Panel at the 22nd Symposium of the International Committee of Pre-Ottoman and Ottoman Studies (CIEPO), Sofia, Bulgaria, 11-14 September 2018

Ottoman perceptions of world and nature

The panel aims to discuss Ottoman notions and belief systems concerning nature and the supernatural. What is really important in terms of social history is to see the field described as “supernatural” as an especially constructive vantage point to watch the interplay of different layers of culture representing varying social groups: thus, one may presuppose the existence of a “popular” or folk culture, as well as a Sufi culture, both slanting more towards a “magical” worldview, while ulema circles would seek to interpret (or, alternatively, reject) such traditions within a very rational and strict framework of ontological hierarchy. Neither is this narrative static and unaltered in time: from the mid-seventeenth century on we may discern the rise of a more scientific view connected with an artisanal and mercantile culture by the early eighteenth century.

The panel will seek to explore this diversity and form an agenda for future research. Paper no. 1 (Marinos Sariyannis, “Creating an agenda for the study of Ottoman attitudes towards nature and the supernatural”) will set some general observations and directions, focusing in the possible categorizations of the “supernatural” by different social and intellectual groups. Paper No. 2 (Güneş Işıksel, “Herşey Yerli Yerinde (Everything in its place). On the Ottoman representations of hierarchies”), as a point of departure, describes the homologies between the self-image of the administrative apparatus and the cosmological hierarchies prevailing in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Ottoman Weltanschauung, thus showing that the image of the cosmos had a direct relation with the sociopolitical imaginary. In the same vein, Paper No. 3 (Ethan Menchinger, “Cause and effect in the early modern Ottoman Empire”) analyzes the course of perceptions on cosmic order in the later part of pre-Tanzimat Ottoman thought; more particularly, the “natural” and “miraculous” in the Ottoman world as they appear in contemporary ulema culture, focusing on the theological literature on causality and the sometimes violent early modern debates over God’s custom, miracles, fatalism, and the limits of freewill. Finally, Paper No. 4 (Mariya Shusharova, “Power and magic in Sofia at the end of the eighteenth century”) addresses the supernatural itself, namely magic and sorcerers, through a very ‘natural’ source, namely bureaucratic petitions and real-life accusations, in order to explore how such distinctions might be used in social and political conflicts.

Through their different topics, the four papers of the panel show that the conceptions about nature, the supernatural, the religious and more generally the limits of knowledge may contribute a lot to the study of Ottoman mentalities, but also Ottoman society and its representations of the world.

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