Every kind of scholarly research can be intensely demanding at times, but few disciplines are as immersive as ethnography. Just ask Zeynep Ozgen, assistant professor of social research and public policy at NYU Abu Dhabi. As a political sociologist, Ozgen studies “religious social movements, and the relationship between culture and politics more broadly.”
To examine the connections between religion and politics in Turkey, Ozgen spent 18 months (2010-12) as an intern teacher in a poor and conservative district in the southeastern (Asian) part of Istanbul. Eventually, she gained access to informal religious education systems which coexist with formal schools across the country. In that way, Ozgen got a clear look into how education sites are used for religious mobilization.
This sort of participant observation is central to ethnography: a scholar interacts personally with the society or institution under study. The point, Ozgen explained, is “to gain insight into patterns of social interaction and cultural meanings by which people make sense of the world around them.”
“This is a very challenging field,” she said. “Most religious activity (in Turkey) was under tight control by a secular state for many decades. Religion was not eradicated but marginalized. So religious actors, whether within a movement or not, are very distrusting … and I’m an uncovered female who studied at an American institution.