Female preachers (vaizeler, singular vaize) are being employed by the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), not merely as providers of social assistance and support but “most of all as spiritual guides to whom women can share problems and questions,” says the past president of the Diyanet in an article in Turkish Studies (Sept.). The article, by Chiara Maritato (University of Turin), sheds light on the type of work vaizeler are engaged in but also the way into which the current Turkish State is using the apparatus of the Diyanet, not merely for controlling the religious field (as it had been envisioned by the former governments with strong secular leanings), but for propagating the religious message. A growing number of vaizeler have been hired and play a crucial role as religious experts for connecting with the female population. For instance, since 2012, they run a phone service for providing answers to family concerns and personal questions. Vaizeler have existed in Turkey for 50 years. Female religious specialists have been part of the Diyanet’s workforce since 1997. The coming to power of the Justice and Development Party after the 2002 elections has led to the hiring of highly educated women by the Diyanet. A directive issued the same year states how they must spend their time giving sermons, leading Quran’s exegesis lesson and seminars, and providing counseling. They are considered as full-fledged religious professionals, with their qualifications tested and certified through national examinations.
Female preachers earn legitimacy and authority through their high level of religious expertise. They are permitted to enter prisons, orphanages, shelters, student dormitories and hospitals. Like their male counterparts, they are sent abroad to educate expatriates on religious issues. They are involved in various projects outside of mosques or attend academic conferences. “At the local level, the majority of seminars and projects for women and families address marriage, divorce, motherhood, childcare and disability,” Maritato writes. She adds that this is part of a wider call for increased female participation and engagement in religious activities, while efforts are also being made for improving facilities for women in Turkish mosques (otherwise mostly attended by males). The author sees all those developments as part of a State-sponsored (re)definition of female religiosity and religious engagement.
(Turkish Studies – http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ftur)