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Les conversions à l’islam en Asie mineure, dans les Balkans et dans le monde musulman

 | 
Philippe Gelez
, 
Gilles Grivaud

Nouvelles pistes

Towards a Dialogic Approach: Reflections on Theoretical and Methodological Desiderata in Future Research on Conversion to Islam in the Ottoman Empire1

Pour une approche dialogique : réflexions sur les desiderata théoriques et méthodologiques dans les futures recherches sur la conversion à l’islam dans l’Empire ottoman

Tijana Krstić

Résumé

La question de la conversion a été un point focal de l’historiographie sur l’évolution du projet impérial ottoman. Pourtant, la plupart des scientifiques ont considéré comme acquis les trois concepts essentiels de la discussion - « conversion », « islam » et « Empire ottoman »- plutôt que de les problématiser ou de décrire les relations qu’ils entretiennent. Cet essai tente d’analyser chacun de ces termes indépendamment et d’examiner la manière dont ils étaient liés. En s’appuyant sur une évaluation critique de l’historiographie sur la conversion à l’islam dans les périodes seldjoukide et ottomane telle qu’elle s’est développée de 1800 à 2000, on y alimente le débat par les études qui ont été écrites ultérieurement afin de dégager l’horizon des recherches à venir : par exemple, le besoin d’instaurer un dialogue entre les différents types de sources et de situer le phénomène de la conversion à l’islam dans l’Empire ottoman dans un cadre comparatiste plus large, ou bien en relation avec le contexte de la Renaissance et de l’époque moderne.

Texte intégral

  • 1 This essay expands upon some of the issues already discussed in Krstić Tijana 2011, pp. 16-25.
  • 2 Grivaud Gilles, Popovic Alexandre 2011.
  • 3 For a short overview of the debate on the development of the early Ottoman state and the role of co (...)

1As the voluminous bibliographic study recently edited by Gilles Grivaud and Alexandre Popovic reminds us, the topic of conversion to Islam in the Ottoman Empire is an old and controversial one.2 In the context of Ottoman studies, the issue of conversion is central to some of the earliest debates in the field on the nature of the Ottoman enterprise and remains central to the continued rewriting of history on the evolution of the Ottoman imperial project.3 However, despite the volume of the secondary literature on the issue and the widely acknowledged importance of the topic, the three essential concepts in the discussion - “conversion”, “Islam” and “the Ottoman Empire” - for the most part seem to have been taken for granted rather than problematized in the existing scholarship, and their mutual interdependence has been overlooked.

2This essay, which seeks to examine the methodological and theoretical desiderata for future research, argues that we need to unpack each of these terms independently while at the same time acknowledging their interconnectedness. Nevertheless, this is merely a departure point for any future debates on conversion to Islam in the Ottoman Empire. It will be argued that a dialogic approach is also necessary in the domain of methodology, where studies based on a single type of (typically administrative) Ottoman source still predominate, as well as in the theoretical orientation of research that still tends to treat the subject of conversion to Islam in the Ottoman Empire as a sui generis phenomenon, or at best as something to be examined solely in the longue durée framework of the “Islamic tradition”. The present essay will build on the critical evaluation of the historiography about conversion to Islam in the Seljuk and Ottoman periods produced between 1800 and 2000 that was undertaken by the team of scholars led by Grivaud and Popovic, and also address the contributions to the debate made by studies written in the last decade, as well as outline some possible goals for future research in light of both traditional and more recent inquiries.

“Islam” and the “Ottoman Empire”

  • 4 See İnalcik Halil 1968-1970 and Itzkowitz Norman 1972 as passing references in secondary literature
  • 5 See for instance Asad Talal 1986, Bowen John 1993, Manger Leif 1999, Headley Stephen C. 2004 and Ri (...)

3Although secondary scholarship routinely refers to the Ottoman Empire as an Islamic state, studies of Islam in an Ottoman context have been surprisingly few, and largely interested in how the state enforced Islamic traditions of rule, which until recently were mostly conceptualized as timeless.4 While anthropologists have for a long time questioned the notion of Islam as a homogeneous religious tradition and explored the characteristics of regional “Islams”,5 the question of what Ottoman Islam (or Islams) was and what characterized it has come to the fore only in the last twenty years, and it has begun to receive more focused attention only quite recently, informed, in part, by political changes in the Balkans and Turkey. Traditionally, historians of the Ottoman Empire have by and large ceded the issue of religion in an Ottoman context to scholars working on Sufism, Islamic law and Islamic institutions of higher learning. As a result, the interplay between religion and society in the Ottoman Empire has been rather poorly understood, and Ottoman Islam, for the most part, has been studied outside a historical framework.

  • 6 For instance, in the field of early modern German history, the development of the “confessionalizat (...)

4With regard to the study of conversion to Islam, this division of work between historians and scholars of religion has resulted in the bifurcation of methodological and theoretical approaches into socio-economic studies on conversion based largely on census records and other administrative genres on the one hand, and religio-cultural studies of conversion based on narrative, especially hagiographic, sources on the other. While at the root of this problem may very well be the secularist, socio-economic bias that affected Ottoman Studies throughout the second half of the twentieth century, the question of how to integrate religious questions into historical research and what it would mean to “take religion seriously” is an issue with which many other fields have struggled as well.6 As some recent research suggests, the answers lie in a more comprehensive interdisciplinary approach to the issues of conversion and religious identificatory practices, especially in a dialogue with anthropology, sociology, and comparative literature.

  • 7 Ocak Ahmet Yaşar 2003.
  • 8 Asad Talal 1986, pp. 7-8.

5Attempting to remedy the problem of reductionist portrayals of the relationship between (an essentialized) Islam and (an essentialized) state, Ahmet Yaşar Ocak recently argued that there were four basic sectors producing interpretations of Islam in the Ottoman Empire: the central government (or the state), religious colleges (medreses) with their religious scholars (ulema), Sufi orders (tarikas), and the folk (heir to a traditional culture informed by “mythological” elements).7 Even though this fourfold division represents a step forward, it still proposes a static model that identifies what Talal Asad has termed “typical actors” who act in predictable ways.8 It schematizes and de-historicizes the actions of social actors, thereby masking apparent contradictions and changing patterns of institutional and other social relations and conditions.

  • 9 Ibid., pp. 14-16.
  • 10 On this process see Krstić Tijana 2011, pp. 26-74.

6In order to start historicizing Ottoman Islam, it is necessary to approach it as a historically changing field of practice and debate and to look into the variety of Muslim interpretative communities that could not be neatly sorted into expected categories such as “the state”, “the ulema”, “Sufis” or the folk. For instance, it is helpful to keep in mind that Sufism was not a property of the Sufi orders but a widely available religious discourse that was appropriated in a variety of ways by different social actors. This approach preserves rather than effaces the essential feature of Islamic tradition, namely constant argument and conflict over the form and significance of practices in the absence of a single authoritative source on matters of religion.9 Instead of assuming that the typical actors always acted in predictable ways, it is necessary to explore competing Islamic initiatives over a period of time as well as individual and institutional attitudes towards particular issues, such as conversion. In this context, it is particularly important to emphasize that the issue of conversion to Islam cannot be viewed solely as a question of Muslim-dhimmi relations. Rather, the question of the admission of new members into the community figured as one of the central challenges that the conquest posed to Ottoman Muslims, leading to the formation of a variety of interpretative communities. The formation of the Ottoman polity was a parallel process, interconnected with the formation of Ottoman Muslim interpretative communities whose views on correct belief and practice defined the scope of early Ottoman Islam.10

  • 11 This theory drew mostly on Hasluck Frederick W. 1929 as well as on Barkan Ömer Lütfi 1942 and his o (...)
  • 12 Examples of studies employing this paradigm abound, but see in particular Vryonis Speros 1971 and 1 (...)

7The development of early Ottoman Islam has all too often been explained by the concept of “syncretism”, in the sense of religious blending, or, even worse, “dilution” of an Islamic “orthodoxy”, typically without elaborating on the meaning of the latter concept in the context of the fourteenth or fifteenth century. In fact, both “syncretism” and “orthodoxy” as terms of analysis in Ottoman studies have suffered from a lack of theorization and elaboration, leading some scholars to reject them completely or call for a new conceptual vocabulary when it comes to the development of Ottoman Islam. Although the term “syncretism” itself has now been largely discredited by anthropologists because it presupposes a certain purity of religious traditions, it has had an extremely important history in the context of research on conversion to Islam in the Ottoman Empire. In Ottoman studies, the concept of syncretism has been associated with the theory about proselytizing “heterodox” Sufi mystics (dervishes) since Fredrick Hasluck’s work became available in the late 1920s.11 According to this theory, antinomian dervishes unconcerned with Islamic orthodoxy incited numerous conversions among Christian peasantry in Anatolia and Rumeli by preaching a heavily “Christianized” Islam.12

  • 13 See particularly Balivet Michel 1992 and Norris Harry T. 1993. Studies seeking to assess Paul Witte (...)

8In the 1990s, the concept of “syncretism” began to gain new ground among students of Ottoman history, but this time with respect to the Ottoman state. Many of these studies reacted against Balkan nationalist and Orientalist historiography that portrayed Ottoman rule exclusively in terms of religious fanaticism and oppression.13 The concept of syncretism was here used to downplay the Ottomans’ fervour for religion, in contrast to the previous generation of scholars, who tended to overemphasize it. These recent appropriations of the concept sought to establish the image of the Ottoman state as a “tolerant” and “inclusive” enterprise, unlike its modern successor states in the Balkans and the Middle East.

  • 14 See Balivet Michel 1992.
  • 15 There are, in fact, various ways in which this term functions in scholarship, depending on whether (...)
  • 16 See Stewart Charles, Shaw Rosalind 1994 and Rutherford Danilyn 2002.

9However, this renewed enthusiasm for “syncretism”, laudable as its motives may have been, opened a path to new problematic interpretations. To begin with, in studies from the 1990s “syncretism” is almost without exception coupled with the epithets “heterodox” and “unorthodox”, implying that only those not “fully” or “truly” Muslim or Christian had the capacity to be “tolerant” or reach out to the religious “other”. Often, discussion of syncretism has been accompanied by the theory about “incomplete” or “superficial” conversions, suggesting that those who converted to a “syncretic” Islam were not “real, authentic” Muslims.14 This kind of rhetoric has been particularly central to discussions of European or Balkan Islam in attempts to distinguish it from and portray it as less menacing than, let us say, Arab Islam.15 Unfortunately, emphasis on the “language of sharing” and religious blending as well as on the “inclusive”, “tolerant” and “pragmatic” Ottoman state and Islam obscures the ways in which competing groups in Ottoman society negotiated their differences, and erases the complicated matrix of power relations attendant upon the process of early Ottoman state-building. In this context, it would be helpful to reconceptualize the notion of syncretism, alongside its counterpart anti-syncretism, as politics of religious synthesis or distancing that fluctuated according to place, time, and local dynamics.16 When redefined along these lines, syncretism is neither something that can be confined to the fifteenth century nor is it a property of the Sufis. Rather, it is a social strategy used by various groups and individuals across Ottoman society and throughout Ottoman history.

  • 17 For an overview of the usage and utility of this term in Islamic studies see Wilson Brett 2007.
  • 18 See for instance Dressler Markus 2005, Al-Tikriti Nabil 2005, Krstić Tijana 2009 and Terzioğlu Deri (...)
  • 19 Mikhail Alan, Philliou Christine 2012.
  • 20 Asad Talal 1986 and Knysh Alexander 1993, pp. 65-66.

10Equally (if not more) problematic is the term “orthodoxy”, which Ottomanists and scholars of Islam have, for the most part, used uncritically.17 In the last decade, however, the field of Ottoman studies has benefited from an increasing realization, supported by new research, that the articulation of an Ottoman Sunni orthodoxy was a process that accompanied the articulation of Ottoman imperial identity and dynastic legitimacy beginning in the early sixteenth century, partly in response to the rise of the rival Shi‘a Safavid state and partly due to internal political, social, and religious developments.18 In this sense, research on the notion of “orthodoxy” in the early modern Ottoman context has been closely related to what has recently been termed the “imperial turn” in Ottoman studies.19 It is also informed by a more historically- and anthropologically-minded approach to the problem of “orthodoxy”, as one not of timeless “authentic belief” but of a continuously changing body of “‘generally accepted’ beliefs, theological ideas and practical guiding principles” that was closely related to the configuration of power in the political arena, with the sixteenth-century rise of great Muslim empires constituting a special chapter in the history of the phenomenon.20

  • 21 Clayer Nathalie 1994.
  • 22 See for instance Karakaya-Stump Ayfer 2008 for research on Kızılbaş and Alevi communities in the si (...)

11However, a variety of social actors besides the state participated in the power contestation for the right to define and impose an “orthodoxy” and “orthopraxy”. The groundbreaking work in this respect is Nathalie Clayer’s 1994 study of the Halveti Sufi order, because it emphasized the politics of Sunnitization in the sixteenth century and called attention to the participation of Sufi şeyhs (rather than just the state or, later, Kadızadeli preachers) in the process of defining and policing the boundaries of a “Sunni orthodoxy”.21 A number of new studies building on her insights have opened up new vistas by utilizing neglected sources, such as catechisms, anti-Shi‘a/-Christian/-Jewish polemical treatises authored by Sufis, converts to Islam or Ottoman jurists, and Kızılbaş/ Alevi sources (such as documents of Alevis dede-s’ appointments and/or genealogy, known as shajara-s or hilafetname-s) to examine different phases and strategies in the Ottoman state’s and other actors’ attempts to control the discourse on “orthodoxy” in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.22

  • 23 Antov Nikolay 2011.
  • 24 Baer Marc David 2008 and Krstić Tijana 2011.

12These new perceptions of “orthodoxy” have significantly influenced recent studies on conversion. Nikolay Antov’s 2011 dissertation on the formation of Muslim communities and conversion to Islam in the Deliorman region is one of the most recent examples of how new research on the relationship between the state and confessional formation relates to the processes of Islamization and conversion to Islam. It connects the deportation of the kızılbaş and yürük groups from eastern Anatolia to Rumeli to the phases in the Ottoman-Safavid conflict and creation of boundaries of faith in the first half of the sixteenth century.23 The twin processes of state- and confession-building saw their more mature expressions, and firmer attempts by a variety of groups in Ottoman society to police the boundaries of orthodoxy, in the late sixteenth and throughout the seventeenth centuries. The impact of these processes on the perceptions, practices, and written documentary evidence of conversion to Islam in the Ottoman Empire is explored in recent studies by Marc David Baer and me, although within different theoretical and methodological frameworks.24

“Conversion”

  • 25 Here I have in mind Minkov Anton 2004, Baer Marc David 2008, Krstić Tijana 2011, and Deringil Selim (...)
  • 26 Recent dissertations dealing with the topic of conversion to Islam in the Ottoman Empire include (b (...)

13Unlike the issue of Ottoman Islam, conversion to Islam in the Ottoman Empire has been the subject of numerous articles, dissertations, and monographs, and generally figures as one of the most (if not the most) controversial topics that has emerged since the rise of historiography on the Ottoman Empire. The fact that in the last decade alone no less than four monographs dedicated solely to the topic of conversion to Islam in the Ottoman Empire have been published in English, whereas previously no full-length studies on the subject existed in English, points to the continued and indeed growing interest in the topic.25 With these four new monographs and a number of books and dissertations on the same topic in various languages, one wonders, however, whether research interest in the topic of conversion to Islam in the Ottoman Empire has now peaked and will begin to wane.26 A further question is which methodological and theoretical legacies of the rich historiography presented in the volume edited by Grivaud and Popovic, or among the new approaches suggested in the most recent studies, should be continued, modified or rejected. What are the desiderata for future research?

  • 27 For an overview see Minkov Anton 2004, pp. 28-63.
  • 28 See for instance İnalcik Halil 1954, Lowry Heath W. 2002 and Delilbaşi Melek 2005.

14For a start, new research should move beyond the single-source methodology that has so far marked historiography on conversion to Islam in the Ottoman Empire and endeavour to put a variety of sources into dialogue with each other. Studies based on a single type of source have certainly yielded important results and allowed us to set a basic framework for understanding the phenomenon of conversion in the Ottoman Empire. Drawing on the methodology of the father of Ottoman demographic studies, Ömer Lütfi Barkan, generations of historians, especially in the Balkans, have produced important studies based on Ottoman census records (tahrir defterleri).27 These studies have given us an idea of the chronology of the process and differences in the dynamic of conversion in Anatolia and Rumeli (and the Levant), as well as of significant local differences within these regions themselves. In the Rumeli context they have also addressed the ratio between “colonization” from Anatolia and conversion of the local populations (a debate that is far from over, as Antov’s recent work suggests), the demographic profile of the converts, and their reasons for becoming Muslim, although in this latter respect most explanations have been of a socio-economic character. In addition to regional and urban vs rural differences, studies based on census records have also suggested that the first wave of converts to Islam were typically former members of the Balkan and Byzantine nobility seeking to become part of the highest echelons of the Ottoman establishment, and this led a number of scholars to view the “state” as the pivotal player in the conversion process.28

  • 29 Examples abound, but see particularly Hasluck Frederick W. 1929, Vryonis Speros 1971, pp. 363-396 a (...)

15Another strong tradition with a completely different methodology and a different cast of historical characters emerges from studies based on fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Ottoman hagiographies (particularly of the vilayetname genre) from both Anatolia and Rumeli, which imply that it was the Sufi mystics, typically in their dual role as holy men and gazi warriors, who effected numerous conversions of Christians, thus creating the image of dervishes as the most important agents of conversion.29 Historiography has therefore given us the state and the dervishes as the two typical actors in the drama of conversion, creating the myth that the agents of conversion are always somehow external or foreign to the individuals or communities that are converting.

  • 30 See Minkov Anton 2004 and Baer Marc David 2004 and 2008.

16In order to move beyond predictable analyses of the phenomenon, one of the most important requirements as research progresses is a consistent effort to find new sources and to set up a dialogue among a variety of different sources in order to achieve a more complex understanding of the process and the actors involved in conversion to Islam, while exposing the shortcomings of each particular source. This task is made easier for the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when a variety of new administrative and narrative sources become available, such as the Ottoman court records (kadı sicilleri), legal responsa of the Ottoman jurisprudents (fetava), or converts’ petitions to the Ottoman imperial council (kisve bahası petitions). Recent studies that engage in the exploration of these sources have made a significant contribution to our understanding of the institutional, legal and procedural aspects of conversion in the Ottoman Empire, changes in the way the Ottoman state understood and sought to publicly present conversion, the agency of the converts, the importance of patronage, and the role of gender and slavery in the process of conversion (two issues that we have only begun to explore and which could yield many more new insights into the process), and so on.30 Although invaluable in advancing the conversation on conversion to Islam in an Ottoman context, recent studies have also for the most part privileged the state’s perspective on the issue by drawing mostly on the archives of the Ottoman central government and Ottoman courts, which present conversion in highly formulaic administrative language that often completely effaces the converts’ own words. In this way, they have perpetuated the notion that “the state” was the key agent of conversion rather than just one of many participants in the process that involved a variety of social actors and initiatives.

  • 31 See Schmidtke Sabine, Adang Camilla 2008, Krstić Tijana 2009, Pfeiffer Judith 2010 and Terzioğlu De (...)
  • 32 See, for instance, Yürekli Zeynep 2005 and Kafescioğlu Çiğdem 2009.

17The attempts to gain a more “immediate” access to the converts’ perspective have been declared futile due to a supposed lack of self-narratives of conversion to Islam. However, recent research suggests that this assumption is unfounded and that we need to pay much more attention to the narrative aspects of conversion. In this respect, Ottoman manuscript libraries, and especially collections of miscellanies (mecmuas) belonging to various named and unnamed individuals, represent a treasure trove of texts that can introduce a researcher into the inner world of converts and result in the discovery of various self-narratives of conversion and individual understandings of the phenomenon. Additionally, catechisms and polemical literature from various periods of Ottoman history have recently begun to be explored as sources on evolving Ottoman religious sensibilities, including on issues like conversion to Islam, “orthodoxy” and “orthopraxy”.31 Art and architectural history, along with narrative sources, also promise to yield new insights into conversion and self-fashioning.32 A braver engagement with narrative and non-administrative sources should therefore be high on the agenda of future researchers. This kind of research would contribute to our understanding of conversion not only as a socio-economic but as a cultural, spiritual and intellectual phenomenon - something that is sorely lacking in traditional historiography.

  • 33 See, for instance, Kiel Machiel 1998.
  • 34 Gradeva Rossitsa 2000.

18An equally important and urgent dialogue is needed between Muslim and non-Muslim sources. Although this is an obvious research imperative and one in which many scholars engaged in the past, studies that demonstrate how such a dialogue can be established in a methodologically sound and productive way are rare. Numerous studies by Machiel Kiel focusing on conversion in specific cities or regions of Ottoman Rumeli are certainly one good example.33 However, I would like to single out Rossitsa Gradeva’s important work, which sets up a dialogue between Ottoman court records relating to cases of coerced conversion with Islam and Orthodox Christian neomartyrologies that both showcase elements of Ottoman legal system and demonstrate how they were perceived and engaged with from two different communal perspectives.34

  • 35 Zachariadou Elizabeth 1990-1991 and the special issue of the Archivum Ottomanicum 23 (2005-2006) (s (...)
  • 36 Krstić Tijana 2011, pp. 121-164.

19A similar path was recently taken by a number of Greek scholars, like Eleni Gara, Phokion Kotzageorgis, and Marinos Sariyannis, who, treading in the footsteps of Prof. Zachariadou’s seminal article, have used neomartyrologies in conjunction with Ottoman sources as an effective way of capturing the contested nature of the process of Sunnitization or conversion and exposing the ideological agenda of the sources through their juxtaposition.35 In my own work I have tried to extend this source dialogue between Orthodox Christian neomartyrologies and Ottoman sources to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century western European martyrological literature (introduced by missionaries to the Ottoman Empire) as well.36 In this way, competing religious agendas within the Christian community come to the fore, and light is shed on the politics of conversion from the perspective of the community “losing” members and trying to define its own orthodoxy in reaction to the process of conversion to Islam. Exploration of Safavid, Armenian and Jewish sources promises to yield further insights into the cross-communal politics of conversion and the role of individual, family and group in the process.

  • 37 See Bennassar Bartolomé, Bennassar Lucile 1989, García-Arenal Mercedes, Wiegers Gerard 2003, Durste (...)

20Another goal for future research is to challenge the notion that the process of conversion to Islam in the Ottoman Empire was a sui generis phenomenon that cannot be compared with other non-Muslim contexts. Where comparisons to other contexts are made in existing scholarship, they invoke almost exclusively earlier Muslim polities and practices of conversion, thereby perpetuating the notion that conversion to Islam was an unchanging, stable phenomenon. However, the growing literature, by Europeanists and Middle East historians alike, on converts, captives and other cultural intermediaries that has deeply eroded the Orientalist notion of clear-cut religious and cultural boundaries in the early modern Mediterranean suggests that conversion practices in the Ottoman Empire were in a much more intimate dialogue with western Christendom than was previously acknowledged.37

  • 38 See Rothman Natalie 2011b, Dursteler Eric 2006, pp. 61-102, Greene Molly 2007 and Agoston Gabor 200 (...)

21Scholars from other fields, especially Venetianists, have recently shed light on the complementary value of documents from different Mediterranean archives for understanding how contemporary rivals viewed Ottoman conversion practices and their wider impact in the Mediterranean during the early modern era. Several recent studies suggest that the upward social mobility of converts to Islam, and the Ottomans’ flexibility in accommodating various non-Muslim groups by granting them autonomy in return for performing valuable services, forced the Venetians and the Habsburgs to adjust their own policies towards non-citizens and religious non-conformists in order to compete for the services of members of the population with particular technological or political knowledge, especially in the contact zones between empires.38 Converts were particularly valued as recruits into the diplomatic, military and commercial corps that sought to articulate and advance competing religious, political and economic agendas in the age of increasing confessional and imperial polarization that was the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

  • 39 See Krstić Tijana 2009 and 2011.
  • 40 A number of valuable and analytically sophisticated studies on the phenomenon of conversion in the (...)

22Recent research therefore suggests that we would be much better advised to expand our analytical framework and approach the phenomenon of conversion to Islam in the Ottoman Empire in terms of “connected histories” of early modern Christendom and Islamdom, with the parallel processes of state- and confession-building being just one possible framework to keep in mind.39 While it is often assumed that the trajectories of the Ottoman Empire and various European polities came to intersect more closely only in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when the political influence of the European powers increased together with the presence and activities of Protestant and Catholic missionaries, new studies reveal that already in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries we can speak of contested missionary practices and shared religious sensibilities, albeit ones informed by different configurations of power. By exploring the zones of contact and interface between imperial ideologies and religious communities, as well as the phenomenon of forced and other types of migrations between empires, we can further deepen our understanding and appreciation of the impact that the phenomenon of conversion to Islam had outside the Ottoman Empire, in the context of wider early modern political and religious dynamics. In this way, a more coherent and consistent dialogue would be established between research on the early and late Ottoman Empire in the matter of phenomena of conversion, varieties of religious discourse, and Ottoman Islam.40

  • 41 On this point see Mikhail Alan, Philliou Christine 2012.
  • 42 On conversion and religious dynamics among the “Oriental” Christians, see in particular Heyberger B (...)

23In addition to bridging chronological divisions within research on conversion (which are replicated in research on the Ottoman Empire in general),41 there are also regional, communal and linguistic divisions within the field of Ottoman studies that impede a more comprehensive discussion of the issue. Of particular importance in this context is setting up a cross-regional dialogue, between, on the one hand, scholarship on Ottoman Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, where various Coptic- and Arab-speaking Christians experienced both conversion to Islam and to various other Christian denominations promoted by Catholic and Protestant missionary activity, and, on the other, scholarship on Ottoman Rumeli and Anatolia, where Greek-, Armenian- and Slavic-speaking Christians faced similar challenges at the same time.42 The study of conversion in the Ottoman Empire could thus move beyond an exclusive emphasis on embracing Islam towards a more synchronic, comparative, and cross-communal analysis of conversion as a cultural, political, religious, sociological and/or anthropological phenomenon.

  • 43 The relevance of this issue particularly comes to the fore in the recent volume edited by Gilles Gr (...)

24Unsurprisingly, one of the main obstacles to such a comprehensive approach to the study of conversion in the Ottoman Empire, and thus one of the most important problems to overcome in future research, is modern identity politics. Since the politics of classification and naming is inseparable from the process of conversion, both as a social practice and as a phenomenon studied by historians, and since nationalist historiography on conversion to Islam during the Ottoman period served as a platform for abuses of human rights in very recent memory, the way in which we use ethnic and geographical terms in our discussion of the phenomenon and its historicization is of prime significance. For instance, what are the (dis) advantages of using ideologically loaded regional and geographic concepts such as the “Balkans” or “Asia Minor” in the analysis of religious dynamics in the Ottoman Empire, or of insisting on the geographic confines of modern nation-states as the framework for study of conversion in the Ottoman period?43 In terms of the politics of naming, recent studies in the field remind us that there is a continued lack of consensus among historians as to who can be called an “Ottoman”, and under what circumstances prior to the twentieth century we can use the term “Turk”, as well as how the phenomenon of conversion relates to both concepts. The boundaries of the terms “Muslim” and “Christian” are also all too often imagined as stable, unchanging, and easily translatable into modern ethnic categories. However, if the historiography of the last decade has contributed anything to our understanding of religious politics in various periods of Ottoman history, it is that the boundaries of the religious communities that inhabited the space of the Empire were constantly defined and redefined in an intense inter-communal dialogue that played out not only within the confines of the Ottoman realm or Islamdom but extended far beyond them as well. The phenomenon of conversion was a polemical arena for competing state, communal and individual identificatory strategies and practices that grappled with one another within ever changing intra- and inter-imperial matrices of power. Conceptualizing the phenomenon of conversion in the Ottoman period as a sphere of constant competition for defining belonging and alterity, rather than as a process for arriving at stable and bound identities that prefigure modern (arguably equally unstable) ethnic categories, appears to be one of (if not the) key premises from which any future research should depart.

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Notes

1 This essay expands upon some of the issues already discussed in Krstić Tijana 2011, pp. 16-25.

2 Grivaud Gilles, Popovic Alexandre 2011.

3 For a short overview of the debate on the development of the early Ottoman state and the role of converts to Islam in this process, see Lowry Heath W. 2003, pp. 5-13, and Krstić Tijana 2011, pp. 26-74.

4 See İnalcik Halil 1968-1970 and Itzkowitz Norman 1972 as passing references in secondary literature.

5 See for instance Asad Talal 1986, Bowen John 1993, Manger Leif 1999, Headley Stephen C. 2004 and Ricci Ronit 2011.

6 For instance, in the field of early modern German history, the development of the “confessionalization paradigm” was a reaction to the emphasis on socio-economic factors in German historical scholarship of the 1970s. However, instead of focusing on the phenomenon of the Konfessionsbildung (the building of Lutheran, Calvinist, and reformed Catholic confessions) only to the extent that it affected ecclesiastical and theological realms, the confessionalization paradigm was a “methodological-theoretical societal paradigm” that concerned itself with the impact of this phenomenon on the realms of politics and culture as well as its effects on both public and private spheres. See Schilling Heinz 2004, pp. 22-23.

7 Ocak Ahmet Yaşar 2003.

8 Asad Talal 1986, pp. 7-8.

9 Ibid., pp. 14-16.

10 On this process see Krstić Tijana 2011, pp. 26-74.

11 This theory drew mostly on Hasluck Frederick W. 1929 as well as on Barkan Ömer Lütfi 1942 and his other studies.

12 Examples of studies employing this paradigm abound, but see in particular Vryonis Speros 1971 and 1972. See also Melikoff Irène 1996, Norris Harry T. 1993, and Balivet Michel 1992 and 1994.

13 See particularly Balivet Michel 1992 and Norris Harry T. 1993. Studies seeking to assess Paul Wittek’s “gazi thesis” critically also engaged actively with this concept. See in particular Kafadar Cemal 1995 and Lowry Heath W. 2003.

14 See Balivet Michel 1992.

15 There are, in fact, various ways in which this term functions in scholarship, depending on whether it is applied to the Ottoman period (where I think it is problematic) or post-Ottoman period, as in the work of Alexandre Popovic, where it has different connotations. See Popovic Alexandre 1986.

16 See Stewart Charles, Shaw Rosalind 1994 and Rutherford Danilyn 2002.

17 For an overview of the usage and utility of this term in Islamic studies see Wilson Brett 2007.

18 See for instance Dressler Markus 2005, Al-Tikriti Nabil 2005, Krstić Tijana 2009 and Terzioğlu Derin 2012.

19 Mikhail Alan, Philliou Christine 2012.

20 Asad Talal 1986 and Knysh Alexander 1993, pp. 65-66.

21 Clayer Nathalie 1994.

22 See for instance Karakaya-Stump Ayfer 2008 for research on Kızılbaş and Alevi communities in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Krstić Tijana 2011, pp. 26-50, and Terzioğlu Derin 2013 on catechisms and Sufis’ role in the contestation of “orthodoxy”, and Krstić Tijana 2009 and Pfeiffer Judith 2010 on anti-Christian and anti-Jewish polemical treatises by converts to Islam.

23 Antov Nikolay 2011.

24 Baer Marc David 2008 and Krstić Tijana 2011.

25 Here I have in mind Minkov Anton 2004, Baer Marc David 2008, Krstić Tijana 2011, and Deringil Selim 2012.

26 Recent dissertations dealing with the topic of conversion to Islam in the Ottoman Empire include (but are not limited to) Egro Dritan 2002, Şişman Cengiz 2004, Norman York 2005, Türkyilmaz Zeynep 2009 and Antov Nikolay 2011. Also related is El-Leithy Tamer 2005, although it deals mostly with medieval Egypt. Radushev Evgeni 2005 is a book based on the author’s 2003 PhD thesis.

27 For an overview see Minkov Anton 2004, pp. 28-63.

28 See for instance İnalcik Halil 1954, Lowry Heath W. 2002 and Delilbaşi Melek 2005.

29 Examples abound, but see particularly Hasluck Frederick W. 1929, Vryonis Speros 1971, pp. 363-396 and Ocak Ahmet Yaşar 1981.

30 See Minkov Anton 2004 and Baer Marc David 2004 and 2008.

31 See Schmidtke Sabine, Adang Camilla 2008, Krstić Tijana 2009, Pfeiffer Judith 2010 and Terzioğlu Derin 2013.

32 See, for instance, Yürekli Zeynep 2005 and Kafescioğlu Çiğdem 2009.

33 See, for instance, Kiel Machiel 1998.

34 Gradeva Rossitsa 2000.

35 Zachariadou Elizabeth 1990-1991 and the special issue of the Archivum Ottomanicum 23 (2005-2006) (see Hazai György 2006).

36 Krstić Tijana 2011, pp. 121-164.

37 See Bennassar Bartolomé, Bennassar Lucile 1989, García-Arenal Mercedes, Wiegers Gerard 2003, Dursteler Eric 2006, pp. 103-129, and 2011, Davis Natalie Zemon 2006 and Rothman Natalie 2006, 2011a and 2011b.

38 See Rothman Natalie 2011b, Dursteler Eric 2006, pp. 61-102, Greene Molly 2007 and Agoston Gabor 2007.

39 See Krstić Tijana 2009 and 2011.

40 A number of valuable and analytically sophisticated studies on the phenomenon of conversion in the late Ottoman Empire, the correlation between the missionaries’ and Ottoman state’s religious policies, and responses to them throughout the empire, have been produced in the last few years. See in particular Makdisi Ussama 2008, Türkyilmaz Zeynep 2009, and Deringil Selim 2012.

41 On this point see Mikhail Alan, Philliou Christine 2012.

42 On conversion and religious dynamics among the “Oriental” Christians, see in particular Heyberger Bernard 1994 and 2001, Masters Bruce 2001, El-Leithy Tamer 2005, Makdisi Ussama 2008, Armanios Febe 2011 and Khater Akram Fouad 2011.

43 The relevance of this issue particularly comes to the fore in the recent volume edited by Gilles Grivaud and Alexandre Popovic that is organized along these conceptual lines (Grivaud Gilles, Popovic Alexandre 2011).

Auteur

Central European University, Budapest

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