Gökalp, Zıya

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GÖKALP, ZİYA (18761924), Turkish sociologist influential in the modernization of religious thinking and in the development of Turkish nationalism. He was born Mehmed Ziya in the small town of Diyarbakır in southeastern Turkey. After a traditional Muslim primary education and a secular secondary education in Diyarbakır, he went to Constantinople to continue his studies in 1895. Five years later he was arrested and banished to his hometown for his involvement with the Young Turks, then a secret organization.

Following the successful Young Turk revolution of 1908, he went to Salonika as a delegate to the Society (later Party) of Union and Progress. There he contributed to a journal of philosophy (Yeni felsefe mecmuasi ) and a literary review (Genç kalemler ) published by the Young Turks. It was at this point that he adopted the pen name Gökalp ("sky hero"), which he retained for the rest of his life.

With the outbreak of the Balkan War, he and his associates moved to the Ottoman capital, where their Turkish nationalist ideas were sharply opposed by the politicians and writers known as Islamists, as well as by the traditional Ottomanists. In Constantinople Gökalp became acquainted with a group of Turkish-speaking émigré writers from Kazan, the Crimea, and Azerbaijan whose ideas had been influenced by those of the Russian Narodniks. Prominent among these writers was Yusuf Akçura of Kazan, the author of a lengthy essay entitled Three Ways of Policy (Üç tarz-i siyaset ), in which he speculated on three possible directions for the Ottoman Empirea continuation of Ottomanism, a political unification of Muslims, or a national unification of the Turks (possibly including those of the Russian Empire).

This formulation of the Turkish problem had a strong influence upon Gökalp, whose writings after 1911 were concerned with the resolution of Akçura's trilemma within the framework of the modern nation, although the modifications he proposed were unacceptable not only to the Ottomanists and Islamists but even to the Turkists themselves. In his major work, Türkleşmek, islamlaşmak, muasirlaşmak (Turkism, Islam, and Secularization, 1918), he presented the concept of secularization, already initiated by the Tanīmāt reforms, as a means of reconciling the "three ways." Throughout his life Gökalp dealt with the political, religious, cultural, and educational ramifications of what he believed to be the reforms necessary to arrest the decline of Turkish national unity. Following the fall of the Ottoman Empire he welcomed the birth of the nationalist, republican, and secular regime in 1921, and in the remaining three years of his life he strove to adapt his earlier writings to it.

Central to Gökalp's thought were two distinct yet interrelated concepts, "civilization" and "culture." The first of these he associates with traditions created by and belonging to different ethnic groups and capable of being transmitted from one group to another, while "culture" represents the specific and unique set of mores of a particular nation. For Gökalp "culture" is the more basic of the two because without cultural roots, any attempt to develop a dynamic civilization will be unsuccessful.

In applying this distinction to the concrete issue of Turkey's transition from a multiracial, formally Muslim empire to a democratic, Western-oriented, and secular nation-state, whose cultural basis would be Turkish and only secularly Muslim, he was dealing not with the problems of Western society or civilization, but with a nonsecular, non-Western society that had come under the influence of Western civilization. He was concerned mainly with the place the Turkish people would assume in the modern world, since they were seen as alien to the Christian cultural background of Western civilization. He felt that the nations of the West, while remaining Christian in character, were destined to become secularized because of the dominant role assumed by science and rational thought. Non-Christian Turks, however, and others who were neither Christians nor Muslims, such as the Japanese, could be secularized only if and when they became "nations," for modern Western civilization had little to do with the language, religion, folkways, and mores of the people outside the world of Christianity.

After Gökalp's death, there was a decline of interest in his earlier writings, which preceded the readjustment of his thinking to the conditions of the nationalist, secular regime. His ideas, however, would exert considerable influence upon later Muslim thinkers, such as Muammad Iqbāl.


Berkes, Niyazi, trans. and ed. Turkish Nationalism and Western Civilization: Selected Essays of Ziya Gökalp. London and New York, 1959.

Fischer, August. Aus der religiösen Reformbewegung in der Turkei. Leipzig, 1922.

Heyd, Uriel. Foundations of Turkish Nationalism: The Life and Teachings of Ziya Gökalp. London, 1950.

New Sources

Bonnett, Alastair. "Makers of the West: National Identity and Occidentalism in the World of Fukuzawa Yukichi and Ziya Gokalp." Scottish Geographical Journal 118 (2002), 165183.

Niyazi Berkes (1987)

Revised Bibliography