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Turkish sociology professor Nilüfer Göle is one of the main female academicians and intellectuals in Turkish scientific and academic community. She writes about modernization, impacts of the religion of Islam on the Turkish society, and the headscarf issue. Headscarves and veiling are strictly forbidden at Turkish universities and public institutions, and the fact that they are forbidden is seen as the main part of Turkish nation-state secularization by the state ideology and Kemalist understanding. Therefore, the usage of the headscarf in the universities and state offices is always a hot topic; Göle is generally a consulted academician on Turkish televisions and newspapers. In the academic arena, the studies of Göle are mainly referred by the other scholars in the issue of the headscarf.


Göle was born in Ankara, the capital city of Turkey, in 1953, to a politician. She took her secondary education at Ankara College and then she studied sociology at Middle East Technical University, which is one of the best universities of Turkey. After graduation, she went to Paris to carry on her academic life. Her adviser at the doctorate level was the famous sociologist Alain Touraine. After returning to Turkey, Göle became a professor at Bosporus University, another prestigious university in Istanbul. She kept in touch with the French academia, and now is a professor at École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. She married the well-known Turkish economics professor Asaf Savas Akat. She lives in Paris and Istanbul.


Göle’s academic writings were highly influenced by the new modernization perspective and by Touraine’s thoughts. She tried to analyze modernization through different directions, and accepts the possible existence of different and various modernization processes other than the Western experiences.

Göle’s major books include critiques of Turkish modernization, identity problems, the arguments about the Islamic religious movements in Turkey, veiling, and gender issues. Her assessments about the Turkish modernization project that were applied by the early military-bureaucratic and political elites of the Turkish Republic generally focus on the cultural and identical level. The Modern Forbidden is her famous book that claims that the Turkish modernization is a sort of homogenizing of all local and different cultures and identities under one national identity. She states that Turkish modernization has fears about the possibility of different political movements such as Islamism, ideologies such as communism, and identities such as ethnic identities. At this point, she is against looking at Islamism only as a political movement; therefore she accepts Islamism as a set of cultural practices and lifestyles that developed against the homogenizing projection of the Turkish modernization. The religious identity of the people was ignored by the republican modernization of Turkish nation-state, and Islam in Turkey is strange to the rationalist and positivist values of the civilization project of the republican elites. Other than the critiques about Turkish modernization, Göle brings a feminist critique about the Turkish civilization and its countercultural practice, Islamism. They both produce their own type of cultural practice and lifestyle over the women. The veiling issue is the main topic at this point, because both the modernist secularist understanding of Turkish republicanism and the religious understanding of Islamism develop their arguments on the veils or head-scarves of women. However, Göle claims that the Turkish middle- and lower-class women in urban areas can enter the public sphere with their headscarf; therefore the headscarf has an important role in the socialization of those women. This point of Göle’s view is generally deeply criticized by some intellectuals, such as Ertuggrul Özkök who is a famous journalist and writer.

Göle wrote on the modernization issue and the possibility of the alternative modernization processes. Modernization is one of the most argumentative and hot topics in developing countries. Melez Desenler (Hybrid Figures) is her book on the modernization process of Turkey and Islamism movements as part of that process. Modernization was accepted for a long time as a Westernization process. In other words, modernization was understood as the modernization way of North America or of Europe. Western modernization, according to Göle, somehow claims universality and ignores the local values and cultures. Therefore, the ideological and discursive superiority of Western modernization created its counter way of modernization. Although the term modernization includes different historical experiences and processes, the term modernity claims universality by ignoring the locality. Rivals of Western modernity mostly developed in non-Western countries in the name of multiple modernity, local modernity, and alternative modernity. Islamist movements, according to Göle, are the results of the modernization process, because Islamists of Turkey in the early twenty-first century take modern education and professional occupations. Sometimes their professional knowledge is higher than their religious knowledge. They try to create a midway or intermediate way of life between modern and Islamic life. In the modern way of Islamic life, the headscarf becomes a modern Islamist veiling uniform, without relation to traditional or religious way of veiling.

Göle looks at the headscarf issue differently than ordinary scholars; therefore she is one of the most argumentative scholars in Turkey. Instead of the common scholars, Göle accepts the headscarf as means of taking place in public sphere for woman. Woman can enter the public sphere wearing a headscarf; therefore it is somehow a freedom tool for women. Additionally, Göle sees the modern headscarf as fashionable and chic. One of the famous writers in Turkey, TAHA AKYOL , states that Göle is one of the most influential scholars who mentions that Turkish modernization is elitist and has no relation to common people in Turkey. As the main follower of Touraine in Turkey, Göle tries to criticize Turkish modernization through different aspects.


Name: Nilüfer Göle

Birth: 1953, Ankara, Turkey

Family: Husband, Turkish economist Dr. Asaf Savas Akat

Nationality: Turkish

Education: B.S. in sociology at Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey; Ph.D. in sociology, advised by Alain Touraine in Paris


  • 1976–1987: Scholar in sociology at École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris
  • 1987–present: Professor of sociology at Bosporus University in Istanbul


Göle is seen throughout the world as one of the most important scholars on Turkish modernization and on the headscarf’s position as a symbol of that modernization.


According to Göle, society is dynamic and contains a hidden energy. There are many contradictions and conflicts in society. There must be creator energy to establish a new social order at the end of conflicts and arguments. If there is no such energy, society may experience turmoil, such as civil war or a military coup regime. As a result, that society loses its creator energy. Göle wants to accept all types of differentiations in the Turkish society as richness, and she tries to find an accelerator role or dynamic energy to promote dialogue and democracy. Therefore, she sometimes criticizes the homogenization policies of Turkish modernization that ignores religious, ethnic, and gender identities. Especially in the issue of freedom for religious practices, such as the headscarf, she brings an alternative outlook to the dominant ideas. Not only the headscarf but also other religious practices in daily life contradict the secular applications and rules of the government, such as the contradiction of praying and working hours, or religious education at compulsory education centers. Around these issues, Nilüfer Göle is a popular scholar to be referenced in writings or to be listened to on media programs. She has both lovers and opponents. However, it is definite that she is one of the more popular scientists who is argued about in Turkey and elsewhere.

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