Do participants see Fethullah Gülen as a kind of “charismatic” leader?

Charismatization is a process that occurs inside sects and cults. It is a process that makes the group leader a special being, even a super-being in the eyes of cult members; it includes constructing myths about a leader’s childhood, sacralized places, holy objects he has used and touched, etc. A picture is built up of a super-being who is prepared to come down to the level of ordinary people. Charismatization by his followers makes the group-leader unaccountable, unpredictable, arbitrary in the exercise of authority and prone to abuse of power. Having this power and being unbounded by rules or tradition, the leader can dictate or interfere in what his followers do in all aspects of their life – whom they will marry, whether they will have children or not, what sort of work they will do, where they will live, perhaps even whether they will live – right down to most trivial details of their lives. This authority applies to everything and the leader can change his decisions and commands at whim and at a moment’s notice.

In stark contrast to this kind of charismatization, Movement participants clearly do not accord this type of unbounded and arbitrary authority to Fethullah Gülen. Though everyone who knows and comes into contact with Gülen recognizes and respects his knowledge, asceticism, piety, expertise and scholarliness on religious, spiritual and intellectual matters, this does not result in any sacral recognition or charisma for Gülen. The common description of Fethullah Gülen as the leader of the Gülen Movement – something that he himself has never accepted or approved – has not resulted in the emergence of an authoritarian personality or personalities. The Gülen Movement has remained committed to the establishment of collective reasoning, consultation and consensus, which prevents the emergence of or lapse into herd mentality or “group-think.”

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