Bryan S. Turner
National University of Singapore
In general dons don’t leave Cambridge University. They die there or they get thrown out, but generally speaking the charm and prestige of the place are sufficiently strong to secure life-long loyalty. I was unusual; I left. Having been appointed in 1998 as the new professor of sociology, I was soon teaching four ‘papers’ (lecture courses), supervising six PhD students, giving supervisions to college students, managing MA candidates, and sitting on several Faculty Boards. Unable to get on with any empirical research, the material I was presenting in my classes on the sociology of religion felt unreal, overly abstract and unimportant. My tutorial topics were not rooted in any real issues. Much of sociology and cultural studies lacks historical depth, concrete specificity and political relevance. Chris Rojek and I described this tendency as ‘decorative sociology’ in Society & Culture (2001). Some relief from this hothouse environment came when I started giving lectures at the Ismaili Institute in London. Many of the students there were ‘refugees’ from failed states in the old Soviet Union bringing with them a strange baggage of Marxist Leninism, political Islam, traditional Ismaili loyalties and anti-colonial radicalism. They were typically pious and political. My Cambridge existence by contrast appeared increasingly ethereal alongside the traumatic experiences of my students from such places as Tajikistan, Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan. My Orientalism, Postmodernism and Globalism (1994) said nothing about the brutal persecution of religious minorities as a feature of modernization.