A new entrepreneurialism sweeping across parts of Turkey has been dubbed “Islamic Calvinism” for its combination of Islamic piety with pro-free market and business attitudes. BBC News (March 13) reports that this trend particularly applies to Kayseri and a handful of other cities in the region of Anatolia that are industrializing at a rapid rate.
Unlike the large urban centers of Ankara and Istanbul, the population of this region is made up of devout, conservative Muslims. One of the first to use this description was the former mayor of Kayseri, Sukru Karatepe, who noticed similarities between the changes in Kayseri and the famous thesis of Max Weber, who argued that the strong work ethic of the Protestant movement gave birth to modern capitalism.
Like the early Calvinists, “People in Kayseri also don’t spend money unnecessarily. They work hard, they pride themselves on saving money. Then they invest it and make more money. Karatepe adds that “In fact, in Kayseri, working hard is a form of worship. For them, religion is all about the here and now, not the next life. Making money is a sign of God’s approval, and this is also similar to what Weber said about the Calvinists.”
Gerald Knaus, director of the think-tank European Stability Initiative, which recently published a report on the Islamic Calvinist phenomenon in Anatolia, added that “Those doing business in Kayseri themselves argue that Islam encourages them to be entrepreneurial,” he says. “They quote passages from the Quran and from the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad which read like a business manual. They tell me, it’s important to create factories, to create jobs – it’s what our religion tells us to do.”
The label of Islamic Calvinism, however, has caused a furor in the Turkish press. Critics say it’s a Western conspiracy to Christianize Islam, but others argue in its favor, holding it up as a model for how Islam and modernity can co-exist, especially as Turkey attempts to join the European Union.