December 8, 2014

[BOOK REVIEW] Preventing Violence and Achieving World Peace: The Contributions of the Gulen Movement

One might think that a seemingly utopian goal of preventing violence and achieving world peace is a finished debate because conceptual and theoretical discourse related to ethnic and confessional discord have reached an impasse. However, despite the fact that founding principles of modern liberalism, laid by the Enlightenment-era thinkers, have been contemplated for centuries, still humans face great challenges in putting some of these principles in practice. Soltes and Johnson undertake a difficult intellectual project by pondering whether we as people can address apparently endless conflicts in the world, particularly those arising from misunderstandings of Islam.

In this edited volume, a team of prominent scholars, activists, and policymakers discuss the contributions of the Gulen movement to the interfaith dialogue and its broader effort to oppose violence and shape universal peace. Free speech, human rights, and religious freedom have long been known as key elements in democracy and were central pieces in the entire scholarly literature on legal and moral philosophy. However, few studies have previously looked at these notions through the prism of the Gulen philosophy. Soltes, Johnson, and their colleagues present a fresh look at confessional relations in an increasingly globalized world. By analyzing contributions of the Gulen movement they show that interfaith dialogue is at the heart of our understanding of a diverse, modern society.

In eight chapters scholars discuss various aspects of the Gulen philosophy and activities of the Hizmet movement inspired by Fethullah Gulen’s ideas. Akbar Ahmed sets the stage for the rest of the book with an illuminating foreword. He invites the world to heed Gulen’s message because it promotes a compassionate version of Islam that broader audiences need to know about. More importantly, for him, Muslims themselves need to rediscover the importance of compassion in Islam. In the introduction, Ori Soltes and Margaret Johnson lay out the conceptual framework for the analysis of the Gulen movements and provide a roadmap for the following essays. In the next chapter Soltes puts Gulen’s approach to education in a broader context of educational aims of Socrates and Plato. The author points out the importance of nurturing well-educated individuals. Education, for him, is a key element for living in harmony with those who are different.

In chapter two Heon Kim discusses Gulen’s philosophy in the context of broader debates on dialectical thinking. He defines Fethullah Gulen’s teachings as “dialogic humanism” and collates Fethullah Gulen’s views with ideas developed by Hegel, Marx and Huntington. The main distinction and contribution of Gulen’s perspective, according to Kim, is offering an alternative to conflict-based and superior-inferior-based frameworks that dominated the earlier scholarship. In chapter three, Wilhelmus Valkenberg addresses the issue of dialogue and tolerance. For him, Gulen’s understanding of Sufism is exemplary for the advancement of a universal peace.

In chapters four and five, Imad-Ad-Dean-Ahmad and Thomas Block explore the role of education in achieving world peace and Gulen’s contribution to this effort. Ahmad criticizes us-versus-them mentality that apparently came to dominate educational systems in some societies. In contrast, he shows that the model implemented in Gulen inspired schools could be an example of a novel approach to education that bears a peace promoting agenda. Block points out Gulen’s effort to promote idea-sharing. His reading of Gulen’s philosophy leads him to conclude that sharing of ideas is part of the Abrahamic heritage and is needed for understanding and tolerance among diverse peoples.

Terry Mathis and Ori Soltes continue this line of arguments in chapters six and seven. Mathis points out that members of Abrahamic traditions should be able to find the inspiration for universalism in their own books. He underlines the significance of Fethullah Gulen’s work in this direction. Ori Soltes delves deeper into analysis of the works of major mystics associated with Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. As a result, he arrives to a similar conclusion that all of them essentially agreed upon universality and the One Creator. Soltes, ultimately, draws attention to the fact that Fethullah Gulen’s works and the movement inspired by his teachings clearly articulate the same message. In the concluding essay, Eileen Eppig elaborates on Gulen’s contribution to our understanding of peace in the world. She suggests that Gulen’s teachings can have a transformative impact on individuals and the way they think about diverse faith traditions, cultural backgrounds, and the nature.

The Gulen movement – a transnational movement, which represents novel approaches to the “synthesis of faith and reason,” peaceful coexistence of education and spirituality – continues to inspire many scholars to undertake full-time research on Gulen’s philosophy and its contribution to the world peace. This volume came at the time when explaining the struggles within Islamic societies has become needed more than ever. Taken together, Soltes, Johnson, and their colleagues, in a deeper and more critical spirit than was formerly possible, delve into the intellectual world of one of the most influential thinkers of the present and examine various contributions of the movement inspired by his ideas to the world peace. There is no doubt that this important study advances public knowledge of moderate Islam and highlights opportunities for improved human understanding. All of these make it a major contribution to the scholarly literature on the topic. While a broader academic exchange would certainly be very welcome, scholars interested in understanding the philosophy of Fethullah Gulen and the Gulen Movement’s contribution to the world peace today should read this book.

Review of Ori Soltes and Margaret Johnson’s Preventing Violence and Achieving World Peace: The Contributions of the Gulen Movement. 2013. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, 156 pp. US $69.26. ISBN 9781433120206.

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