Religious Reform in the Late Ottoman Empire

Religious Reform in the Late Ottoman Empire

Islamic Thought and Sources

Religious Reform in the Late Ottoman Empire
Institutional Change and the Professionalization of the Ulema

Author(s): Erhan Bektaş

Reviewed by: Imran H Khan Suddahazai



Reviewed by: Imran H Khan Suddahazai – The One Institute, UK

Published by: London: I.B.Tauris, 2023, 215pp. ISBN: 978-0755645473 (hardback).

Through this seminal work on the history of Ottoman Ulema, Erhan Bektaş presents a revised and re-written thesis of his doctoral dissertation (‘The Ulema in the Late-Ottoman Empire (1880-1920): The Formation of Ottoman Ulema Identity’). Bektaş’s analysis delves into the role and framework created for the Ottoman Ulema through the Tanẓīmāt period, a period of transition that sought to modernise the traditional Ottoman State. Current and recent literature categorized the Ottoman Ulema with chronic anachronistic thinking and practices through an over conservative attitude and antagonism to the Tanẓīmāt reforms.

The work of Bektaş seeks to effectively challenge these perspectives by specifically concentrating on the Ottoman Ulema and identifying their intellectual, educational, professional, cultural, and ideological perspectives and contributions during this era. His methodological approach is centred on archival documents from the Ottoman and Meşihat Archives which allow him to conduct a prosopographical study. This entails an insightful examination of the Ulema’s life experiences as recorded by the biographical registers at Meşihat Archives known as the Sicill-i Ahval alongside the records of the Şeyhülislam Office. Bektaş’s pioneering analysis of the Ulema in terms of their social origins, education and professional careers and experiences within the context of Istanbul as an educational hub is a genuine contribution to the field.

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