The Nexus of Mentality, Religion and Science in Turkish Science Historiography: Ottoman Example

This article stresses that from the late 19th century onwards, interpretations of the history of Islamic science gained tremendous political and ideological significance in Muslim reform politics and historical consciousness. The extraordinary importance of the history of Ottoman science for the legitimacy of competing visions of reform and modernity became both a blessing and a disadvantage for the historiography on Ottoman-Islamic science. The paper argues that, since the global discussions caused by Ernest Renan's “Islam and Science” speech in 1883, a grand question of “what to blame” for Muslim world's inferior position in relation to the West, as well as for the “decline” of Ottoman power in comparison to Europe led to a very essentialized and polarized debate about the relationship between Islamic faith and modern science. In fact, the ideological context of the Republican Era and the culturalist assumption about the relationship between Islamic faith and scientific activity precluded a contextualized, nuanced history of the Islamic-Ottoman science. Even the first two leading historians of science in Turkey, namely Adnan Adıvar and Aydın Sayılı, restricted their research agenda and conclusions to the formula of Islamic faith's relationship with the modern science. However, a recent turn away from the culturalist explanations towards a sociological agenda could now turn the negative legacy of the over-discussed theme of religion and science into an advantage. New historiography will offer not only new methodologies to explore the question of cultural diversity and the trans-cultural history of modern science, but also ways to overcome the ideological polarization in Turkish intellectual life around the issues of modernity and Islamic tradition.


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