Sabancı Üniversitesi


HIST Webinar: Banu Turnaoğlu (University of Cambridge)


“Positivism and Anti-imperialism in Ahmed Rıza”



(University of Cambridge)


MARCH 31, 2021



Meeting ID: 934 8083 0631

Abstract: This paper explores the anti-imperialist and Comtean positivist ideas of Ahmed Rıza, one of the founders of the Ottoman Committee of Union and Progress who was also its Parisian branch leader. Ottoman intellectual historians widely emphasize Ahmed Rıza’s attachment to positivism, and how he combines positivism with anti-imperialism, liberal constitutionalism and the question of religion. However, a theory that he places at the center of the Young Turks’ political and intellectual agenda remains under-examined, if not completely overlooked. Like Comte and his followers, Ahmet Rıza rejects the racial superiority of Europeans, colonial rule and slavery, but instead he ardently speaks of creating a perpetual peace between the Orient and the Occident through the adoption of universal positivist ethics with a strong emphasis on the principles of equal worth, respect, dignity of all nations, and non-interventionism. Denouncing empire as destructive to both colonizers and colonized, his scheme has a republican overtone, both morally and ideologically. 

Ahmet Rıza was remarkably successful in transporting his ideas across boundaries both in Europe and across the Atlantic to Latin America. By examining him as an exemplary case of a cross-cultural and hybrid political thinker, this paper will suggest that the history of political thought can expand its scope by transcending the conventional geographical boundaries between Western and extra-Western political thought and by including the broader entanglements of these ideas and ideologies.  

Bio: Dr. Banu Turnaoğlu is an Affiliated Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS) at the University of Cambridge. She was a Research Associate at St. John’s College, Cambridge and held a postdoctoral position as an Early Career Leverhulme Fellow at POLIS, where she had received her Ph.D. Her dissertation on “The Formation of Turkish Republicanism (1299-1923)” was awarded the Political Studies Association’s Sir Ernest Barker Prize for Best Dissertation in Political Theory in 2015. Before Cambridge, she had obtained an MSc in Political Theory from the University of Oxford and a BA in International Relations and History (double major) from Koç University, Istanbul.

Dr. Turnaoğlu’s research lies at the intersection of political theory, global intellectual history, international relations, and Ottoman political thought. She is primarily interested in republicanism, democracy, and imperialism and related questions of the nature and sources of the modern international order, more generally linking existing patterns of political development with contemporary events. Her monograph The Formation of Turkish Republicanism (Princeton University Press, 2017) was shortlisted for the Royal Historical Society Gladstone Prize. Her writing has appeared in leading journals, such as History of Political Thought, Modern Intellectual History, and Middle Eastern Studies, as well as in edited volumes published by Oxford University Press and I. B. Tauris. She is working on a new book manuscript, provisionally entitled The Eastern Question: A New History, which is under contract with Princeton University Press.