December 27, 2014

Dynamics of generating commitment within the Gülen movement

Helen Rose Ebaugh

A major empirical finding of Kanter’s study of American utopias that has subsequently influenced the commitment literature is that for a community to survive, three basic challenges of commitment have to be addressed (1). First, individuals come to see their own interest as sustained by group participation (2). Secondly, individuals feel an affective solidarity with the group (3),and, thirdly, the individual experiences a moral, transcendent authority in the group (4). These mechanisms can be summarized as strategies by which the group attempts to reduce the value of other possible commitments and increases the value of commitment to the group; in other words, processes both detaching him or her from other options and attaching him to the community. In particular, Kanter’s research shows a positive correlation between sacrifice and investment in terms of generating commitment. The more costly the sacrifice, the greater the value placed by the individual on the goals of the group. Data in this book support Kanter’s contention by showing that financial contributions to Gülen-inspired projects not only manifest belief in the goals of the movement but that the giving itself is a commitment mechanism for involvement in the group.

In Kanter’s conceptualization, the goals of the group become fused with one’s own sense of purpose and meaning in life. Group goals nourish one’s own sense of self and the group becomes an extension of oneself, thus inextricably linking person and group, thus meeting the first of Kanter’s basic challenges for group survival and success. Interviews with supporters in the Gülen movement demonstrate that they identify the goals of the movement as their own personal goals. Being part of the Gülen movement, participating in the local circles, and making contributions to the projects supported by the movement is central to their identity.

The affective bonds that evolve in the group in the course of working together on meaningful projects fulfills Kanter’s second organizational challenge. The fact that many local circles are based on individuals who share occupational or business interests further adds to the solidarity created in the group. The more closely an individual is integrated into a group, the greater will be the degree of his/her participation (5). Participation is an expression of belonging to a certain social group and receiving individual rewards for being part of the larger collective. Also, the more intense the collective participation in a network of relations, the more rapid and durable will be the mobilization of a movement (6). The Gülen Movement facilitates and thus increases an individual’s willingness to get involved in service projects through his/her relationship with other like-minded, similarly intentioned people.

The third challenge, the experience of a moral, transcendent authority in the group is provided by the continuous discussions of Mr. Gülen’s teachings as well as sharing readings from the Qur’an and the hadiths of the Prophet. Thus, the goals and motivations behind the service projects are more than just helping other people. Rather, they are rooted in the notion that they are part of God’s continuous creation and caring for his people.

Kanter argues that a further mechanism for individual commitment to group life and group goals is that of sacrifice. The giving of one’s time and resources to the group not only indicates commitment to the group but also creates that very commitment. As people in the Gülen movement give of their personal resources to group life and group projects, the very act of giving has the consequence of intensifying commitment to the group and its ideals.

The basic Islamic ideals that motivate members of the Gülen movement to contribute time, energy and financial contributions to Gülen-inspired projects function, simultaneously, to build strong commitment on the part of individuals to the movement. A major strength of the local circles is the constant discussions of these concepts based on the Qur’an, the prophetic tradition and the works of Mr. Gülen. The circles, therefore, provide the spiritual motivation for giving and remain far more than simply money raising venues. Whether consciously or not, the structure that has evolved within the Gülen movement is rooted in sound organizational principles and is reflected in the growth of the movement worldwide.

Ebaugh, Helen R. 2010. “The Gulen Movement A Sociological Analysis of a Civic Movement Rooted in Moderate Islam.” New York: Springer. Pages 63-64.”


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Published on, 19 December 2014, Friday