Tracing the Nationalisation of Millet in the Late Ottoman Period: A Conceptual History Approach

In: Die Welt des Islams
Markus DresslerInstitute for the Study of Religions, Leipzig University, Leipzig, Germany,

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During its last century, the Ottoman Empire faced strong contestation of its political order, which had undergone radical changes that are generally discussed in relation to modernisation. Against this background, key social and political concepts in Ottoman Turkish shed old meanings and acquired new ones. This article examines the trajectory of the term millet in this period as a case study. Drawing on political and lexicographic texts from the Tanzimat era and afterwards, the article discusses the semantic shifts through which millet, traditionally closely related to din/religion, acquired connotations of a political community, not the least proto-national ones. This led to a polysemy that remained relatively stable until the end of the Ottoman era, when the political meaning of the term millet as “nation” gained dominance. This secularisation of the term reached its peak in the early Turkish republic, although the older, religious connotations of the term were never totally forgotten and are still evoked in conservative religious discourse.

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