“Islamist Magazines Are a Critical Source in Understanding Contemporary Turkish Thought” | An Interview with Lutfi Sunar on the Islamist Magazines Project (IDP)

Lutfi Sunar is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology in Istanbul Medeniyet University, Turkey. He holds a PhD from the Department of Sociology in Istanbul University. His major research interests include classical sociological theory, orientalism, modernization, Turkish social and political thought, and social change. He has published various articles in international journals around these themes. Among his recent books are Marx and Weber on Oriental Societies (2014), Eurocentrism at the Margins: Encounters, Critics and Going Beyond (as editor, 2016), Debates on Civilization in the Muslim World: Critical Perspectives on Islam and Modernity (as editor, 2016), Toplumsal Değişim (2018), Sosyal Tabakalaşma (2018). He has managed several projects including Islamist Magazines Project. He is the founder of İlmi Etüdler Derneği and editor in chief of The Journal of Humanity and Society.

Fatma Aladağ: Let me begin by asking: how should we define Islamism?

Lutfi Sunar: The traditional world has undergone a fundamental change since the eighteenth century when the known models of the ancient world began to lose their function in both the East and the West. Islamism was one of the most influential ideas to emerge in the nineteenth century, a product of the tension between the new world order and an Islamic world in search of its salvation. Islamism emerged in the late period of the Ottoman State, alongside two other ideologies of this period – Westernism and Turkism, all seeking to save the state. It is fair to say then, that Islamism has laid the groundwork for the formation of comprehensive thought-currents and their various practical forms. With this background in mind, we can identify three main descriptive elements of Islamism:

(1) Renewal of Islamic thought:The creation of a new, critical mindset evaluating the thought of contemporary Muslims in the wake of their encounter with modernity;

(2) Revitalization of the Islamic unity: This takes the form of an“Ummatism” based on the idea of international Muslim solidarity in order to restore the forgotten concept of Islamic unity;

(3) Political independence: Fostering an ideology of anti-imperialism and independence from modern forms of domination and colonialism oppressing Muslim societies.

Although the thematic components of Islamism vary according to local context, nonetheless these three descriptive elements have always remained central to Islamist thought.

Would you please tell us about the İslamcı Dergiler Projesi/ Islamist Magazines Project? How did it start?

The Islamist Magazines Project was born in 2013 and managed in İlmi Etudler Derneği (İLEM). The project primarily addresses the question of how we ought to reevaluate our understanding of the development of Islamism in Turkey in light of previously overlooked sources: namely, intellectual magazines. We can now confidently say that Islamism is a thought movement whose evolution took place in intellectual magazines, which were also the primary means by which the movementpresented itself to society, much like other intellectual streams in modern Turkey. Therefore, these magazines hold an important place in the study of Turkish Islamism. However, there are substantial challenges regarding access to these journals in Turkey. We have thus developed this project to make the Islamist magazines accessible and viewable by the interested public.

From the very start, we had an interest in working with “digital humanities.” So, we developed this project in the form of an open access internet database which catalogs and digitalizes these magazines. We believe that this database makes it possible to go a step beyond the conventional sources used to study Islamism.

Can you tell us more about the importance of magazines in terms of Islamism, especially in Turkey? What can you say about the relationship between Turkish Islamists and magazines?

Public intellectual discourse in Turkey has evolved out of magazines. Many of the relevant books also evolved from writings in these magazines. Writing of books is a tedious job and requires extensive work. Moreover, it is difficult to build and maintain a publishing house.Finally,books also face challenges in staying up to date and in touch with the contemporary discourse. Therefore, the magazine was often considered the best medium to discuss contemporary opinions and politics. You can discuss both broad agendas and specific ideas and can also facilitate intellectual debates. Magazines are also an ideal medium to build the voice and identity of political movements. Thus, periodicals and magazines, rather than academic journals, had a critical role in this process.

“Public intellectual discourse in Turkey has evolved out of magazines. Many of the relevant books also evolved from writings in these magazines.”

Imagine something like this: You are a small group, but you have an idea you want to express – the easiest way for you to do that is to publish a magazine. So, you do that. Up until the 1980s the magazines were mostly short in length and lacked a standard form. More developed magazines might run between twenty-four and thirty pages. A writing committee of five or six was enough to publish a magazine. The lack of standardized practice coupled with the ease of publishing made magazines the best medium to discuss political ideas in Turkey. This was not just the case for Islamism, but for all streams of thought in modern Turkey.

At the same time, magazine publishing influenced the presentation of ideas. Take the following example: the typical magazine article ran about three to five pages. This meant writers had to discuss multiple ideas without going into too much detail. If the same writer were to write a book on the subject, he would have to discuss it in all its dimensions. However, because these discussions take place in magazines, they are both more superficial and more dynamic. As a side note, many influential books in Turkey have been compiled from articles in these magazines and this might explain why such books are not so comprehensive.

In magazines we also find much greater interaction with the current agenda relative to books. Let’s say a magazine has an article about Pakistan, you immediately see on the following page that some relevant incident recently occurred in Pakistan.So, you have the opportunity to establish that link. For example, on one page of a magazine, there is a text that deals with the Iranian Revolution. Then you find out that there is another article later in the magazine concerning events around the same topic. You understand that the article is related to that topic. In other words, you have the opportunity to follow the formation of the idea, its development and interaction, in a more dynamic and multidimensional way by sifting through these magazines. Thus, it is possible to follow the development of ideas in Turkey through these periodicals.

All of these factors bring magazines to the forefront of any discussion on Islamism in Turkey. When we make the contents of these magazines multi-dimensionally analyzable, the research becomes far more comprehensive. In other words, seeing the different discussions on the same subject in ten magazines gives a much more contextualized view of the matter.

How would you categorize the various magazines of the project?

When we look at the Islamist magazines included in the project, we see that the publishing trends can be divided into roughly five different periods:

  • 1908–1926: In this period, the magazines were published with the old Arabic-Ottoman script and the primary focus was the Islamic revival within the framework of the liberation of the Ottoman state from Western domination. This period ended in 1926, when the publishing of these magazines was prevented under the new Law of Takrir-i Sukun.
  • 1940–1960: Beginning in the 1940s, publishing Islamist or Islamically-oriented material began to gradually reemerge. From 1947 onward, there was an expansion in number and variety of such publications. The main topics in this second period were beliefs and ethics, both were addressed in a spiritual language.
  • 1960–1980: In this period, publishing activity showed the first signs of the formation of an increasingly diversified, re-politicized and more systematic framework.
  • 1980–2000: In this period, we witness a period of differentiation, enlargement and expansion under the impact of the political developments of that time. During this period, on the one hand political discourse hardened, while on the other hand social ideas softened, becoming more liberalized under the impact of globalization and new socio-economic order in Turkey.
  • 2000–present: In this period publishing activity became more enlivened, the discussed subjects diversified and a heterogeneity in the types of publications emerged. In this period, the publishing activities of the religious communities began to increase and become more effective. In addition, the change in technological conditions, the entrance of the internet in publishing life, and the influence of social media had a significant its impact on Islamist publications in addition to the change it caused a change in the general publishing world.

How do you decide on which magazines to include in the project?

The process of determining which magazines to include in the project was quite long. First, we prepared a list of magazines that could be included by scanning literature (such as researches, memoirs, theses) and expert opinions. Some of these were included on the basis that they are well- known as Islamist magazines. It was not difficult to determine these. For others, we created a report by examining the magazines themselves (in particular, cover-page texts, editorials, and the pieces of well-known authors). We presented our list and a report to a council of experts working in the field and came to a final decision together with them.  However, after this initial list was formed, it continued to expand, because a number of magazines whose names did not appear on the first list of sources came to our attention. Inside an ad, a critique, or a greeting, there would be an announcement of a new magazine coming out. This led to a new list of magazines for each period, and after a review process it was decided that the magazines in this list would also be included in the project. So, we are actually talking about a list of magazines that has been created and classified meticulously and that takes into account a long-term knowledge base and an evolving definition of Islamism.

What makes a magazine “Islamist?” Which criteria did you consider when deciding to include magazines in the Islamist category?

We selected the magazines to be evaluated within the scope of the project by applying a different selection criteria for each period from 1908 onwards. Ultimately, we decided to include nearly 500 magazines over the course of the project.

“In order to provide a complete reading, we are actually trying to create a database with as broad a definition of Islamism as possible. Islamism is a multi-dimensional issue, and we do not want to disregard that. If the definition is too narrow from the beginning, a problem of reductionism may arise.”

In order to provide a complete reading, we are actually trying to create a database with as broad a definition of Islamism as possible. Islamism is a multi-dimensional issue, and we do not want to disregard that. If the definition is too narrow from the beginning, a problem of reductionism may arise.

We think that Islamism does not have a fixed “essence,” but is shaped in the light of the socio-political environment. As I have said, the three stipulations that determine the definition and boundaries of Islamism are renewal, unity and independence. However, we need to accept that there are changes in the nature and form of these components across time and space.In addition, any combination of these three components may also be particularly prominent or obscured stand out or stay behind depending on time, place, and contextual circumstances.

That being said, the inclusion of a given magazine was decided based on the following criteria:

  • Only magazines published in Turkish (using either the Latin or Arabic alphabet) are included. Other magazines published mainly in a non-Turkish language are not covered, with the exception of Kurdish magazines published after 1990.
  • Only magazines published in Turkey are included in the project. Magazines that are published abroad by Turkish citizens (even if they are associated with socio-political environment in Turkey) are excluded.
  • Similarly, the standard for what is in Turkey takes into consideration the current borders of Turkey, even for magazines published during the Ottoman period.
  • Almost all of the magazines included in the project are or were nationally distributed.In some exceptional cases, local magazines, which emerged in major cities and have been influential in a wide range of fields, even if not at national level, have also been included in the list.
  • Even if they called themselves newspapers in the period they were published, the publications which consist of not only news and information, but also reviews and articles and which have the identity of a magazine have been included in the project material. The converse is also true. Despite being called a magazine, publications containing daily news such as newspapers have not been included in the project.
    “The magazines included in the scope of the project are generally intellectual publications. In this context, the focus is on publications that deal with ideas in religion, politics society, economics, literature and culture, give space to intellectual debate, and promote intellectual and social transformation.”
  • The magazines included in the scope of the project are generally intellectual publications. In this context, the focus is on publications that deal with ideas in religion, politics society, economics, literature and culture, give space to intellectual debate, and promote intellectual and social transformation. Even if magazines appear to have another emphasis – for instance, literary magazines – they were included in the project if they had a certain intellectual discourse and influence.
  • Academic journals are excluded. Although there are journals that can be evaluated within the frame of Islamism with their intellectual positioning and editorial staff, these have not been included in the project due to the specific characteristics of the academic production and scientific discussion.
  • Literature oriented publications, and literary journals which only address certain literary genres and debates, and which do not aim at identifying or designating an intellectual position have been excluded.
  • Art magazines that are published with an artistic focus, that only address certain artistic areas and discussions, and that are not intended to specify or designate an intellectual position have been excluded.
  • Magazines which do not address to the general public but focus on inner-community education and guidance are not included in the project.
  • Magazines published by public institutions have been excluded. The magazines which are published on behalf of the public institutions but are concerned in the civilian space are an exception to this.
  • Corporate bulletins which communicate an institution’s activities and announce its developments and do not contain copyright material to a certain level have also been excluded from this project.
  • School magazines and student fanzines that are locally published and have a limited reach are excluded from this project.
  • Magazine and newspaper supplements are not included in the project if they do not have an independent identity and content.
  • Cartoon magazines, mostly composed of drawings, were not included in the project.
  • Children’s magazines mostly composed of drawings, stories and jokes are also excluded.

Could you describe the scope of the project?

The Islamist Magazines Project is a comprehensive and wide-ranging study consisting of multiple components.These boil down to nine main areas. From 2013, when the project started until today, the goals and accomplishments of the project are as follows:

  • Digitization efforts: One of the important focuses of the project is the transfer of the magazines to a digital database. The project aims to digitize a total of 20,000 magazines and so far, we have completed the digitization of 13,200 of them. We acquired magazines from libraries and private archives and digitized them with the permission of their publishers, providing open online access to them and our own archives.
  • Cataloguing: The target we set was to catalogue 20,000 issues of 500 magazines from 1908 onwards, and so far, we have catalogued 17,500 volumes of 183 magazines. After passing through several stages of review, these catalogues are transferred to the database. It has been made available at <idp.org.tr>. To date, more than 100,000 people have visited this free website that users can access after signing up to be a member. Once the entire catalog is complete, the database will contain over a million entries.
  • Archive and library: We aim to establish a library of 40,000 which are available both digitally and in print form. We have thus far created a library of 26,578 books through donations and acquisitions.
  • Oral history: We have developed an oral history project to record the memory of Islamist publishing and to showcase its different aspects.Within this scope, we aim to conduct oral history studies with forty people who have been in publishing since the 1960s. Up to now, thirty-three interviews have been conducted and twenty of them have been made accessible online.
    “We have developed an oral history project to record the memory of Islamist publishing and to showcase its different aspects.Within this scope, we aim to conduct oral history studies with forty people who have been in publishing since the 1960s.”
  • Symposia:Within the scope of the project, we are not stopping at only cataloguing and digitizing magazines. At the same time, we are also organizing symposia in order to prepare a ground for the study of Islamism and to create new models for such a study . More than 100 papers were presented in the three meetings which have been organized up until today.
  • Trainings and events: We organize methodology trainings and workshops for graduate students and young researchers working in this field.
  • Publication activities: The works of the first two symposia were published in the form of a three volume book after their editorial evaluation. The proceedings of the third workshop are also being prepared for publication this year in the form of a four-volume book. Oral history interviews will also be published in two volumes. Furthermore, we are preparing a book titled Essential Issues with Essential Texts (Temel Metinlerle Temel Meseleler) which will present the main topics of Islamism within the framework of basic texts. We are working on a new project, An Atlas of Islamism (İslamcılık Atlası), which also deals with important figures, issues, events and places within the Islamist movement, and shows their interconnectedness. We also plan to publish monographs of important figures and issues in contemporary Islamic thought in the coming years.
  • Research: Scholarships are provided to graduate students in order to carry out research with the database. Using the project database and archive, local and foreign academicians are conducting research and have contributed more than 50 thesis studies.
  • Exhibitions:Within the scope of the project, five different exhibitions have been held so far, each highlighting different magazine covers and clippings. We are currently working on a major exhibition project based on primary materials and new digital possibilities as well as visualizations.

Let me also mention that Islamic thought has had difficulty maintaining its own ideological and political integrity in the face of new challenges at both the local and global levels. A renewed study of Islamism will enrich the discourse around this thought and widen the vision. For this reason, the Islamist Magazines Project will be able to renew the agenda.

What are the distinguishing aspects of this project?

This project intends to make multidimensional and important contributions to the exploration and understanding of contemporary Turkish thought.

First of all, the project covers a very wide time span and it deals with the subject without neglecting its rich diversity. The holistic inclusion of 100 years of sources, from 1908 to 2000, is the most distinctive feature. Under this project issues are addressed in a multidimensional manner. In other words, the project presents different tones, ideas and different methods of Islamism in one place.

Another important characteristic is that there is no ideological prejudice in the project. When it comes to the subject of Islamism, it is easy to fall prey to prejudices. In this project, we aim to provide a basis for overcoming these prejudices by laying out a vast array of primary sources that portray the issue from all different perspectives.

The project’s digital interface also merits mention – it is a distinctive feature of the broader user engagement. Transforming the contents of the magazines into a dynamic, searchable, comparable set of data is  one of the most valuable aspects of the project.

The fourth distinctive feature of the project is that it sets Islamist developments in the context of broader scientific, ideological, intellectual and political developments in Turkey. Hence, we do not reduce the discourse it to an isolated debate on Islamism alone or limit it to the discussion of the development of Islamic ideas in Turkey.

The fifth most important feature is that in this cataloguing process, we are bringing to light materials which were significant in their time but have been forgotten or neglected in contemporary research. In a way, we are making up for past omissions in the study of Islamism.

Could you give examples of new perspectives and data that emerged as a result of this project?

Over the course of the project, many issues that previously were misunderstood or lacked relevant information were brought to light in a different perspective.I will give a couple of critical examples.

First, the idea that Islamism is shaped by translations is something that has been debated for a long time. It is frequently mentioned in context of “foreign influences” that have shaped the emergence of Islamism especially from 1960s onwards. The data that emerged in the project showed us that this was not true.For example, in the 1960s and 1970s, the proportion of translated texts in magazines was neither high nor were they significant. In the same period, however, there is much more reference to Classical Islam, to the Ottoman sources, and to the Islamism of the Second Constitutional Period.

On the other hand, it is believed that the 1960s constituted a break from Islamism. This especially took place around some symbolic figures and key issues. However, if we examine the magazines, we see that yes, the role of Islamism changed due to the change of political and ideological conditions of Muslim societies, but a break from the Islamist past is not as clear-cut in the sources.

We have also revealed a lot of new data via this project. Studies on the authors of these magazines, the types of writing styles and their changes over time as well as of the publishing activities of certain groups can be studied using the resources of this project. The preliminary data we have is that there is a significant relationship between the formation of Islamic groups and publishing activity. Social actors and social networks are clearly interconnected. This also suggests that we should re-examine our reading of the isolated Islamic groups.

We hope that the opportunity to access the resources provided by the project will create a whole new paradigm on this issue, one that will break old patterns, views and prejudices.

 What difficulties did you face in terms of resource-collection? Are there any issues you have not been able to fully resolve?

Actually, we came across three main problems.When cataloguing and indexing magazines for the period from 1960 to 1980, the relative obscurity of the field made the task quite difficult. This period is the least studied period in terms of modern Islamism. It was therefore difficult for us to access these magazines journals in order to identify the magazines which were published in that period. That period also witnessed the September 12, 1980 coup, which resulted in a loss of a great amount of Turkish cultural heritage. As a result, there are some magazines which we cannot find in library, not even in the National Library in Ankara, nor in any private archive. What is even more interesting is that what was written (and drawn for political cartoons were another important genre) in those magazines is not even with their publishers. That is because the administration of September 12 had enacted such a vicious suppression of the political discourse that people either destroyed or hid the books and magazines they had. But where did they hide?They hid them in the attic, locked them in the barn or buried them in the ground.So over the years,  rain, mud, and debris destroyed all the remaining works.

All in all, for the period from 1960 to 1980, our biggest challenge was to get access to the magazines. It was like looking for needles in a haystack, and the number of magazines we found hardly entered double digits. In the case of some magazines, we searched them using informal communication, chains of referrals, by reaching others, and by going door to door. There were some magazines for which this was not a problem. For all the magazines, this was not a problem, of course. The ISAM Library, the Foundation for Sciences and Art Library, the Beyazıt State Library, and the Istanbul University Library all helped us find a significant number of these magazines. We spent a year and a half looking for others. We are talking about almost 3,700 volumes. Another difficulty related to this period was to find the names of the magazines, and to create a complete catalog of them.

There are famous magazines – such as the Büyük Doğu, Yeniden Milli Mücadele, Hareket, Diriliş – that everyone knows about, but there are also some important magazines for the period whose names have been forgotten some of which ceased publication after only a few issues. Finding only their names was not enough, it was necessary to find the magazines and to examine them in order to determine whether they could be included in the project.

The situation was reversed with the magazines from before 1960. It was easier to find the magazines of this period, especially those using the old script. At first, we had the following advantage: Since the publications until the end of 1940 were digitized by the Japanese researchers under the “Hakkı Tarık Us” collection and also partially digitized by the Atatürk Library and the National Library, our work both in terms of digitizing the magazines and cataloguing them was made easier. But for this period, we knew the names of five or six magazines whose physical copies we could not find. Perhaps someone recorded these incorrectly, or perhaps no such magazine existed or did exist but was later lost. The quest for these publications still continues. On the other hand, our estimated number of magazines published between 1940 and 1960 was lower than the actual number. As we began the task of collecting these sources, we found that that the number of published magazines was three times greater than we expected – a significant portion of which are not mentioned anywhere, their names are even forgotten. Naturally, this too extended our work.

Regarding the content covered in the magazines, what kind of new and different debates do we find?

Actually, what was going on in the country is very clearly reflected in these magazines too. We can say that the problems and issues of the contemporary period determine the content of these magazines. If, for example, there are elections on the national agenda, Islamist magazines will also talk about elections. Or, if Cyprus is on the agenda Islamic magazines will also discuss the Cyprus issue. Of course, they try to discuss matters according to their own perspective, but it can never be entirely separated from the national agenda.

That being said, there are different magazine typologies. On the one hand, there are more focused magazines, such as: women’s magazines, youth magazines and, economic magazines. These deal with specific topics in a detailed way. On the other hand, there are magazines which discuss and debate almost all the topics on the contemporary agenda. Most of these are current affairs or political magazines. There is also more thought, provoking magazines which are rather distant from contemporary affairs. Of course, the issues that these magazines deal with and the ways in which they deal with them differ them from one to the other.

Islamism has its own peculiarities, issues and particular positions on the contemporary agenda. For example, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, in context of issues like liberation from colonialism and independence movements, a discussion started concerning the Muslim Brotherhood. This discussion eventually broadened to deal with the idea of Islamic unity and finally concluded with a debate regarding the notion of an Islamic state. This is an important issue and although it has been expressed in different forms, it is a consistent agenda in Islamist magazines from the earliest periods of our project.

The organization of the everyday life and the inclusion of values in the modern society is always a very important issue. In this context, we see that the topic of women is constantly discussed in very different ways. Even though these debates occasionally increase because of external conditions (such as prohibition of wearing headscarves in Turkish universities), women’s participation in public life has always been a very controversial issue. While writers in the Islamist magazines oppose the obstacles to the participation of women in public life because of their religious identity, they are concerned about this participation in their own way. There is a desire to benefit from the possibilities that modernizers have created, while opposing the potential threats they pose to Islam and Muslim society.   Hence, the issue of women is consistently one of the most important topics discussed.

Islamic economic debates, criticism of Zionism, anti-imperialism, solidarity with Palestine, and oppressed and persecuted Muslims (including in Afghanistan, Moro, Chechnya, Algeria, Bosnia) constitute other important agenda items.

What is the significance of Islamist magazines in terms of academic research?

If you are working on political life or thought in modern Turkey, Islamism is usually the focal point. The history of political thought in Turkey usually advances from the leftist thought. İletişim Publications published a book in the form of  “1950s and 1960s” on modern political thought in Turkey and to my knowledge, they are now preparing one for the 1970s. The volume on 1950s did not contain references to Islamists. Islamism secures the place of an entry in the 1960s volume. Of course, this may be because Islamism has not been sufficiently researched for these periods. At the same time, such selective attitudes are a major reason these investigations have not been done up until today. This project shows us that such a hegemonic history is inaccurate.

Second, with this project, the possibility of seeing the origins and development of certain issues and concepts emerges. For example, we have seen that the odd statism of today has been around for a long time. Because of the very particular Islamist discourse in the 1980s,  we assumed that Islamists could not be statist. We now see, however, that the data from a broader framework shows us that there existed among Islamists a critical attitude towards the state but that this criticism is directed at some of the state’s practices and does not constitute an absolute obstacle to statism.This attitude continues to the Second Constitutional Monarchy.

“Second, with this project, the possibility of seeing the origins and development of certain issues and concepts emerges. For example, we have seen that the odd statism of today has been around for a long time. Because of the very particular Islamist discourse in the 1980s,  we assumed that Islamists could not be statist. We now see, however, that the data from a broader framework shows us that there existed among Islamists a critical attitude towards the state but that this criticism is directed at some of the state’s practices and does not constitute an absolute obstacle to statism.This attitude continues to the Second Constitutional Monarchy.”

This project made it possible to follow the historical development of many concepts. In general, in the sense of the history of thought and culture, and in particular in the context of publishing history, we derived a lot of valuable data. For example, it is now possible to work on any concept, person, subject, and period centered around these magazines. This can lead to new research across a broad range of academic disciplines. So, for instance, magazines can be studied in terms of their paper types or in terms of publishing and printing techniques. We are talking about a database that has more than a million entries. In Turkey, there is no such database in any field. This database gives us valuable material on almost any topic.

Using more advanced analyses, we plan to conduct network analysis, bibliometric and chronological analysis for the forthcoming period and we look forward to sharing the results.

How can researchers outside Istanbul benefit from this project? Did the project receive attention among global audiences?

Anyone from Turkey or abroad can browse the catalog from the comfort of their home or office. An internet connection is the only requirement. Currently, a substantial number of these magazines can be read online. Next year we will translate the website’s interface into English. This will also provide greater accessibility and convenience.

This research project was instrumental in the revival of Islamism studies in Turkey. Since the relevant material and ease of access makes it easier to work with, Islamism has become an accessible subject to research. The Islamist Magazines Project is fostering a renaissance of research on Islamism in Turkey, and we already see instances of Islamism research flourishing.

“Up to forty theses are being written with the aid of the project database. Academics, researchers, and journalists alike benefit from this database.”

Up to forty theses are being written with the aid of the project database. Academics, researchers, and journalists alike benefit from this database. At the moment there are almost two thousand members of the website. The activity of these members reflects its extensive use. Likewise, researchers from abroad use the database and we gladly help them in cases where they require our support.

The project has opened a significant number of new research possibilities. Previously, researching Islamism required a somewhat challenging and involved process:  finding, accessing, and scanning resources, etc. All of this was very costly in terms of time and manpower. We have eliminated many of these challenges. Therefore, the researcher will now be able to concentrate and spend his labor and energy on the development and interpretation of the data.

Even if the funding is limited, we offer scholarships to researchers and graduate students. We are looking to expand these scholarships in the coming years. We are also open to suggestions for different projects.

On the other hand, in the coming period we are planning to establish a network of those who have done research and work related to Islamism. Thus, we aim to enable these researchers working on a specific field to benefit from and cooperate with each other.

You have recently opened a new website of the Islamist Magazines Project. What does this new site bring with regard to accessing the resources digitally?

There are no special requirements to access the resources. Interested users can easily benefit from all the resources of the database as members. The most important part of the project can be found in the catalogue because all the magazines were uploaded page by page, encoded and converted into a database. In addition to other catalogue information, the updates site assigns work type and keywords to manuscripts. With this, a topic can be browsed in detail and with a great deal of convenience. There are some magazines that we cannot give access to because of issues with copyrights or permission. These are not available online on the digital platform, but the digital or printed copies of these magazines can be accessed by coming to our center.

Would you please tell us about the Islamist Magazines Symposia? Can researchers access these papers through the website?

We organize a symposium in every period of the project. The first symposium was for the 1960-1980 period. The second symposium focused on the pre-1960 period. In the third, we organized a symposium that focused on the post-1980s period.In these symposia, while focusing on the magazines on the one hand we also endeavored to form a method for work on the characteristics of each period, as well as the changes and continuities in them. In these symposia, the works presented introduce and clarify the area of study and identify its boundaries. Video recordings of all these meetings are available on our website.

Developing the first two symposia proceedings and adding additional texts, a book of three volumes has come out. Now we are preparing to publish works from the third symposium in the form of an edited book. These writings will constitute a four-volume work. These publications are available as PDFs on our website.

The most important output of these symposia is the direction provided to the young researchers and academics who work in different areas of study. In fact, an academic area has been built with these symposia. From now on, we are going to hold symposia more focused on specific issues and topics.

You are interviewing the writers of Islamist magazines as part of an oral history project. This project seems interesting as it gives access to the authors’ ideas first hand and helps clarify changes in their intellectual development. Can you please tell us more about this project?

In fact, this oral history project originated from the exhibition project we tried to achieve within the context of the Islamist Magazines Project. In this respect, the original project has been very fertile. We are currently preparing a very large exhibition on the 1960-1980 period. This exhibition will then be expanded to pre-1960 and post-1980 periods. We want the exhibition to reflect the trends and the logic of that period in an interactive manner. Unlike the exhibitions we have done before, we want to have more dynamic content. So we are developing a number of small documentaries, narrations, and videos. In this context, we have started to interview publishers of that period. These interviews gave us the idea of making an oral history project.

Now we are interviewing forty publishers and writers who have done publications or have played an active role in the publishing process of these magazines. To date, thirty-three interviews have been conducted and twenty of them are accessible online. Each week we publish one at, <sozlutarih.idp.org.tr>. We plan to expand this project next year and produce a second round of oral interviews with forty more individuals.

“Oral history studies are hard work. In order to do oral history work with an individual, you need to know that person very well. Before conducting an interview with an individual, we scan his writings, and if available, find and read his memoirs, as well as interviews he has given on earlier occasions.”

Oral history studies are hard work. In order to do oral history work with an individual, you need to know that person very well. Before conducting an interview with an individual, we scan his writings, and if available, find and read his memoirs, as well as interviews he has given on earlier occasions. We also compile discussions and information about him. Then, after compiling different questions prepared as the result of a long process, we conduct the interview. We try to explore the layers of the person’s life and publishing experience as a first-hand witness to that period of publishing.  The interviews we have done so far have been very nice. Listening to the same stories from the eyes of different actors gives a very interesting view.

Moreover, different opinions emerge as a result of these interviews. The unrecognized dimensions of the unexplored printed magazines also become clearer. Listening to the secrets and stories behind the events is really eye opening. This information gives a very different dimension to the work being done. Next year we will make these talks available on a database. Like the magazines themselves, the interviews will be searchable for specific information.

Do you plan to launch an English version of the Project website?

Next year we plan to launch the website’s interface and information sections in English. We believe this ought to suffice. The difficulty of translating the database into English would probably exceed its usefulness.