Turkish Membership of the European Union and Religious Identity

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Does Turkey's religious identity have something to do with the EU membership debate? The social and cultural facets of the debate are portrayed as a divide between those who see the EU as a Christian coalition and those who are more receptive to a pluralistic religious identity. Nonetheless, concerns about Turkey's accession are shared by a greater proportion of EU members than by the minority who defend an explicitly Christian vision of Europe Union. Both Christian exclusivists and secularists have voiced reservations about Turkey's accession. The argument has dragged on and is tense, with no lack of disagreements. From Turkey`s 1959 application to the European Community to the status of full candidate and negotiations of accession in 2005, the country`s progress has been relatively slow. Hence, it is evident that the religious identity issue is most likely going to have an important role in the accession process of Turkey, particularly in the public perception arena, which proves to be highly relevant. Apart from religious matters, there are other relevant factors from economics, population, cultural differences, and political structure that are considered when examining Turkish-EU relation (Hurd and Shakman 416-435). The scope of this research is to examine how religious expression in Turkey relates to the country`s European Union accession. To efficiently present this, a review of existing literature on the topic is presented followed by the methodology used, analysis of the report, discussion of findings and the overall conclusion.

Literature Review

Even in areas like America and Western Europe what has been long considered the fortress of secularism; religion continues to have a unique role in most matters of the world. Religion has not been annihilated and is still a contemporary issue of concern. The modernization theory notion that a far-reaching secularism that is free of religion is necessary to enhance modern democracy is not necessarily the reality. Though it is difficult to identify an institutional pattern, what can be quickly concluded regarding the place of religion within democracies is that the arrangement varies from state to state; but, there is a commitment that needs to be ensured in the religion arrangement to the country in a democracy that is consolidated.

In spite of the aggressive secularism history that is usually pursued by the country, religion and its identity remain to be an essential part of the culture and life of Turkey. As written in the country`s 1982 constitution, religion has a legal position in the state. “as required by the principle of secularism, there shall be no interference whatsoever by sacred religious feelings in state affairs and politics” (Siam-Heng 44).

Research conducted by Hurd explains that the candidacy of Turkish in the EU consolidates both tacit and conflicting theories regarding the religious heritage of Europe and its relevance to its identity and drives them into the public arena. The alleged link between these “European” or “Christian values” and the structures of democracy in Europe aids in averting the identity of Turkish Islamic religion and cynicism about the country`s potential as an Islamic-majority secular member of the EU. This article is instrumental as it indicates how Turkey is seen to be naturally different from other European nations due to an exclusive European identity based on religion, culture, and geography. Thus, the status of Europe is conceived in fixed, bounded, and unique terms, exemplifying an idea of diversity based on innate characteristics. It may be compared with an inclusive European identity version that emphasizes that a state may be considered European if it gradually acquires a series of universal and broad characteristics such as respect for human rights, liberty, and secular democracy (McCormick 12). However, the author does not recognize the fact that Turkey`s religious identity also identifies most if not all the extensive qualities shared by other European nations, such as respect for human rights and freedom. When compared to countries of similar size under the EU, Turkey is not portraying eccentricity regarding regulation on a societal level. Hence, religion may be the fundamental factor leading to their alienation (Fuller and Kurpershoek).

In another research, Kubicek states that the ‘Christian Europe’ idea is not currently applicable and it belongs to the Middle Ages, where it should be left. He continues to add that the full membership of Turkey will re-enforce the will and desire for co-habitation between Muslims and Christians (55-58). Kubieck shares great concepts on Turkey`s untapped potential and the importance of religious integration. A different research by Casanova views the topic from a sociological point of view, and he indicates that the thesis of secularization has become the factor shaping the European self-understanding (90). Such a viewpoint relates to this research as it sees the refuse of religiosity as both progressive and normal. So when it is coupled with the submerged identity of a ‘Christian Europe’ it makes stern issues of the general religion, especially in regards to the increasing population of Muslims and the Turkish accession.

The downside of Kubicek and Casanova`s research is that they deal with the general place of politics in religion and religion in politics. One additional element around religion that needs to be incorporated to help complete the picture is on a social perspective, rather than on a political basis, regulations towards the general aspect of religion, mainly non-traditional or minority religions. Unlike previous research, this study limits itself to the role of Turkish religious identity and the European Union membership. By assuming the identity consideration as a descriptive tool to analyze the dealings and perceptions of various actors this research assumes a constructivist approach. Given the significance of religion in shaping the identity of individuals as well as manipulating the global political scene, its role on this analysis may prove beneficial for persons who wish to understand the future of Turkey and the European Union.

Research Methodology

Quantitative and qualitative research methods are two means of gathering research data. Quantitative research method involves collecting and analyzing objective data which is mostly in the form of numerical records. Thus, a quantitative analysis includes less rigorous experiments and valid experiments. Quantitative research usually requires information sources derived from many respondents and can entail difficult tests with many variables and treatments. Also, quantitative research method applies different strategies of inquiry such as experiments and surveys conducted in a wide area (Fowler 13).

On the other hand, qualitative research is useful when there is a need to gain an in-depth opinion of a particular situation and can refer to strategies such as case studies, phenomenological analysis, historical research, grounded theory, and ethnographies. In qualitative research, the number of respondents is usually smaller, and it typically aims at collecting additional information for a detailed and deeper understanding of the issue. Qualitative research often focuses on individual`s perceptions; hence, it involves observations, site visits, interviews, focus groups, and documentation (Brinkmann 1010).

In light of the benefits of both types of research methods, this research will employ both quantitative and qualitative analysis, and it will consist of surveys, interviews, and a review of relevant journals to further investigate the religious identity of Turkey and the European Union membership. Hence, the methodology will combine both primary and secondary data to come up with conclusive findings. This research process will give rise to significant information that will help to understand the challenges associated with the Turkey accession and the policies supported by different European Union member states. The methods used focus on precise situations illustrated in the literature review using reliable information received from the multiple sources used. The use of quantitative as well as qualitative methods is beneficial since a researcher can analyze all angles in the scale of the study including particular events, activities, individuals, and groups. Besides, it also helps in forming a compound and firm basis that explains how people, institutions, and states view religion when looking at issues related to regional and international integration (Duncan and Fiske 14).

Analysis of Data

The study uses purposeful sampling to select the respondents of the research to find book authors, government employees, and scholars that can knowingly provide the right information. While selecting the right journals to use, the study will select based on the principle of typicality to effectively reflect the religious issues affecting the integration of Turkey into the European Union. In considering the availability and accessibility of the resources to be used, this research will compare various old and new literature and combine the knowledge to come up with relevant and substantive results. The slow or somewhat stagnant assimilation of Turkey into the European Union umbrella will be compared with the absorption of other states to establish the factors that affect the EU membership process. Various government officials who wanted to remain anonymous, scholars, authors, and the Turkish, as well as citizens from European Union countries, were contacted by mail to take part in the interviews and surveys. Therefore, this research uses findings from interviews, surveys, journals, and case studies to analyze the Turkish case and discuss the results to achieve the study`s objectives conductively.

Results from the interviews and surveys indicate that the number of people who feel that the role of religion is critical in the political integration of countries into the European Union is at 75%. It is because religion still has a role to play in the modern world and the idea of secularism may be farfetched. Besides, Turks who view themselves as Muslims first then Turks was also high at 80%. Analyst respondents indicate that this result is observed due to strong Islamic ties in Asian countries compared to Christian relations in Western nations. In another assessment, respondents who believed that the European Union should only include Christian countries were 65%. Also, it is important to note that 55% of Turkish respondents were not necessarily interested in joining the European Union. According to views of some researchers interviewed, this is because of their high religiosity feelings. Hence, despite the fact that there is a need for them to be integrated into the broad European Union, they do not want to lose their Islamic values. Besides, some government officials interviewed indicated that some European nations also do not wish to lose their Christian values as others want to maintain their secularism, and they fear that embracing Islamic countries would be a threat to their identity. However, other respondents felt that Turkey`s accession may take long but will finally be concluded since the world is becoming more globalized.

After assessing journals touching on the issue of Turkey`s membership in the European Union and their religious identity, the research established that the general view regarding how influential the question of identity appears to be in Turkey`s accession is that Turkey is not perceived as an asset but as an issue. It was also evident in the interviews when a question concerning how the membership of Turkey would favor the comprehension of Muslim and European values, 75% of the respondents living in European Union members states was skeptical or unsure of the cost while Turkish respondents were optimistic.

The findings indicate that such negative feelings are stronger in older member states of the EU than in the newer member states. Amusingly, most of the research suggests that the primary commonality between Turkey and Europe and agreed by EU member states is that Turkish are partly Europeans regarding the country`s geographical location.

After an analysis of various literature, it still seems that the membership of EU would be opposed even if Turkey met all required conditions, particularly among the older member states. It proves the existence of a perception regarding becoming European versus being European and the necessary things needed for full membership (Cengiz and Hoffmann 416-432). It is this question`s resolution – both for Turkey and for Europe – that will eventually determine the place of Turkey and its religious identity about the EU.


Secularism is a significant factor in the Turkish state policies, and the secularism style continues to be through religion control sometimes at the expense of the freedoms of individual persons. What's more, the majority of Turkish citizens are noticeably religious regarding practice and identification. Most people in Turkey are Muslims, and they honor and respect their religion. There is a perception that religious identity has a considerable influence in politics, but there is a skepticism measure of whether it is beneficial or has adverse effects. When looking at the societal regulation on religions, Turkey is somehow similar to similar sized EU countries. In connection with state regulation on religion, Turkey is above the average world measurement. It is consistent with the trend of states that exercise control over religion matters (Tekin and Güney 12).

People, groups, and bodies that oppose the accession of Turkey on the grounds of exclusivist carry within it an EU identity position and the subordinate place of religious identity, and mainly Muslims within Europe. By positing different connections between specific religious identifications, the status of Europe and the prospective of successful democratization, supporters of this narrative contribute to a particular identity and idea of Europe (Carta and Wodak 1-17). The religious identities` divide becomes part of the mixed markers of differences in civilization. It has implications for both the external relations of EU as well as the minorities within EU member states that are sometimes portrayed as potential enemies within and suspect citizens.

One area that needs further research is the accession process and the capacity of Europe to allow further enlargement. What if Turkey finally gets its house in order and provides EU with all its obligations met only to be told that it failed to arrive on time or the EU membership is full? Besides, there is an uncertainty of whether the EU acceptance process will be based on the total adoption and implementation of the acquis and the criteria of Copenhagen or if it will involve a popular vote by the member countries of the EU. Such questions lend uncertainty to the membership process. Even as it is beneficial to recommend further research into the clarification of the process until the completion of reforms, the response will inevitably lack certainty. Nonetheless, irrespective of the final and full membership, there should be more evidence of how the value associated with the reforms affects the change process.

Moreover, there is a need for a detailed research on the identity of the European Union. If its current membership is limited by terms such as history, geography, religion, or culture, then it should be investigated whether the founding principles of the European Union articulated such factors. If universal values constrain the European Union, then the standards and the values need to be established. The identity concept would need to be embraced by both the member states and the candidate states. It is essential since European identity is a contested issue that needs to be resolved for the membership of Turkey to move forward.


Secularism—the influential factor that constructs the European Union membership debate regarding religion—makes it hard for European nations to manage an “Islamic challenge” to Europe. The candidacy of Turkey makes these hurdles explicit, as it has become a carrier of the concerns of Europe over Islam and politics. The nomination of Turkey highlights unfinished business in the EU social fabric, including the meaning of secular and how a country`s religious identity relates to the European identity.

There are two basic orientations which include a “thick” Europe that shares its cultural identity or a common background. It is equated with the “Christian Europe” idea. The other orientation is a “thin” Europe that shares legalistic principles in the form of democracy, the rule of law, economic principles, human rights, etc. (Archick 116). The internal debate is which form of identity will prevail and eventually determine the place of Turkey about the membership of EU. It is essential since Turkey as both strongly democratic and religious state can be a valuable member of the European Union.

Works Cited

Archick, Kristin. "The European Union: Current challenges and prospects." CRS Report 44249 (2016).

Brinkmann, Svend. "Interview." Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology. Springer New York, 2014. 1008-1010.

Carta, Caterina, and Ruth Wodak. "Discourse analysis, policy analysis, and the borders of EU identity." Journal of Language and Politics 14.1 (2015): 1-17.

Casanova, José. "It's all about identity, stupid." Index on Censorship 33.4 (2004): 88-103.

Cengiz, Firat, and Lars Hoffmann. "Rethinking conditionality: Turkey's European Union accession and the Kurdish question." JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies 51.3 (2013): 416-432.

Duncan, Starkey, and Donald W. Fiske. Face-to-face interaction: Research, methods, and theory. Vol. 3. Routledge, 2015.

Fowler Jr, Floyd J. Survey research methods. Sage publications, 2013.

Fuller, Graham, and M. Kurpershoek. What Future for Political Islam. WRR, 2013.

Hurd, Elizabeth Shakman. "Alevis under the law: the politics of religious freedom in Turkey." Journal of Law and Religion 29.3 (2014): 416-435.

Hurd, Elizabeth Shakman."'What is Driving the European Debate About Turkey?'." Browser Download This Paper (2010).

Kubicek, Paul. "Turkey's Place in the ‘New Europe.'" Perceptions: Journal of International Affairs 9.3 (2004): 55-58.

McCormick, John. Understanding the European Union: a concise introduction. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Siam-Heng, Michael Heng. State and Secularism: Perspectives from Asia. World Scientific, 2010.

Tekin, Ali, and Aylin Güney. The Europeanization of Turkey: Polity and Politics. Vol. 75. Routledge, 2015.

November 23, 2022

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