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Feb 11 2019

Turkey's declining piety could be caused by state’s promotion of religion - NPR

A 2018 survey by polling company Konda on personal beliefs and lifestyles in majority-Muslim Turkey has found a smaller portion of people describing themselves as religious, leaving analysts to believe this is caused by the administration's use of the state to promote religion, wrote Washington-based NPR.

Turkey has been ruled by the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) for the past 17 years and the shift, NPR said, could be a backlash, particularly among the young, against a religious president and his push to form what he calls a "pious generation."

Konda’s survey is a follow-up to a similar poll conducted in 2008, with the company braking down the results from each side by side to illustrate the comparison.

"Respondents identifying as "pious" slid from 13 percent in 2008 to 10 percent in 2018, and those choosing "religious" dipped from 55 to 51 percent. Figures for "non-believer" and "atheist," which barely registered in 2008, are now at 2 and 3 percent, respectively," NPR recalled.

While these figures were not dramatic, there was a significant drop in respondents calling themselves "religious conservative," from 32 to 25 percent. Those who said they fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan declined from 77 to 65 percent.

The survey also found that those saying a man and a woman should have a religious marriage to live together, despite remaining in the large majority,  fell 5 percentage points to 74 percent.

Under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the AKP  started out with a strong focus on the economy, however has since increasingly promoted religion, NPR said.

Turkey’s strongman has been pushing for the growth of state-funded Imam Hatip religious schools,  which numbered around 450 when he came into power, to 4,500 today. Erdoğan also increased the budget for religious education in 2018 by 68 percent, to $1.5 billion.

However, declining religious behavior in Turkey despite the government's attempts to promote it should not come as a surprise, analysts told NPR.

"Government control and state provision of religion usually alienate people from religiosity," Murat Somer, a professor of political science and international relations at İstanbul's Koç University, said.

For Soner Cağaptay, analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Erdoğan's push to create a more religious Turkey is backfiring.

"So I think that Erdogan maybe is ironically making Turkey less religious, when he thought that he would make it more religious with himself on top," Çağaptay said.