‘What holds together people in hearts and in thoughts?’

Morality, Emotions and Political Community in the Late Ottoman Empire (1880-1905)

Fabian Steiniger (completed PhD project, 2018)

The project analyzes debates on morality and their link to political communities in the Hamidian Era of the Late Ottoman Empire (1880-1905). It places these concepts within three interdependent frames, which guided discussions on public morality not only among the Ottomans but also in many countries of an increasingly connected global space. These debates focused on civilization and the role of emotions, the perceived need for a capitalist education of economic subjects, and the pre-occupation with public order in a rapidly growing and changing urban space.

The leading hypothesis of the work is that in addressing morality in these instances, Ottoman intellectuals formulated contesting moral economies or moral values underlying diverse conceptions of a political community. The objective referent of the moral values that had to be learnt was framed in wider social terms, by reference to notions of humanity, civilization or the national community. This allowed for a pluralist social integration. Moral values also gained an emotional coloring. Emotions were deemed both necessary as motivational factors for humans to act in a moral fashion and dangerous because of their uncontrollable nature.

The work will rely on source material ranging from printed and archival documents to pictorial sources and examples from popular culture such as theater and music. Through insights from conceptual history and the history of emotions it will show how conceptions of political communities were intrinsically linked to moral thought, highlighting the increasing focus on the role of emotions both in public discourse and social practice.

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