Visiting Researchers

Jilian Ma (Koç University, Istanbul)
Ottoman/Turkish-China intellectual engagements from 1908 to 1939

Two photos of Chinese people from an Ottoman textbook, Resimli Haritalı Coğrafya-ı Umumi (Üçüncü Sene) (Istanbul: İbrahim Hilmi Askeri Kütüphanesi, 1911), 125.

This dissertation project attempts to trace Ottoman/Turkish – Chinese intellectual engagements in the early twentieth century, when both countries were searching for solutions to similar crises of internal decay and external encroachment. During this period, the empires fell and nation-states rose with the Young Turk Revolution (1908-1909), the Turkish War of Independence (1919- 1923) and socio-economic reforms in Turkey and the Xinhai Revolution (1911), the Nationalist Revolution (1924-1927), and the Agrarian Revolutionary War (1927-1937) in China. This period also witnessed the Ottoman attempts to appoint an ambassador to Beijing (1908, 1909) and the signing of the Sino-Turkish Friendship Pact in 1934. The paths Turkey and China were forced into in the contemporary era started to take shape in this period, and the thoughts and ideas produced still resonate today.  Based on analyzing both Ottoman and Chinese archival documents, articles in newspapers, several main politicians and intellectuals’ travel accounts and memoirs, it will explore how these two distant societies knew each other, how they imaged and perceived each other in relation to political problems of nation/state-building and religious connections, how the interaction shaped their knowledge of each other, and some third parties’ impacts on these two countries’ encounters. By shifting the perspective away from the Western “sick man of Europe” and “sick man of Asia” discourse to how these two countries actually perceived each other and interacted, it endeavors to shed light on two major non-western powers’ intellectual engagement and mutual responses to the challenges they faced.

Jilian Ma has been a PhD student in the Department of History at Koç University in Istanbul since 2019 after having completed the MSc program in Middle East Studies at Middle East Technical University, Ankara. She holds an MA degree in Chinese Studies from the National University of Singapore and a BA degree in Chinese Language and Literature from the Bejing Language and Culture University. Ms Ma is currently a visiting scholar in the Orient-Institut Istanbul’s research field “Self-Narratives as Sources for the History of the Late Ottoman Empire.”


Zeynep Tezer (University of Chicago)
Idiosyncratic Forms of Social Criticism in the Sixteenth- and Seventeenth‑Century Ottoman Empire

At court Müfti Pir Üskübi offers the plaintiffs a dildo to settle a dispute (from a manuscript of Ata’i’s “Hamse”, printed in: Ortaöğretim 11. Sınıf Tarih Ders Kitabı, Ankara: MEB Yayınları 2017, p. 57.)

The dissertation aims to recontextualize examples of inappropriate conduct in communal and professional settings in the later sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Ottoman Empire as alternative, idiosyncratic forms of social critique. While the assassinations of sultans, the Janissary uprisings, and the Celali rebellions of this period of crisis have often been studied as organized and overt instances of political initiative, the question of how the many other Ottoman subjects who could or would not oppose the regime by participating in a collective effort might articulate their dissatisfaction remains mostly neglected. Through microhistorical case studies of professional improprieties and humorous conduct drawn from various segments of the early modern Ottoman society, the project intends to accommodate a wider range of actions under the umbrella of non-conform behaviour and to contribute to our understanding of the diverse spaces that could be inhabited by the Ottoman subjects. By doing so, the dissertation also aims to problematize the prevailing association of “the individual” with the Western modernity and to observe personhoods not through the window of Westernization but out of the special historical trajectory upon which the Ottoman society was set.

Shahrzad Irannejad (Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz)
Localization of the Avicennean Inner Senses in a Hippocratic Body

First chapter of the third book from Avicenna The Canon of Medicine on the anatomy of the brain. Leiden University Library Or. 7, f1b.

Medieval scholars both in Europe and the Islamicate world believed that in addition to the five “outer” or “external” senses (i.e., touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight), there also was a set of “inner” senses. This theory describes how a number of mental faculties, localized in the ventricles of (or holes in) the brain, processed, cogitated and stored sensory information. The philosopher and physician Avicenna (980–1037 AD) seems to have offered the most complex and influential version of the theory of inner senses amongst medieval philosophers. The various elements of this theory find their precursors in scholars in the Greek tradition; these elements were received in the Arabic tradition via the Abbasid Translation Movement. This study is meant also to contribute to our understanding of the relation between philosophy and medicine in the medieval Islamicate world. The study would, therefore, discuss the diachronic transformation of concepts and ideas related to the brain and the mind through their transfer beyond linguistic, discursive and cultural borders.

At the Orient–Institut in Istanbul, Shahrzad Irannejad will look into the codicological aspects of the manuscripts – the digital copies of which – she has so far used for her dissertation. Furthermore, she would be dedicating some time exclusively to one manuscript from the Yeni Cami collection held in Süleymaniye library. This manuscript containing the text of Ḫalīfa ibn Abī al-Maḥāsin al-Ḥalabī’s Al-Kafī fi-l-Kuḥl contains a very rare illustration of the theory of the Inner Senses in the Arabic tradition. Shahrzad Irannejad would be using codicological research methods and questions to look at this manuscript as an object/medium of transfer of knowledge and analyze the illustration as an allegory for the coming together of the various elements of the theory of Inner Senses in an intersection of languages, cultures and fields of knowledge.

Esther Voswinckel Filiz M.A. (CERES, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany)
Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi in Istanbul – Biography of a Place

Mausoleum of Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi

Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi (1541–1628) is one of several celebrated Ottoman Sufi saints (evliyā) who are buried in Istanbul. He is known as the “second founder” (pīr-i sānī) of the Celvetīyye Sufi order. During his lifetime, he witnessed the reign of eight different sultans and is remembered as the ‘teacher of the sultans’. In popular tradition, moreover, he is known as the saintly protector of sea travel in general and of the Bosporus in particular. His domed mausoleum (türbe) on a hill in Üsküdar, on the Asian shore, has not ceased to be a vital focus of pilgrimage up to the present. When people in Istanbul talk about Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi, they often refer both to the saintly person as well as to the particular place where the saint gets visited: his mausoleum. This closeness between the concepts “place” and “person” explains the second part of the project title: “Biography of a Place”. The research project focuses on the locality of Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi as a centre of religious attraction. In what ways do people address the saint when they visit his tomb, and how does the particular, multi-layered materiality of the site matter in the various practices of relating to the saint?

The mausoleum of Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi was extensively restored between 2013 and 2015, and finally reopened in Ramadan 2015. The restoration of the site was the starting point of a long-time field research stay in Üsküdar, in which the rites of visiting the tomb (türbe ziyareti), the aesthetics of the site, its architecture, particular artifacts, which compose the interior of the tomb and the varied – ritual and other – handlings of old and new layers were studied. Among the numerous religious sites connected to Sufi traditions in Istanbul, the mausoleum of Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi holds a special place. After the legal banning of the Sufi orders in 1925 and the closure of all Sufi convents (tekke) and tombs (türbe), the larger part of the precious collections of ritual paraphernalia of the Sufi orders got lost. In the case of the tomb of Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi, however, a large collection of “personal belongings” (emanetler) of the saint and his order were kept inside the mausoleum up until the 1970s. This rich collection sheds light on numerous aspects of veneration, which nowadays can be encountered at very few tombs of Sufi saints in Istanbul: e.g. the ritual and symbolism of the “venerable turban” (tâc-ı şerîf), which crowns the grave structure, or the custom of “clothing” the cenotaph with particular, embroidered pieces of cloth. This research about the “biography of a place” aims to contribute to the exploration of the material culture of Sufism; the materialities and ensembles of things, which compose saintly places have, so far, only rarely been taken into consideration as a dimension of its own within the recent religious history of Istanbul.