Workshop Announcement: The Main Intellectual Currents in the Late Ottoman Empire

Selen Etingü's picture
May 20, 2016 to May 21, 2016
Subject Fields: 
Cultural History / Studies, Graduate Studies, Islamic History / Studies, Middle East History / Studies, Nationalism History / Studies

Basel, Switzerland: May 20 - 21, 2016
Deadline: March 15, 2016

Call for applications for the 4th Annual MUBIT Doctoral Workshop in Late- and Post-Ottoman Studies in Basel: “The Main Intellectual Currents in the Late Ottoman Empire” with Prof. Dr. Sukru Hanioglu (Princeton University).

An international workshop organized by MUBIT Inter-University Doctoral Cooperation in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies Basel/Zurich & Middle Eastern Studies, The Graduate School of Social Sciences (G3S), University of Basel, Switzerland.

This two-day workshop will concentrate on the major intellectual currents of late Ottoman history. The main thread of the workshop will follow intellectual history in a broad sense, but other topics including social, religious, and political history will receive some coverage as well. 

The workshop will include four sessions:

1. Ottoman Materialism

The salient characteristic of late Ottoman materialism is the belief in science as the exclusive foundation of a new Ottoman society. Mid-nineteenth-century materialism, a Weltanschauung placing science at the core of a new and rational civilization, usually entailed rejection of all competing truths, both philosophical and religious. In the Ottoman context, the conception of a new society strictly regulated by scientific truth logically led to the rejection of the old basis of society – the revealed truth of Islam. To the many Ottoman intellectuals who passionately shared this worldview, religion was the most dangerous type of philosophy, and a major obstacle to social progress. So powerful was the attraction of the doctrine of materialism to Ottoman thinkers that it became the mainstream approach to philosophy in the late Ottoman Empire. Ottoman materialism also made a profound impact on the founders of the Turkish republic and its official ideology.

2. Ottoman Westernization and the Westernists

The institutionalization of Westernization under Mahmud II differed considerably from previous attempts to confront European ideas. For the first time, Westernization appeared as a formal policy linked to extensive bureaucratic reform and implemented with brutal force. The new schools provided the necessary manpower, while the government newspaper supported the effort with appropriate propaganda for the first time. These important changes had a lasting effect on the young generation that came of age under Mahmud II, and provided the foundation for the cadres of the later Tanzimat movement. Despite its major impact on Ottoman society Westernization was not an intellectual current especially until the Second Constitutional Period. This period between 1908 and 1918 was one of the most important epochs of Ottoman political thinking. During these years a group of intellectuals called Garbcılar (Westerners) turned Westernization into an intellectual current. They also made a significant impact on the official ideology of the early Turkish Republic.

3. Islamism in the Late Ottoman Empire

Modern Islamist movements emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century did not make a considerable impact on the Ottoman heartlands. Even the pious Ottoman sultan Abdülhamid II who initiated a Pan-Islamist policy did not allow Islamist debates in these regions of his realm. Despite the pronounced Islamist flavour of the sultan’s rhetoric, Islamist intellectuals suffered immensely under his reign. The sultan, who feared the potent capacity of the ulema to legitimize criticism of his régime, banished a large number of them. At the same time, the censor curtailed any serious religious debate. The Islamist opposition worked with the Young Turks abroad, while the Salafī movement flourished in Syria. It was only after the Young Turk Revolution of 1908 that Islamist intellectual activity began to thrive in the capital and the imperial heartland. It became the most popular intellectual current until the end of the empire. The Islamist movement also played a significant role during the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the new republican regime in Turkey. While the War of Independence fought between 1919 and 1922 was based upon Muslim nationalism, the extreme secularization under the new regime dealt a shattering blow to Islamism in Turkey and pushed it out of mainstream intellectual discussion until the Islamist revival in 1970s.

4. Nationalist Movements in the Late Ottoman Empire

Nationalism was the dominating intellectual current of the last Ottoman century. Started in non-Muslim Ottoman communities and furnished a firm foundation from which to launch and legitimize rebellion and separatism nationalism played a significant role in shaping the Ottoman Empire. Many Christian Ottoman intellectuals succumbed to the charms of nationalism, adopting a romanticized image of the nation rising up from the ruins of a decadent empire. The Ottoman world, and especially its more heavily Christian European provinces, offered fertile ground for such ideas. Later on similar movements emerged among Muslim Ottoman groups, such as the Albanians, the Arabs, and the Kurds. Even small Muslim communities, like the Circassians, exhibited a rise in nationalist sentiment. The level of national consciousness varied considerably within each of these movements. The most important nationalist movement during the last years of the empire was undoubtedly Turkish nationalism. It started as a proto-nationalist program and later acquired a political character. The Turkism that had flourished among Ottoman expatriates in Cairo, the capital cities of Europe, and other parts of the empire during the later years of Abdülhamid II went from strength to strength after the Young Turk Revolution of 1908, and also became a pillar of the official ideology of the Turkish republic.

Application Procedure

PhD students who wish to attend the workshop are asked to send an email to Dr. Selen Etingu (, with a biographical abstract explaining their research interests and projects as well as their academic background (max. 400 words, in 3rd person singular, in English). The deadline for the application is March 15, 2016. Applicants will receive an answer regarding their participation on March 21.

Requirements for Successful Participation

Accepted participants will receive a list of required readings by March 21, 2016. Successful participation at the workshop is subject to the mandatory completion of the required readings in advance and active participation in the workshop discussions.    

For further details, please see attached document or go to:

Contact Info: 

Dr. Selen Etingü
SUK-Doktoratskoordination Islamwissenshaft (MUBIT)

Universität Basel
Seminar für Nahoststudien 
Maiengasse 51
CH-4056 Basel


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