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Messianic Conceptions of Politics and Authoritarianism in Turkey 1850-2015

This project aims to trace how Messianic conceptions of time and politics informed authoritarian leadership and legitimation practices in Turkey.

Three portaits in frames. Alevi, Bektasilik and Ataturk. Illustration.


Charismatic political leaders typically claim to not only represent, but to embody some divine will that thrusts leadership upon them. Those who are against them are against the will of God, and more recently, the will of the people. Understanding how these concepts are put to use are important for understanding the global rise of authoritarian rule and how authoritarian rulers draw on religious or secular traditions to bolster their legitimacy beyond the confines of liberal democratic procedures.

About the project

The project sets out to first demonstrate empirically the longevity of messianic concepts of political leadership in the Turkish context from the early nineteenth century until today.

Second, the project will look at how such concepts are tied to the various alternative ways the past, the present and the future are represented and imagined politically.

Employing a conceptual historical approach this project will be a genealogy of the authoritarian turn in Turkish politics and follow the Islamic and secular political theologies both of which imagine the leader as a saviour figure ruling a country in a state of crisis and exception.

The use of the word Messianism

The project uses the word Messianism to define this authoritarian concept of leadership, because besides the obvious saviour image of the ruler and attending concepts, the project will focus on religious and secular temporalities that are implied by, or built into, such concepts.


1. September 2019–31. August 2021

Published Mar. 11, 2020 10:46 AM - Last modified Feb. 12, 2021 3:07 PM