Rival Moral Traditions in the Late Ottoman Empire, 1839–1908

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This article examines two texts, each representative of a system of morality taught in nineteenth-century Ottoman morality textbooks: Risâle-i ahlâk by Sâdik Rifat (1807–1857) and al-Risālaal-shāhiyya fī cilm al-akhlaq by cAḍud al-Dīn al-Ījī (d. ca. 1355). So as to inform conclusions about the variety of moral traditions that inspired the authors of late Ottoman public school textbooks on morality, I analyse the organizing metaphors, moral rationalizations, types of moral agency, and techniques of inculcating morality utilized in these representative texts. Normally, texts such as Sâdık Rifat's are taken as representing an Ottoman tradition of secular morality, whereas texts from the akhlâq tradition such as Ījī's are said to represent the religious tradition of Islamic ethical philosophy. I argue, however, that textbook writers in the late Tanzimat and early Hamidian Ottoman Empire drew on both of these ethical traditions uncritically, and that the heterogeneity of nineteenth-century Ottoman public school morality texts makes it inappropriate to characterize them as ‘religious’ or ‘secular’. I suggest, instead, that these types of morality text may be more fruitfully analysed with an eye to the types of subjectivity they seek to generate rather than their ‘religious’ or ‘secular’ content.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-66
JournalJournal of Islamic Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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