Bryan Stanley Turner

Bryan S. Turner has addressed a wide range of issues including Islam, the relationships between religion and politics and the sociology of human rights. For this reason, he is regarded worldwide as one of the leading sociologists of religion of our time.

Critical Study” in 1974 he began establishing Islam as a topic of sociological analysis at a time when this major world religion received little academic attention. He has since continually analysed Muslim faiths incorporating various other factors, such as capitalism, orientalism, modernity, gender and civil society.

Whereas religions played an insignificant role in the late 20th century, the situation changed abruptly after the attacks of 11 September 2001. Turner’s analyses were suddenly much in demand. “This was one of those events to which the expression ‘nothing is the way it was before’ genuinely applied,” says the sociologist explaining his perceptions of 9/11. “Public attention now focuses on all religions and they are creating a new political climate that can seem menacing. It nevertheless also opens up new opportunities for the development of civil society.”

Besides establishing Islam as a new research field, Bryan S. Turner has also made a lasting impact on the sociology of religion as a whole. His reintroduction of the significance of the body in the analysis of religions is of fundamental importance here. The understanding of this was previously heavily influenced by Protestantism, which solely characterizes religion on the basis of values, norms and culture. In contrast, Turner has identified the corporeality of religious ceremonies and practices, and successfully introduced this concept into social science debate. Especially against the backdrop of religious conflicts, this perspective on corporeality today plays a highly significant role in understanding religiously motivated propensities towards violence.

Bryan S. Turner also deals with the relationships between religion, modernity and secularization, as well as the social consequences of these processes. Here he primarily looks at how social cohesion changes when religion is eliminated as a binding element and society becomes increasingly pluralistic. His observations suggest that this raises completely new questions on many supposedly self-evident matters, such as socio-political measures.

In light of religious, social and cultural pluralization, Turner’s analysis focuses on how social order can be ensured. Turner provides the answer in his “legal pluralism” concept: He attaches great importance to law as a key and decisive institution in modern societies, especially civil and human rights. Turner’s interpretation of corporeality once again comes to the fore in this line of argument. He regards the vulnerability of the human body as the ultimate justification for the validity of human rights, as all humans are corporeal beings upon whom suffering can be inflicted. On this basis, Bryan S. Turner finds a perspective for the peaceful coexistence of different religions and denominations.


Bryan Stanley Turner was born in Birmingham, England, in 1945. He studied sociology and gained his doctorate in 1970 from the University of Leeds. Over the following years he worked at universities in England, Scotland, Australia, the Netherlands and the US, and as a Humboldt Foundation Fellowship holder at the University of Bielefeld.

In recent times he has held important positions at the University of Cambridge, where he was Professor of Sociology from 1998 to 2005, and at the National University of Singapore where he conducted research on religion as part of an interdisciplinary cluster. Turner is currently Presidential Professor of Sociology and Director for the Study of Religion at the City University of New York and Head of the Institute for Religion, Politics and Society at the Australian Catholic University.

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