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Introduction
Bryan S. Turner: Building the Sociology of
Islam

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If we accept the Orwellian notion that ones writings are necessarily borne out
of either political purpose, historical compulsion, aesthetic enthusiasm or sheer
egoism, then it is safe to assume that Bryan Turners prolific career was shaped by
the shifting constellations and structures of his time. Turner was born in January
1945, towards the end of the World War, to working-class parents in Birmingham,
England. As a schoolboy, he attended the Harborne Collegiate School for Boys
from 195661, before moving on to George Dixon Grammar School. He went
on to read Sociology at the University of Leeds in an established social sciences
school where Roland Robertson had received his PhD and was experimenting with
what was to become the theory of globalization. Turner completed a first class
honours degree in 1966 rather easily and received his Doctor of Philosophy in the
same university four years later with a thesis on Methodism. The PhD thesis was
favourably reviewed by the external examiner, Professor David Martin from the
London School of Economics, a leading sociologist of religion. Martin had in fact
just completed his magnum opus, developing a trenchant critique of secularization
as a theory of social process and questioning the dominant narrative of the
inevitability of secularization in modern societies.1 Turner never looked back to
that early treatise but the thesis that lay in some remote shelves of the university
library became a toolbox from which he drew to write his subsequent books.
It was during these formative years that Turner became increasingly drawn
to the comparative sociology of religion promulgated by Professor Trevor Ling
and the emergent theory of globalization by Professor Roland Robertson. The
years 1963 to 1972 saw Lings appointment in the Department of Theology at
the University of Leeds where he published a volume called Buddha, Marx and
God (1966). Ling later became Personal Chair in Comparative Religion. There,
his interest in the Buddhist historical tradition served as an entry point to the
Southeast Asian empirical field where he focused on Theravada Buddhism in
Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. Ling cast a long shadow on
Turners scholarly career. Upon taking up the position of Research Team Leader
for the Religion Cluster at the Asian Research Institute at the National University
Sociology of English Religion (SCM, 1967), The Religious and the Secular
(Routledge, 1969), and A Wilderness of Monkeys: The Case for Christianity in a Scientific
Age (Marshall, Morgan & Scott 1970).
1

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of Singapore (20052009), Turners gaze turned upon Southeast Asia as a new site
of his scholarly curiosities.
As mentioned, Robertsons ideas on globalization are a significant stimulus
to Turners scholarship. Turner, whose first book Weber and Islam has since
become a classic in the field, published a long commentary on Robertsons theory
of globalization where he found a strong affinity with Robertsons thoughts. He
asserted that Robertsons sociology is a consequence of his debate with Weber
via the work of Talcott Parsons. One might think of much of Robertsons oeuvre as
an attempt to understand the global place of religion (in the broad sense) within
a Weber/Parsons paradigm (Turner 1992: 312). The two heavyweights of the
discipline worked together on a number of projects on social theory, globalization
and religion. In 1989, they also collaborated to produce an article on Talcott Parsons
and modern social theory. Over time, Turner himself grew to become an authority
on the theory of globalization and applied his postulations to his study of Islam.
Turners deliberations of globalization were not without physical manifestations.
In these challenging times when university jobs are scarce and hardly available,
academics would often cherish the idea of being entrenched in a given university,
ivy-league or otherwise. Turner, on the contrary, has no such ambitions. He leads a
remarkably nomadic life, having held university appointments in various countries.
He taught at the University of Aberdeen (Scotland) and the University of Lancaster
(England) and became a Professor of Sociology at Flinders University (Australia)
after which he took up the Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at Bielefeld University
(Germany). After short stints at Utrecht (Holland) and Essex (England) and serving
as Dean at Deakins (Australia), Turner was appointed Professor of Sociology at the
University of Cambridge (England). He arrived at National University of Singapore
in 2005, and four years later, left for a Visiting Professorship at Wellesley (United
States) teaching the sociology of Asian societies. Turner currently straddles the
positions of Presidential Professor of Sociology and Director of the Committee on
Religion at The City University of New York (United States), as well as Professor
of Social and Political Thought and the Director of the Centre for the Study of
Contemporary Muslim Societies (CSCMS), which he founded at the University
of Western Sydney (Australia). CSCMS has been recently renamed the Centre for
Religion and Society with a broader remit to study religions. He is also faculty
Associate of the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University (United States),
Research Associate at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France),
Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences (Australia) and Member of the
American Sociological Research Association.
Turner is also a habitual founder of journals and book series. He is the founding
editor of Body & Society (with Mike Featherstone), Citizenship Studies and Journal
of Classical Sociology (with John ONeill). He founded two book series for Anthem
Press: Key Issues in Modern Sociology and Tracts for Our Times, and serves as the
editor for the Routledge book series Religion in Contemporary Asia and the co-editor
of Muslims in Global Societies for Springer. As of 2012, he is the Associate Editor
of the newly established journal, Sociology of Islam, and is also on the editorial
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Introduction
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board of about a dozen other journals. As recognition of his legacies to sociology, he


was awarded several honorary degrees. He received a Doctor of Letters at Flinders
University in 1987, a Master of Arts at the University of Cambridge in 2002 and a
Doctor of Letters at the University of Cambridge in 2009.
Ironically, his transnational interactions and nomadic lifestyle have led to
an enduring criticism of him. Despite having travelled almost the entire globe,
Turner has never been regarded as an insider in the study of Islam. Critics have
faulted him for not having conducted extensive fieldwork in Muslim lands. His
academic appointments in Western institutions of higher learning also provide
further ammunition for some to discount him as an orientalist who writes about
Islam but knows little about Muslims and their lived realities. To some extent,
such criticisms are valid. Taken too far, criticisms about Turners aloofness from
the field where he has dedicated his prodigious writings would prove untenable.
Weber, whom Turner regards as his intellectual forebear, stressed that what
is needed is verstehen (emphatic understanding). This renders the insider and
outsider perspectives redundant, tout court. Besides, Turners real and valuable
contribution to the sociology of Islam does not lie in the unearthing of new
empirical evidence but in contributing to the methodology, conceptualizing and
theorizing of social phenomena. Beginning with his publication on the theories
of Islamic thinker Ibn Khaldun in 1971 and taking his 2011 piece on Sharia and
Legal Pluralism in the West as a collective project, Turner has injected a battery
of concepts and developed several important approaches to the social scientific
study of Islam.
Making sense of Bryan Turners contributions to the sociology of Islam is by
any means a daunting task. To try to summarize Turners large body of works
is like attempting to catch quicksilver. Turner actively churns out his scholarly
expositions at an impressive rate and constantly reinvents himself by looking at
new axes to analyze society. The fact that this Reader mainly includes his most
recent reflections is testament to this. The reality of the magnitude of the task
dawned upon me as I turned the pages on 40 years of his reflections on Islam and
contemporary Muslim societies.
This collation has a few novel aims. It is, without any apologies, a response
to critiques of Turner that have often marginalized him as an outsider in the study
of Islam. Alternatively, this first ever reader of Turners essays consolidates his
innovative and critical interpolation in the sociology of Islam. To be sure, the
sociology of Islam is poorly served in terms of the tracing of concepts and
theoretical frameworks through the lenses of key influential figures in the field.
This is the first manuscript of its sort, for we are still waiting for a manuscript that
takes on, in a sustained manner, the ideas of seminal thinkers whose perspective
transcends the limits of space and time. Two landmark publications, as evidenced
in a recent edited book entitled The Sociology of Islam: Secularism, Economy and
Politics (Tugrul 2011) and the launching of the journal Sociology of Islam (2012),
are crucial steps in that direction. The poverty of writings on the subject matter
becomes even more apparent when the only other compilation of a key thinkers
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thoughts on the subject is a dated manuscript of translated lectures by Ali Shariati


(1979) collectively titled On the Sociology of Islam. This reader by Turner thus
fills some of the yawning gaps in the field and, whilst updating the literature all
the way to the present, also offers a longue dure perspective to the study. In so
doing, this Reader also hopes to encourage other compilations of Bryan Turners
writings converging on some of the core themes that he has been concerned with
over the last four decades.
Another aim of this Reader is to showcase the ways in which Turner has
attempted to critically analyze Muslim communities. Taking a thematic approach,
Turner traces the relationship between Islam and the ideas of Western social
thinkers as examined against a series of concepts such as capitalism, orientalism,
modernity, gender, and citizenship among others. For Turner, Muslims adaptation
and resistance to the changing times can only be properly understood by
ruminating on these overarching notions. This collection is even more timely
as the Muslim World copes with significant developments arising from the post
9/11 Islamophobic environment, in addition to the attendant problems of Muslim
migration to the West, as well as the rise of popular protests among Muslims
the world over that has captivated the minds of scholars and the layman alike.
These developments amply demonstrate the heightened contemporary interest
in the sociology of Islam and Turners endeavours afford us with the necessary
frameworks to foster constructive debates.

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Bryan Turners Interventions into the Sociology of Islam

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From his earliest articles on Ibn Khaldun, to his classic on Max Webers sociology
of Islam, to his discussions about orientalism and its avatars, the sociology of Islam
has been one of the essential themes in Turnerian sociology. Nonetheless, anyone
who seeks to understand Turners contribution to the study of Islam must take into
account the wider context of his forays into several sub-fields: from the sociology
of religion in general, and Islam specifically, to his other breakthroughs in the
fields of medical sociology (body and society), political sociology (citizenship
and human rights) and classical social theory. These offer him the heuristic
tools to ponder the larger issues of globalization and religion, religious conflict
and the modern state, religious authority and electronic information, religious
consumerism and youth cultures, human rights and religion, the human body,
medical change, as well as religious cosmologies. It is within the context of these
larger sociological pursuits that we need to situate Turners engagement with the
sociology of Islam. Islam then becomes a prism through which Turner uses theory
to illuminate social reality and social reality to challenge theory. Turners impact
in the sociology of Islam is evident in at least four fundamental areas.
Very few will contest that Turners leading contribution is in the theorizing of
Islam. Turner received much praise for his first book Weber and Islam in 1974.
The late Ernest Gellner lauded the volume as valuable and admirable. As
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a corollary, Turners definitive piece entitled Islam, Capitalism and the Weber
Theses, which was published in the same year, was awarded one of the best two
writings of that decade by the British Sociological Association in 2010. The article
was extolled for having had a significant and enduring impact on sociology. Over
the years, Turner has engaged with a vast array of theories, having written books
and articles on the likes of Khaldun, Durkheim, Weber, Marx, Parsons, Simmel,
Baudrillard, Mannheim and Bourdieu. These have led some to mistakenly label
him as a Marxist (see Ruthven 2006: 163), amongst others, but Weber continued
to be his main source of inspiration. He has since established an international
reputation for his Weberian analyses of religion from the broad perspective of
comparative sociology. While this Reader ends with Turners co-written piece on
the fate of Islamic law in Western societies, scholars of Islam can look ahead to
more of such studies as this pilot project forms part of a three-year grant he won
with colleagues from the Australian Research Council in 2011 to study the Sharia
in the global cities of Sydney and New York.
His second major influence rests in his consistent and measured criticisms of
Orientalism in Islamic studies. From the 1970s through the 1990s, marked by the
twin publications of Marx and the End of Orientalism (1978) and Orientalism,
Postmodernism and Globalism (1994), Turner has engaged in various debates over
Orientalism. Although the word Orientalism today has become synonymous
with Edward Saids (1978) important treatise, Turners effort remained the more
theoretically informed. Turner points out how Said, whose primary examples are
drawn from literary and art creations of a certain genealogy, has conflated many
diverse traditions across cultures and disciplines into a monolithic Orientalist
tradition. In Marx and the End of Orientalism, Turner exposes and rejects the
Hegelian-Marxist view of the Middle East that is founded on a false teleologicalessentialist conception leading to a unilinear progression of history. He contends
that overcoming Orientalism entails a rigorous questioning of the epistemological
and theoretical assumptions of Orientalist scholarship and advocates the eradication
of certain strains of Marxist thought. In his later manuscript, Turner lays bare the
amorphous categories of Oriental and Occident amidst a setting of postmodern
polytheism and the commodification of everyday life that has come to describe
living in a globalized age. Drawing on Weber and Robertson, his response to the
critique of Orientalism is to consciously strive towards a global sociology.
Turners third major contribution is toward the understanding of body as
method. His thoughts on the theorizing of religion resulted in the publication of
Religion and Social Theory (1983) where Turner engages extensively with Michel
Foucault in constructing a methodology revolving around the body. In Religion
and Social Theory, his definitive work in The Body and Society: Explorations in
Social Theory (1984) and in the recently published Religion and Modern Society:
Citizenship, Secularisation and the State (2011) which has been characterized as
an attempt to revive a theory-driven macro-sociology of religion, Turner has
laid concrete foundations to a new understanding of dissecting society with the
body as the focal point. He outlined that all societies are faced with four tasks in
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which a sociology of the body should take into consideration: (1) the reproduction
of populations in time, (2) the regulation of bodies in space, (3) the restraint of the
interior body through disciplines, and (4) the representation of the exterior
body in social space (1984: 38). These four axes are a useful template to understand
how Muslims negotiate their bodies in their everyday lives and particularly, in
understanding the expressive functions of religious identity in a multiracial urban
secular setting. Scholars studying Islam, especially those focusing on Muslim
women (Hargreaves 2007; Torab 2007; Schlote 2008), have done well to consider
Turners sociology of the body as a penetrative way of investigating society.
The final key feature of Turners sociology is the formation of a reliable stream
of innovative and insightful concepts that have been deployed to examine Muslim
societies. To cite an example that is more familiar to me both in terms of scholarship
and the subject matter, Muslims in Singapore: Piety, Politics and Policies (2009),
which I co-wrote with Turner, is an attempt to critically apply some of the concepts
that he has developed over recent times such as the enclave society (Turner 2007a),
rituals of intimacy and acts of piety (Turner 2007b) with others like the Malay
problem (Kamaludeen 2007) and defensive dining (Kamaludeen and Pereira 2008)
that I have developed by looking at the Singapore empirical field. The book also
responds to Saba Mahmoods ground-breaking research in Politics of Piety (2005)
where she criticizes the traditional perspectives of western feminism on the veil
in Islam. The structure that Mahmood devises to explore the Muslim habitus for
pious women in modern Egypt was useful in reflecting about the Singapore case.
The ethnographic study of Singapore thus provides a framework for thinking in
more global terms about Islamic renewal. In the course of his career, Turner has
never shied away from engaging the important treatises and the tough questions
of the day, and through these encounters he has steadily furnished the sociology of
Islam with innovative concepts to better explain society.

Conclusion

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The proliferation of articles and books on Muslims in the post 9/11 era have typically
examined Muslims from the perspectives of radicalism, political Islam and their
alienation experienced as minorities living in secular multicultural societies.
Giving a more nuanced perspective, this book will indeed be an indispensable
resource for analysts, social scientists, legal scholars as well as media observers
dedicated to serious social scientific research and policy-making as it documents
the dominant ways in which Islam/Muslims have been studied over the last four
decades. In addition, this Reader can be utilized in a complementary manner and in
conversation with other edited volumes written on key figures within the sociology
and anthropology of Islam and Muslim communities. Two recent publications,
namely, Powers of the Secular Modern:Talal Asadand His Interlocutors (Scott
and Hirschkind 2006) and Clifford Geertz by His Colleagues (Shweder and Good
2005), come to mind.
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One can be assured that this compilation will need to be updated soon enough
given Turners prolific nature and his conviction to pushing the boundaries of the
discipline. A lot can be made of Turners farewell lecture at the National University
of Singapore in 2009 when he left with a session humbly titled Encountering
Religion and Globalization in Asia: Some Problems with My Glasses. It was
clearly visible to the audience, which comprised of academicians, students and
policy analysts, that Turner devotes much of himself to expanding the frontiers of
his field. Three of his attributes struck me during that discussion, when as a young
postgraduate, I struggled to help carry the piles of books that he had written during
his brief tenure there. Foremost is the rigour that Turner puts into honing his craft.
And, as is evident in the title of his lecture, this is always done with a great deal of
reflexivity and self-criticism.

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Kamaludeen Mohamed Nasir


Assistant Professor of Sociology
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

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Hargreaves, Jennifer. 2007. Sport, Exercise, and the Female Muslim Body:
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