Contesting Authorities over Body Politics: The Religious/Secular Tension in Germany, Israel, and Turkey

Grant funding agency: German-Israeli Foundation (GIF)

Gökce Yurdakul, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Berlin Institute of Migration and Integration Research and Shai Lavi, Tel Aviv University, Faculty of Law, Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics (co-PIs)

Conflicts between religion and secularity (i.e., secular and religious discourses, norms, actors, and institutions) are shaped differently in differing socio-legal contexts in the Middle East and Europe. While current scholarship has often studied this tension by focusing on religious rituals (head-scarf, minarets, animal slaughter, etc.), we claim that new light can be shed on the religion/secularity tension by exploring a broader set of examples concerning bodily politics, that is legal contestations over images of the body and authority over the body.
To explore the way secularity and religion shape and are shaped by the legal regulation of body politics we focus on three recent controversies: male circumcision, brain-dead organ donation, and abortion in three different countries Germany, Israel, and Turkey.   
Our aim is to analyze how in each of these cases and in each of the three countries social actors have struggled to shape state regulation differently. In each of the countries, we will examine state legislation and regulation both on the books and in action. In the focal case studies (circumcision in Germany, organ donation in Israel, abortion in Turkey) we will conduct interviews with the parties involved in shaping the regulation, while in the other cases we will rely on published documents and secondary literature. We will show how contrary to common belief, contestations of authority over the body do not neatly divide between divine and secular authority. Rather, the tension involves different ways of deciding on human authority – individual v. family, mother v. fetus, parents v. child. They take root in different understanding of the body, which cannot be captured by a simple distinction between "scientific" and "transcendental," in any of the examples to be studied.

Involved people: Gökce Yurdakul, Shai Lavi (website: and Gala Rexer (        


01/2016 - 12/2018


Prof. Dr. Gökce Yurdakul

Prof. Dr. Gökce Yurdakul

Leiterin der Abteilung "Wissenschaftliche Grundfragen"; Professorin für Diversity and Social Conflict, HU Berlin

Tel: +49 (0)30 2093-1917
Fax: +49 (0)30 2093-4519

Dr. Özgür Özvatan

Dr. Özgür Özvatan

Stellvertretender Leiter der Abteilungen "Integrationsforschung und Gesellschaftspolitik" und "Wissenschaftliche Grundfragen zu Integration und Migration"

Tel: 030-2093-46027