Theology Meets the Marketplace: The Discursive Formation of the Halal Market in Turkey

Assoc. Prof. Elif Izberk-Bilgin (University of Michigan-Dearborn)

This study draws from a discourse analysis of quarterly journals, reports, and books published over a span of six years by GIMDES (Food and Perishable Commodities Auditors and Certification Association), a non-governmental organization spearheading the institutionalization of the halal movement in Turkey. Founded in 2005, GIMDES has come to play a crucial role in the market as the single issuer of halal certificate. As such, it provides an excellent means to historically trace the institutionalization of a faith-based market.

The intriguing link between modernity and religion has inspired an ongoing debate among scholars. Classical sociologists have maintained that modernity, with its emphasis on individualism and scientific thinking, posed a threat to the mystical and communal nature of religion. It has been suggested that modernity ‘disenchants’ the world, rendering the role of the divine and the sacred trivial in everyday life (Weber, 1922/1978). Others in postmodern milieu have argued that modernity paradoxically fosters the quest for religious affiliation as the disenchanted and alienated modern individual desperately seeks for meaning in life (Firat and Venkatesh, 1995).

Consistent with this latter view, consumer researchers have reaffirmed the prominent role

of religion in contemporary life (O’Guinn and Belk, 1989). Recent studies have illustrated how the postindustrial world leaves consumers looking for communal affection and religious

affiliation in the least expected venues. For instance, Kozinets (2001) demonstrates how Star

Trek fans seek to legitimize a commercial articulation of popular culture as religion; Muniz and Schau (2005, p. 745) find that members of brand communities seek to mimic the communal nature of religion by applying “religious language, narrative, and philosophy to what is clearly a secular situation.” Other studies have found undertones of religiosity among consumer activist  groups and in anticonsumerist events (Kozinets and Handelman, 2004; Sherry and Kozinets, 2007). Collectively, these studies have highlighted the fascinating dialectical relationships among religion, consumption, and the market.

 

This study seeks to advance our existing theoretical understanding of the symbiotic relationship between religion and the market by examining how marketplace institutions synthesize the ideals of modernity with religious teachings to negotiate faith and modernity. Of particular interest to this research is the discursive formation of the halal market. The recent emergence of the halal industry on a global scale represents an excellent example of the religion-market interface, where we can examine how modern discourses (e.g., scientific thinking, industrialism, capitalism) are appropriated by Islamic actors to legitimize the consumer demand for Islamically suitable marketplace offerings.

 

This study draws from a discourse analysis of quarterly journals, reports, and books published over a span of six years by GIMDES (Food and Perishable Commodities Auditors and Certification Association), a non-governmental organization spearheading the institutionalization of the halal movement in Turkey. Founded in 2005, GIMDES has come to play a crucial role in the market as the single issuer of halal certificate. As such, it provides an excellent means to historically trace the institutionalization of a faith-based market…

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