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Mundane and Divine? Passions in Islamic Sermons in the Late Ottoman Empire

The project investigates the role of religious feelings in the process of the renovation of sermons during the Second Constitutional Era of the Ottoman Empire, with particular emphasis on the discourse of productivity. In doing so, it aims to provide insights into changing discourses of mundane and divine passions in the late Ottoman Empire.

Against the backdrop of the liberal spirit of the post-1908 Revolution and rising Turkish nationalism following the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), the discourse of productivity immersed in religious thought was promoted through all sorts of means such as sermons and publications. With the Committee of Union and Progress’s efforts to renovate sermons through new institutions such as the Medresetü’l Eimme ve’l-Huteba (Imam-Hatip Schools) and Medresetü’l Vaizin (The School of Preachers) the form, language and content of sermons became a widely debated intellectual subject. While some preachers were criticized for failing to affect the audience due to excessive use of Arabic and old-fashioned content, religious culture was often criticized for encouraging idleness through the concepts of resignation (tevekkül) and contempt (kanaat). In pursuit of potential links between the change in the format/content of Islamic sermons and conceptualizations of religious feelings, the project focuses on printed sermons, as well as discussions about sermons in the Second Constitutional Era, carried out by preachers and intellectuals in leading "Islamist" journals such as the Beyan’ül-hak, İslam Mecmuası and Sebilürreşad. In doing so it aims to investigate the changing role of passions in the reception of sermons on two levels: (1) new understandings of the relation between comprehension and arousal of passions (2) new roles passions played in Islamic sermons to encourage mundane daily commercial activities and hard work. A closer examination of such transformations would shed light on what the most recent secondary literature refers to as an ‘Islamic work ethic’ in the late Ottoman Empire.

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