Istanbul’s Universities: A Glimpse into a Cultural Tug-of-War
Every nation defines itself through stories its past and its future. Turkey has entered a new chapter in its own story as different elements of society advance different visions of nationalism and Islamic revival. Although Turkey has experienced a compromise of secularism and religious ideology, there has recently been a ‘tug-of-war’ between the two that is now apparent on the national level. Each of these visions also capture part of a potential reality for the future. The conflicting pulls of secularism and Islamic revivalism will not solely be ideological but also political and cultural.
This phenomenon is also apparent in the university system, especially in the architecture of particular campuses.
Kadir Has University’s open, beautiful campus is housed in an artistically restored 19th century tobacco factory situated on top of a 6th century Byzantine cistern and 16th Ottoman bathhouse. Despite the age and quality of the historical pieces, the campus has a very modern feel complete with a Starbucks located in the middle of the student center. This restoration on top of history acting as the foundation for a private university forms this bond to identity and the possibility of creating a new one than the one it held previously in history. This new identity ties itself to the views of the nationalists; an acknowledgement of the past while being aware of the current state.
The architecture of another institution, Alliance of Civilizations Institute, lies on the other side of the spectrum. This UN initiative is located at Fatih Sultan Mehmet University, one of the oldest and largest Mevlevi Sufi lodges. With a focus on global perspectives, specifically concerning Western and Islamic relations, students come from all over the world with over 25 countries represented in the student body. Walking around campus, the buildings send out a religious feel; stone buildings, Arabic script adorning the walls, and all women wearing hijab. The assertiveness of religions is evident at this location, almost as a response to an undermining of the Muslim faith in other aspects of the public sphere.
Şehir University lies in the middle of the spectrum, with a blend of secularist ideology and Islamic thought. A balance in the fight for the rope in tug-of-war, this institution holds a promise for both views by maintaining a modern feel in its curriculum while including the religious identity as well.