Sabancı Üniversitesi


History of Ottoman Thought Meetings – I: Ebussuud and His World of Thought


History of Ottoman Thought Meetings

Ebussuud and His World of Thought –I


Organized by the History of Ottoman Thought Study Group

( Harvard University, ISAM, Sabancı University)


Date: 31 July- 1 August 2010 (Saturday-Sunday).

Venue: İSAM, Araştırmacılar Binası.

Address: İSAM, Bağlarbaşı Caddesi, No.40, Üsküdar 34662, İstanbul.

Phone: 90-216-474 0850.



It would be fair to say that scholarship on the history of Ottoman thought, some bright examples notwithstanding, has not kept pace with the rapid growth that the field of Ottoman Studies has experienced in recent years. One could cite various reasons for this situation, ranging from the Orientalist conviction that Islamic thought hit a bottleneck at some point, certainly before the fourteenth century, to deeply-rooted ideas in world historiography which posit that the Ottomans disregarded intellectual life, despite their military and administrative achievements, or judgments that almost became truisms within the ambit of Ottoman-Turkish thought itself (e.g. the Ottomans did not notice, let alone keep up with, the intellectual movements that started in Europe with the onset of the Renaissance, they neglected the rational sciences, they remained unaware of the emergence of a new world economy and of capitalism, etc.), as well as residues of ideological blocs specific to Turkey. To these, one could also add the long-standing prevalence of an ahistorical understanding and criterion of originality, maintained even among students of intellectual life, as well as a related disdain of genres such as commentaries and annotations and of Ottoman prose in general.

For purposes of cultivating this vast and underexplored field with systematic rigor and patience, we, as representatives of Harvard University, ISAM and Sabancı University, have decided to come together to launch a long-term project. The aim is to hold small workshops followed by international conferences; subsequently the conclusions and any new questions that arise will be published in order to reach the wide circles interested in Ottoman, Islamic, and early modern world history.  

It has been decided that the first series of meetings (two meetings and one conference) will be devoted to Ebussuud Efendi in view of his significance as a thinker and the richness of sources related to him. Later, we may choose to focus on another figure who made a deep impact on the world of ideas; or, rather than focusing on “towering figures” in the history of thought, we may select names not so much for their “importance” but rather for their relevance toward illuminating a particular issue Alternatively, we may choose to deal with a definable period or milieu, an idea or a genre, instead of/along with pursuing the history of thought through individuals. We regard these first meetings on Ebussuud as an experiment to determine the future course of our project, i.e. to identify the ways in which different approaches and methods can be utilized most beneficially. In other words, the purpose of the meetings is to develop methods and approaches to guide the historiography of Ottoman thought as much as it is to understand this great sixteenth-century scholar.


The deepening of our biographical and encyclopedic knowledge on Ebussuud will no doubt be a valuable gain in itself. However, our larger goal is to explore the relationship between a thinker and the social, institutional and cultural context of his age, and to untangle this web of relationships as much as possible in order to understand the thinker through an historical perspective that extends beyond mere events. For this purpose, we aim to tackle as many approaches and raise as many different questions as possible in the meetings on Ebussuud. In addition to analyzing his authoritative texts of jurisprudence and exegesis, we intend to examine, as far as the sources allow, his relationship with literature and Sufism, with music, with what today are called the natural sciences, as well as financial and economic affairs, and even popular culture. We aim not only to trace the continuities in Ebussuud’s thought spanning a relatively long lifetime, but also to focus on transformations and ruptures – if any – in his line of thought. We believe that while dwelling on these issues, we need to consider some contemporaries of our thinker and make comparative observations when necessary, turning our gaze away from the Ottoman world from time to time. Finally, we also need to take into account the categories and criteria of the sciences in his era, explore the settings of the exchange of knowledge and debate, such as colleges (medrese) and social gatherings (meclis), look into forms of expression and circulation of ideas in a manuscript culture, and –last but not least-- pay attention to the means of learning through the experiences of everyday life and travel.

We hope that our first meeting in Istanbul will take firm steps towards this comprehensive goal.


31 July 2010, Saturday 9.00-18.00

1st Session:                                                  (Chair: Cemal Kafadar)


The history of thought today and its contribution to the historiography of Ottoman Thought

Paper: Cemal Kafadar, Hüseyin Yılmaz; Discussant: Metin Kunt

How to study Ottoman intellectual life?

Paper: İhsan Fazlıoğlu; Discussant: Tahsin Görgün



2nd Session:                                                         (Chair: Cornell Fleischer)


Ebussuud’s life and the formation of his legal thought

Paper: Murteza Bedir; Discussant: Mehmet İpşirli

The perception of knowledge, the learned and the medrese in the 16th-century Ottoman world: An assessment in terms of the conception of education

Paper: Seyfi Kenan; Discussant: Selçuk Akşin Somel


1 August 2010, Sunday 9.00-18.00


3rd Session:                                                      (Chair: Hülya Canbakal)


Ottoman Legal thought-I:

Fetva, maruzat and şeriat and kanun

Paper: Şükrü Özen; Discussant: M.Âkif Aydın,

Kanun and Şeriat: An analysis with regard to land law

Paper: Snjezana Buzov; Discussant: Martha Mundy



4th Session:                                                      (Chair: M.Akif Aydın)


  1. Ottoman Legal thought-II:

The formation of an Ottoman legal institution: Cash waqfs and Ebussuud

Paper: Himmet Taşkömür; Discussant: Tahsin Özcan,

Kanun and Şeriat: An analysis with regard to penal law

Paper: Yunus Koç; Discussant: R. Peters


 Concluding Review Session: 

Martha Mundy, Cemal Kafadar                           (Chair: Metin Kunt)


Paper Deadline: June 15, 2010.


Timing: 30 minutes for each presentation and 20 minutes for each discussant.  The presentations will take place in both Turkish and English depending on the choice of the presenter, but all papers will be available in English.

Papers’ Deadline: July 19, 2010.

The List of other participants / discussants:

1.      Fikret Adanır

2.      Kemal Beydilli

3.      Feridun Emecen

4.      İsmail Erünsal

5.      Nenad Filipovic

6.      Fethi Gedikli

7.      Mehmet Genç

8.      Ahmet Karamustafa

9.      Ayfer Karakaya

10.   Eugenia Kermeli

11.   Ahmet Yaşar Ocak

12.   Abdülkadir Özcan

13.   Derin Terzioğlu

14.   Yunus Uğur

15.   Zeynep Nevin Yelce

16.   Levent Yılmaz


Advisory Board


Metin Kunt

Gülru Neciboğlu

Cemal Kafadar

Hülya Canbakal

Seyfi Kenan

Tahsin Görgün

Murteza Bedir


Executive Committee


Cemal Kafadar

Hülya Canbakal

Seyfi Kenan

Murteza Bedir