Entangled Confessionalizations? Dialogic Perspectives on Community and Confession-Building Initiatives in the Ottoman Empire, 15th-18th Centuries

Entangled Confessionalizations?


June 1-3, 2018, Central European University, Budapest

How did various religious communities in the Ottoman Empire develop their confessional identities between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, and what was the role of the Ottoman state as well as of other communities within and beyond the empire in this process? Building on the notion of an “histoire croisée de la confessionnalisation” (Heyberger 2003), the proposed workshop which is convened within the framework of the project entitled “The Fashioning of a Sunni Orthodoxy and the Entangled Histories of Confession-Building in the Ottoman Empire, 15th-17th Centuries” (OTTOCONFESSION), seeks to examine the extent to which various Muslim, Christian and Jewish confession-building initiatives within the early modern Ottoman Empire were influenced by each other, as well as by the similar processes in other rivaling empires and polities between the late fifteenth and early eighteenth centuries. 

The notion of “confessionalization” has been a leading interpretative category in early modern German historiography since its articulation by Wolfgang Reinhard and Heinz Schilling in the late 1970s/ early 1980s (e.g., Reinhard 1981 and 1989; Schilling 1992,1995 and 2004), but it has also been tested, endorsed or rejected by historians studying other early modern European contexts, leading to significant criticisms and reconsiderations of the original theory (Lotz- Heumann 2001). In recent years, the notion of confessionalization has been proposed as a useful heuristic device for examination of the religio-political developments beyond Catholic and Protestant communities in Europe, most notably in the Arab Christian (Heyberger 2003 and 2010) and Muslim communities of the Ottoman Empire (Krstic 2009 and 2011, Terzioglu 2012; 2012-2013; and 2013), as well as in various parts of Slavia Orthodoxa (Deventer 2004; Brüning 2008; Dmitriev 2011). Scholars have also considered its relevance to the experiences of Jewish communities, although mostly in Europe (Kaplan 2011; Kaplan 2011). The present workshop aims to continue the examination of the utility of the concept in the broad sense of “fixing of religious beliefs into set categories of denomination or dogma,” with accompanying processes of social disciplining and attempts to errect communal boundaries, and participants are asked to address the relevance of this notion in the context of their own research (even if only to reject it). Papers may also choose to reflect on the recent reconsiderations of the concepts of dhimma and millet, and well as the related notions of “tolerance” (or toleration) and “multiconfessionalism,” that dominate discussions of the Ottoman management of religious difference, by examining how these concepts changed together with the evolution of what it meant to be a “Muslim,” a “Christian” or a “Jew” in the Ottoman Empire and the proliferation of confessional labels within all groups. The notion of “orthodoxy” is another concept, among others, that participants might want to engage with.

The central concern of the workshop is approaching the issues of community- and confession-building in an entangled rather than mono-communal perspective (which has been the norm in historiography heretofore), based on empirical research with primary sources and with particular, context-bound equations of power in mind. We are, therefore, looking for papers (of approximately 6000 words, to be published in an edited volume) that may center on the experiences of a particular community, but that make an effort to contextualize that experience in an inter-communal, imperial, and/or trans-imperial perspective. We are interested in both “vertical” and “lateral” entanglements that cover anything from communal organization to theological argumentation and polemics. 

For instance:

  • To what extent and in which concrete ways did the Ottoman government and/or developments within the Sunni community between the late fifteenth and early eighteenth centuries influence the communal and confessional politics (or even theological argumentation) within other communities living in the Ottoman Empire? How important was the Ottoman imperial framework to the confessional developments in various communities?
  •  Can we claim that the process of Sunni community and confession building had any direct effect on the confessional projects among Ottoman Christians, Jews as well as other Muslims? If these processes were simultaneous but not necessarily mutually influencing, in which contexts or points did they intersect, if in any? (one could think of phenomena such as conversion and neomatyrdom, for instance)
  • How did religio-political dynamics in other polities in Europe, Asia or Africa influence confessional developments among Ottoman Muslims, Jews or Christians? In turn, have the processes of community and confession building in the Ottoman Empire had any direct effect on the confessional projects in the communities beyond the Ottoman borders? In which concrete cases or sources can we see this?
  • To what extent were the community and/or confession-building projects of various Christian, Jewish, and/or Muslims groups in the Ottoman Empire in dialogue with one another? To what extent were communities aware of what was happening in other communities? Did they “compare notes” on various strategies of dealing with local, imperial or eccesiastical authorities? Did they compare notes on missionary or any other strategies of community building? Who were the agents of confession building in particular communities and did they interact across communal boundaries?
  • To what extent did various theological arguments and concepts developed by particular groups influence theological argumentation and concepts of other groups? (For instance, did the Catholic or Protestant concepts of “confession” have impact on the Orthodox conceptualization of “confession”?) How about particular genres that they produced for the needs of proselytization, teaching the basics of faith, or polemics?
  • What was the role of the new technologies of knowledge production (printing, book format, etc.) in the process of building confessional identities? Was manuscript culture in which all Ottoman communities shared necessarily a deterent to the process of confessionalization? How did language politics figure in the politics of confession building?
  • To what extent can developments in various Ottoman religious communities in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries be labeled as “confessional”? By using this term, are we privileging textual and scriptural over oral and practical? How important was text as opposed to practice in various communities’ efforts to articulate their identities? How useful is the term “orthodoxy”? How did the orthodoxies that emerged between the sixteenth and eighteenth century engage with the medieval notions of orthodoxy?