Sabancı Üniversitesi


History Seminar: Nir Shafir (University of San Diego)

Sabancı University

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences






Pamphleteering Islam in the Ottoman Empire


Dr. Nir Shafir

(University of San Diego)


Monday, May 7, 2018


FASS 2031

Pamphleteering Islam in the Ottoman Empire


Historians have long puzzled over why Middle Easterners largely failed to adopt print until the late nineteenth century. In this presentation, I turn this question on its head and examine instead the innovative new ways in which they used manuscripts as ephemeral and mobile texts. In particular, I look at how cheap and short "manuscript pamphlets" forged and fractured religious and political communities in the seventeenth-century Ottoman Empire. As these pamphlets circulated through the empire they engaged new readers and built broad publics but they also created uneven and “lumpy” intellectual and religious landscapes. Ottoman scholars writing in Turkish and Arabic used these vernacular legal texts as an arena for bitter polemical disputes over Islamic religious practices, which covered topics as varied as the permissibility of smoking tobacco or saint worship. Through the story of manuscript pamphlets, the book rewrites the history of the so-called Kadizadeli movement of religious reformers. More broadly, I ask how and why political polemicization emerges in the wake of new technologies of communication, whether manuscripts or the internet, and what are the social practices that allows for factionalism to abate.


Nir Shafir is a historian of the early modern Ottoman Empire. His research as a whole explores how shifts in material culture and religious practice shaped the intellectual and scientific life of the Middle East between 1300 and 1800. He received his doctorate in History from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2016 and has an appointment as an assistant professor of history at the University of California, San Diego. This year he is a research fellow in the OTTOCONFESSION project run by Tijana Krstic and Derin Terzioğlu. In addition, he is currently editor-in-chief of the Ottoman History Podcast, the leading podcast on Islamic history in general, where he also curates the podcast’s history of science series.