Religious in Form, Political in Content? Privileges of Ottoman Non-Muslims in the Nineteenth Century

In: Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
Author: Masayuki Ueno1
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This paper explores the Ottoman Empire’s guarantee of religious privileges for non-Muslims made in 1853 and the struggles that occurred thereafter, between Muslim state officials and Armenian elites. It argues that the guarantee of religious privileges, which prepared a new set of terminology—that is, “privileges,” “religion,” and “politics”—for discussing the scope of the jurisdiction to be granted to the non-Muslims’ religious authorities, represented a shift in how the empire approached non-Muslims. Muslim officials aimed to circumscribe the jurisdiction of non-Muslims and place them under the state’s control by emphasizing the “religiousness” of the privileges. To do so, they also displayed a decided tendency to bypass the religious authority by using lay non-Muslim elites as intermediaries. The Armenian elites, for their part, strategically chose their attitudes toward the distinction of “religious” and “nonreligious” (or “political”), thus managing to protect, to a certain extent, the scope of the religious authority’s jurisdiction.

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