for the spirit
Two aspects of the religion conduct and faith infused and diffused through
the above two channels into the configuration of the medieval
polities In the Turkish case the introduction of third element social-political
ethics derivative from neither of the two and resembling the Confucian social completed the integration of unique configuration This ethics teaching
the orientation of the society towards harmony with cosmic order was collec-
tivistic and was primarily concerned with the welfare of society It was towards
this welfare that the state was striving operating through government and
administration The ruler was the supreme shepherd He was entrusted with
the duty of caring for the welfare of the flock Maintaining unity midst the
plurality of religious and social strata vastly different from the ideal construct
of the ummah) the whole order could rationally mobilize all its mundane energies
for the higher attainment of the glorification of God often in war and conquest
The above explains the creation of military-administrative elite as the
prime institutional representation of the worldly power The methods of recruiting
and the training of the functionaries of administration and the military force
were designed to detach the roots of these functionaries in the society By one
way or another the elite was cut off from the mundane society and elevated
into supramundane institutional position The society then should be ruled
not by social strata according to social and economic interests but by the elite
according to the dictates of the supra-mundane values which served the sacra-
lization of the world as the Tradition
The religious and the secular do not fall apart into separate institu
tions in this configuration Every organization institution and person charged
with the duty of maintaining the Tradition acted in the name of the Sacred
These were not distinguished as religious or secular according to the services
they performed Insofar as action was oriented towards worldly affairs the moti
vation was still shaped and formed within the limits of the Tradition Organized
rational and secular action had great allowances insofar as it lay within the area
of means Wide freedom was enjoyed particularly by the rulers The rulers
acted as emperors and caliphs the two words did not hewever signify two
separate functions but were merely two among the various adjectives connoting
the highest value judgments that were attached without separation or discri
minatory conception to the power The realm of the sacred values was thus
maintained without being attached to specific religious institutionalization
and organization set apart from the political or secu ar The distances were
between the mundane the worldly society of the social strata and interests
and the elite the custodians of the Tradition)
It was with the disruption of this system by confrontation with the modem
civilization that the traditional structuring of the sacred and the secular would
be shaken deeply The belief that since there had been no distinction made
between the religious and the secular institutions in this configuration there
could be no sphere of life that could be spoken of as becoming secularized
belief held even by the Western scholars who study Islam through books or
in terms of their modern conception of religion rather than in terms of its social
history is nothing but the product of the period when the Muslim societies were
faced with questions of fundamental change that brought about great upheaval
through their impact upon the society When we survey the behavior of the
components of the traditional configuration in the face of the changes we may
see the same features of the system in another light
When the changes began to affect the worldly order of the soeciety when
substantial dislocations in the social structure took place the supreme organ of
the Tradition precipitated troubles which led eventually to the shaking of its
own status by attempting to restore the original order It was only when this
shaking occurred that the changes began to mean something serious and fun
damental for the Religion as Law and as mysticism and to call these to action
Two possibilities were then open to their representatives to cling to the main
tenance of the traditional order or to extricate Religion from the destiny of an
historical form of political and to restructure Religion in adjustment to
the new conditions We find in the Turkish history from the end of the seven
teenth century attempts in both directions
Sucess in the second direction was contingent upon number of conditions
First an area of flexibility had to be gained in economic political and social
life wherein specific norms could be determined by the exigencies of the situations
of action that is by the functional requisites of the social Strata rather than by
religious considerations Second the drives released by the secularization of
various areas of life from the direct prescriptions of the Sharî ah had to be channeled
in way to contribute effectively to the transformation of the society that is
religion would withdraw from these areas and would become institutionalized
separately without connection with those areas that were in the process of trans
formation as result of the changes already effected in various elements and
aspects of social life In other words Religion would try to fulfill its functions in
an institutional setting differentiated from those institutions that were becoming
secularized one by one It would then operate through the individual commitments
of the believers and would no longer get mixed into those affairs which dictated
the decisions made in the secular areas of life
In reality the intrinsic inner-worldliness of Islam reflected in the Shar ah
brought pressure for the even greater assertion rather than withdrawal of
Religion The world of Religion was now identified with certain institutional
configuration that had become traditionalized and was therefore incapable of
dealing with radical change The tendency was to view the Religion as the source
of all rules which were taken as the real target of the forces of change Then
what could not be brought under the Law by ingenious interpretation could not
exist had to be rejected Any change in other words should have religious
implication religion would oppose the areas of life touched by change and
eventually differentiated as what we may call the secular realm Any deve
lopment towards specifically religious institutionalization whether of new
kind or from within part of the traditional order invited condemnation as
implying withdrawal from the world or deviation from the Sharî ah
Two configurational conditions seem to have been important in the taking
of this direction The distance between the social strata on the one hand and the
elite charged with the orientation of the Tradition on the other was too great
to allow the rise of new secular elite from the folds of the social strata as
primary requisite for the genesis of new secular political institution Secondly
the gap between the social reality and the transcendental or the spiritual values
of the ah and of Sufism respectively was so great that neither of the latter
could provide an understanding of the forces of the new world Both began to
effect the political authority more directly but in opposite ways While the
ah was trying to establish theocracy under its purview the indifferentism
of Sufism tended towards political nihilism
From this point onwards two outwardly opposite processes developed While
the religious began to be differentiated in way contrary to the previous
unification that which began to be differentiated as specifically religious sought
to expand its authority over areas of life greater than had been covered before
Both tendencies were new in terms of the medieval traditional configuration
The drive of the Shar ah to widen its scope was connected with both the narrowing
of the scope of the traditional authority of the state and the expansion of the
area of the secular under the impact of change
Thus the earliest manifestations of the processes of change found the ah
the Sufi orders and the State involved together in struggle but against one
another The first attempted to bring all of the institutions including the state
into the exclusive fold of its own ruTes it began to entertain the ideal of esta
blishing religious state In this it encountered opposition not only from the
state but also from the Sufi orders it had to surmount also its own deficiency
consisting of indifference to the political authority as described above At
this time the orders and even the sects began to augment enormously while the
State became reluctant to make itself political instrument for the ah
The religious unity of the ummak as the core of the society seemed to be at stake
The important point for us in the development of this struggle is the eventual
failure of an three in their courses towards new institutionalization upon new
bases First to fall victim to the upheaval was the Sufi orders This was because
they were the closest approximations to the religious of those
social strata that happened to be most deeply affected by the changed conditions
of the society particularly the artisans The ah also failed by giving way
continuously before the world Every innovation brought about under the
compulsion of the secularizing changes meant new retreat for it The State did
not succeed in overcoming the opposition of the religious to its own control
over change when it was forced to assume the controlling position it found
itself stripped of all religious legitimization
The differences between the type of reaction shown by the Turkish society
and the majority of other Muslim societies will help us to understand the tradi
tional background configuration of the religious and the secular in Islam in
general Showing variations the reactions of the latter have had more pro
nouncedly religious character due to the total destruction in these societies of
the political structure of the traditional configuration The Turkish reaction has
on the other hand had more political character because at the cost renouncing
compulsorily its entanglement with the religious and by further secularizing
itself the political institution was salvaged Present day Turkey as nation
state striving to establish democratic polity became possibility only as
result of this secularization
The political of the Turkish society raised number of pro
blems as to the place and function of Islam as religion which in turn was the
salvage outside the sway of secularization The secular state adopted the stand
that religion is matter for the conscience Outwardly this position
would be in harmony with the individualistic character of the Shar ah and also
with the spiritualism of Sufism In fact however neither proved capable of
sustaining themselves in any new form of institutionalization once they were
stripped of an association with the political authority as in the traditional confi
guration Religion had to remain amorphous insofar as the institutionalization
of the religious was concerned Neither Islamic spiritual revivals nor attempts
at the dissémination of other religions such as Christianity succeeded in filling
the vacuum All such movements were seen as institutionalizations of more
political than religious nature The secular state finding itself in the difficult
position of distinguishing between the political and the religious appearances
its attitude to the first being hostile while its attitude to the second being tolerant
was forced to assume the patronage of religion and to guarantee the legal protec
tion of the places of worship the religious funds and the training of personnel
without however assuming doctrinal or theological role Once the state guaran
teed the freedom of the individual by refusing to act as an instument of enforce
ment on behalf of the religion or against religion by erecting stop-gap between
its radical secularization of the political legal and educational institutions and
the failure of the representatives of the religions to find suitable institutionali-
zation for Islam in the newcontext the rest the future was left to prirvate
religious interest
It appears from our analysis of the case chosen as an example here that
the absence of distinct institutionalizations of the religious and of the secular
in the non-Western configurations of the religious-secular does not make it
impossible or irrelevant to speak of the secularization of these societies as has
been asserted by certain Muslim modernists as well as by some Western scholars
The case and comparative study of the religious and secular institutions in the
non-Western societies requires only an approach that will not be fashioned
after the requisites of the Western the exceptional pattern In this paper we
have taken as our units of analysis not the institutions believed to be specifi
cally religious or secular but the values and the patterns of action in traditiona-
lized configuration that is as rule composite of various historical elements
rather than the creation of single historical Religion or of pattern of State
comparative study of number of non-Western cases among them especially
the Japanese and Indian cases along the lines suggested here will surely throw
better tight upon the neglected aspects of the religious and secular transformations
of these societies
Institute of Islamic Studies
Me Gill University
Montreal Canada