Scholars

Jaimee Comstock-Skipp (Leiden University)
Scions of Turan: the 16th-century Uzbek take on Firdausī’s Shāhnāma epic – artistic exchanges across Istanbul and Bukhara

Folio of “Rustam lifting Afrasiab from the saddle” from a Shahnama manuscript (H.1488) in the Topkapi Palace Library. Painted in Bukhara 1564, gifted to Sultan Murad III in 1594.

The project explores illustrated manuscripts from the 16th and 17th centuries from the Ottoman sphere and the Shaybānid Uzbeks based in Transoxiana. Whereas many scholars have focused on Shāhnāma manuscripts from the Iranian heartland, limited attention has been given to the political and artistic connections between the two regions flanking it. By addressing this lacuna in the academic record, the research expands the scope of existing studies of illustrated Persian manuscripts normally assigned to one dynasty. The project starts from the question what makes a Shāhnāma particularly “Shaybānid.” Surviving visual material in the form of Persian and Turkic-language copies of Firdausī’s popularly illustrated epic poem, as well as courtly biographical works modeled on it, attest to the transit of manuscripts, styles, scribes, artists, and concepts across Anatolia, Iran, and Transoxiana. Through an art historical lens, the project will contribute to studies in two areas: Turco-Persianate arts of the book, and the political history of the Ottoman and Central Asian realms in the early-modern period.

Armand Aupiais (Université de Paris)
Evangelical Protestants in Turkey: Urban Circuits, Religious Labour, Christian History

Antioch Protestant Church, Photo: Armand Aupiais

The project combines the fulfilment of a PhD dissertation in Anthropology, with a complementary research. The dissertation project comprises of two parts: Firstly, it deals with diverse past and contemporary Protestant presences in Istanbul, on the basis of an ethnographic survey of thirty churches. It will shed light on the interdependent and dissymmetrical relations between the parishes and the urban circuits they form depending on whether they are predominantly Western foreigners, Turkish Christians, Turkish converts, or Global South migrants. Secondly, the thesis focuses on the latter groups, based on further investigation in few ‘Turkish’, ‘immigrant’, and ‘mixed’ Churches. It shows how the division of religious labour, intertwined with the believers’ social trajectories, expresses deeply optimistic narratives and tends to define Turkey as a heart of contemporary Christianity. As an extension of this research, Armand Aupiais will explore the participation of both Turkish and Global Southern believers in Turkey’s Christian landscape. On the basis of an ethnographic survey in medium-sized Anatolian cities, he scrutinizes how tiny and marginal groups of believers, who are not the heirs of any recognized minority memory, reconstruct a historical continuity with the Ottoman past, challenging its confessional partitioning, or even building and claiming a local Protestant heritage.

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.

Visiting Researchers

Gülşah Torunoğlu
A Comparative History of Feminism in Egypt and Turkey, 1880-1935: Dialogue and Difference

“We are Here to Admire You, Turkey” The Yugoslavian committee (on the left) and the Egyptian committee (on the right) lay a wreath at Republic monument in Taksim (The leader of the Egyptian committee Sitti Şaravi [Huda Shaʿrāwī] is giving a lecture). Cumhuriyet, April 16, 1935, p. 1. [Atatürk Library, Istanbul, Turkey]

 The current book project, A Comparative History of Feminism in Egypt and Turkey, 1880-1935: Dialogue and Difference investigates the interaction between organized women’s movements in Turkey and Egypt, and their relation with global women’s activism during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Based on two years of archival research in Turkey, Egypt, and the United Kingdom, Torunoğlu’s project establishes a dialogue between Turkish and Egyptian feminisms, compares nationalist versus Islamic trends among them, and takes stock of their interactions with and resistances to western feminisms. By bringing the evolution of the feminist discourse in Egypt and the Ottoman Empire in conversation with the secular and religious reform traditions in both countries in a comparative perspective, her work seeks to encourage a broader and more in-depth understanding of feminism in the Middle East, stripped from the dominant, nationalist narrative of its evolution.

Gülşah Torunoğlu is a visiting research fellow, specializing in comparative women’s history in the Middle East. She holds a PhD in History from the Ohio State University (2019), and she held visiting fellow positions from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the American University in Cairo (AUC), and Princeton University. During the academic year of 2019-2020, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Koç University Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations (ANAMED). During the summer of 2020, she taught a course on Women and Gender in Literature at Koç University.

Torunoğlu’s research has been supported by awards and fellowships from several sources, including the Fulbright Fellowship and the Adıvar Fellowship in Ottoman and Turkish Studies as well as the Genevieve Brown Gist Dissertation Research fellowship at the Ohio State University. At the Orient-Institut she will be contributing to the expansion of the research field on autobiographical sources for the study of Turkish and Ottoman history by fostering research cooperation in Turkey and internationally on women and their autobiographical writings.

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 studied in 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.”