Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 41, Issue 4, pp 569–591 | Cite as

Negotiating Symbolic Boundaries in Conflict Resolution: Religion and Ethnicity in Turkey’s Kurdish Conflict

  • Gülay TürkmenEmail author


This article is an inquiry into understanding why supranational religious identity often fails to act as a conflict resolution tool in religiously homogenous ethnic conflicts. Narrowing its focus down to the role of religious elites as potential peacemakers in such conflict zones, it proposes the divergence in their conceptualizations of religious and ethnic identities as an explanatory factor. Building on 62 in-depth interviews conducted in Turkey with Sunni Muslim Kurdish and Turkish religious elites, it identifies a three-fold typology of religious and ethnic identities, as conceptualized by these elites: 1) religio-ethnic; 2) ethno-religious; 3) religious. After exemplifying each category with interview data it demonstrates the role these distinctions play in preventing the successful implementation of “Muslim fraternity” as a solution to the Kurdish conflict in Turkey. With these findings, the article contributes to both the literature on religion in conflict resolution and that on identity formation and boundary making. While it invites the former to turn its gaze from macro-level structural factors to meso- and micro-level cultural factors in analyzing religious elite involvement in conflict resolution, it invites the latter to stop employing “ethnicity” as an all-encompassing term (that covers a vast array of identity markers including religion) and focus, instead, on the gradations between religion and ethnicity as sources of identity.


Ethnicity Religion Conflict resolution Boundary making Identity formation Ethnic conflict Turkey Kurdish conflict 



This article has benefitted immensely from the valuable feedback provided at different stages by Philip Gorski, Julia Adams, Jonathan Wyrtzen, Sinem Adar, Shai Dromi, Elisabeth Becker and Matthias Koenig. I thank them all for their help, support and encouragement. I would also like to thank the four anonymous reviewers and the editor-in-chief, David Smilde, for their insightful comments and criticisms, which have improved the paper immensely. I have presented earlier drafts of this paper at the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association, the Middle Eastern Studies Association, and the Social Science History Association, as well as at the “Imagining and Regulating Ethnic and Religious Diversity in Turkey” conference organized by the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity. Thanks are due to all the participants who provided comments at these meetings.


This research was supported in part by a grant by the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of SociologyUniversity of GöttingenGöttingenGermany

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