Mehmet Ali Basak
Mehmet Ali Basak is a master’s student in the Department of Religious Studies at Memorial University. He is originally from Turkey, where he completed his BA with honours at the Middle East Technical University. He then received a full scholarship from the Qatar Foundation to study for a master’s degree in contemporary Muslim societies and thought at Hamad Bin Khalifa University. His MA thesis in Qatar was titled, “Religion in Modern Turkey: An Ethnographic Study of the Nur Community.” This project was based on six months of participant observation and interviews conducted among Nur students while living in a Nur madrasa in Ankara. He explored how this growing religious movement has responded in fascinating ways to the secular Turkish context. In order to enhance his academic background and research skills, he chose to undertake a second MA degree in Religious Studies before, he hopes, pursuing a PhD.
His main research interest for his work at Memorial is in the anthropology of Islam with an emphasis on how notions of secularism, multiculturalism and Islamic movements impact individual Muslims’ identities.
How and why did you decide to attend Memorial for your graduate degree?
The two main reasons were my supervisor, Dr. Jennifer Selby and the research project I am a part of that looks at Islam online in Canada. Dr. Selby’s areas of interest – particularly her work on secularism and Islam in Canada - match well with my academic interest. After our email exchanges and a few skype meetings, she not only accepted to be my supervisor and but also offered me to work with her in the research project that she is the one of co-investigators. Then, after a few months I found myself working with her at Memorial University of Newfoundland!
What drew you to explore religious studies originally?
When I turned 14, I started to come across with different religious movements. Since then, both my religious knowledge has significantly deepened, and I became more interested in this academic discipline.
Can you tell us a bit about your current projects?
I am working with the Canadian Muslims Online project that is in partially based at Memorial University. Drawing on ethnographic findings and 55 qualitative interviews, my thesis project examines the role of the Internet and digital technologies in the daily lives of Canadian Muslims. I conducted interviews in Toronto, Halifax and St. John’s. I paid particular attention to the ways in which online spaces shape Muslim identities in a supposedly secular, pluralist Canadian context.
To date, I’ve had the opportunity to present papers both at the 21st Annual Aldrich Interdisciplinary Graduate Research Conference here in St. John’s and Congress 2018 in Regina. These experiences gave me the opportunity to meet a number of scholars from all around to Canada, expand my academic network, to participate in new research projects, and present papers in front of my colleagues and experts in the discipline.
A supervisor can be key to the success of any grad student. What does your supervisor bring to their role as your advisor and mentor?
I feel very fortunate to have Dr. Selby as my supervisor. Since I arrived, she has contributed my academic success in many ways. Whenever there is a project or conference related to my research she informs me, whenever I need guidance for my papers, she provides constructive feedback for me. She also gave me opportunity to give two short lectures in her Introduction to Islam course. She has included me in publication opportunity for her edited book project titled Producing Islam(s) in Canada: On Knowledge, Positionality and Politics. Additionally, she is a great supporter and guide for my PhD applications.
Are you involved in any organizations on-campus or off? If so, can you explain and detail such involvement?
I am the guest-editor with Dr. Michelle Rebidoux for the peer reviewed journal Analecta Hermeneutica. The edited issue will be published in 2019 as ninth issue with the title of “Faith and Reason in Islam.”
In addition, I stay busy as I have my own publication house in Turkey. It is called as ADAB YAYINLARI (publications).
What do you like most about being a graduate student at Memorial?
It is a privilege to be a graduate student at Memorial. MUN provides all the possible facilities and supports for the graduate students to prepare them for their academic careers. For instance, Memorial library offers special sessions and trainings to develop research skills of graduate students and acquaint them with the library database. Memorial also holds academic writing and presentation skills training for graduate students. Lastly, when I presented a paper at the Congress 2018, I received financial support from four different establishments of Memorial. All of these supports make a big difference for me.
What do you hope to do after completing your graduate degree?
Ideally, I hope to pursue a PhD program in Religious Studies or Islamic studies where I can continue to contribute to research on Muslim identities in the secular-pluralist West context and Muslim majority countries’ socio-religious frameworks. My experience at Memorial is helping me get there!