"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, August 31, 2012

Ottoman Converts and Apostates

We still do not know enough about relations between Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the late Ottoman Empire. In particular, we have conflicting and incomplete accounts of the permissibility, process, and punishment (if any) for those leaving one of those faiths for another, especially for those leaving Islam to become Christians. A new book forthcoming in late September may shed some welcome light here: Selim Deringil, Conversion and Apostasy in the Late Ottoman Empire (Cambridge UP, 2012), 294pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
The commonly accepted wisdom is that nationalism replaced religion in the age of modernity. In the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire, the focus of this book, traditional religious structures crumbled as the empire itself began to decline. The state's answer to schism was to administer controls and regulations, and it was against this background that religious communities negotiated their survival by converting to Islam when their political interests or their lives were at stake. As the century progressed, however, and as this engaging study illustrates with real-life case-studies, conversion was no longer sufficient to guarantee citizenship as the state became increasingly paranoid about its apostates and what it perceived as their "denationalization." The book tells the story of the struggle for the bodies and the souls of people, waged between the Ottoman State, the Great Powers, and a multitude of evangelical organizations. Many of the stories shed light on current flash-points in the Arab world and the Balkans, offering alternative perspectives on national and religious identity and the interconnection between the two.

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