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Jan 25 2019

Higher education runs counter to faith, Turkey’s religious directorate warns

A book distributed to Turkish students free of charge by the state’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, or Diyanet, has warned that university education is counter to religious faith, Turkish left-wing newspaper BirGün reported on Thursday.

“One can talk of a contradictory relationship between higher education and devoutness,” BirGün quoted the book “The Prophet and Youth,” as saying.

“It has been established that in secular areas, study at higher levels has a negative effect on piety in general terms, and on worship and religious faith specifically,” it said.

The book, which BirGün said had been distributed at an expense of millions of lira, included statistics showing that students in higher education were 8 percent less likely to pray, and offered a critique of secular higher education institutions’ approach to religion.

BirGün’s description of the book as an attack on secular education in Turkey highlights the long-running tensions between the country’s secularist circles and followers of the tradition of political Islam the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) emerged from.

While Diyanet was established in 1924, a year after the foundation of the Republic of Turkey, as a secular institution designed to ensure state oversight of religious activities, critics have accused the AKP government of using the directorate to promote its own interpretation of Islam.

The AKP has vastly increased funding and staff numbers at Diyanet since taking power in 2002. After Turkey’s economy buckled in 2018 under pressures from high inflation and lira devaluation, Diyanet was a rare state body to receive a significant boost in the 2019 budget, totalling $850 million, a 34 percent increase.