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Ottoman Studies

Ottoman History

Religious intellectual encounters between Byzantium and the Ottomans in the fourteenth century

(Evangelos Katafylis, PhD Student)

This study explores the interaction among Byzantine authors (emperors, scholars and theologians) who wrote about Islam, and Muslim political and religious leaders in the period during the rise of the Ottoman state (1300). The intensification of direct contacts with the Ottomans in this period enriched Byzantine knowledge about Islam and Muslim practices, including aspects of Islam that had been unknown in the previous centuries. Their works, comprising letters and treatises, some of them in the form of dialogues, contain important information on a variety of aspects of this subject, reflecting varied attitudes towards the Ottomans and Islam, ranging from utter rejection to a positive and increasingly rational understanding of this religion. The study compares the tone and content of Christian–Muslim dialogues. It also assesses the degree of influence, similarity or divergence among these works, and in addition, examines Ottoman perceptions of, and attitudes towards, the Christian Orthodox faith as attested in their theological dialogue with the Byzantines, placing them in their wider historical and cultural context. It is hoped that this work will contribute to a better understanding of the conduct of similar interactions today, offering an opportunity to revise certain stereotypes in present day Christian-Muslim encounters.


Material Culture and Intellectual Transformations

The Parthenon Mosque

(Dr Elizabeth Fowden, Post-Doctoral Researcher)

This project, which will take the form of a monograph, sets out to provoke the recognition that, contrary to present appearances, we cannot speak in the singular of any of the Parthenon’s guises over its 2,500-year history – whether as a temple, church, mosque or archaeological monument. What the Parthenon offers the historian is an opportunity to examine how different people have reinterpreted a symbolically charged structure and its environs over time.

This leads to a second recognition, namely that the Parthenon is not a clear beacon of transcendent ideals but demands of its viewers a more nuanced understanding as a barometer of changing and often conflicting mentalities. This study is not the first to draw attention to the plurality of forms or meanings projected onto the Parthenon, although it is surprising how strange the notion of a Parthenon church or mosque still seems to both lay people and scholars. What is new here is the attempt to take seriously and on their own terms the many ways in which this building has been interpreted.

The main focus of interest is the Ottoman period, in part because it is the most neglected level in the Parthenon's accumulated cultural stratigraphy. If we give due weight to the Parthenon both as a church – of the Orthodox and Latin rite – and a mosque, we find a building imbued with Christian and Qur’anic figures cohabiting across time with the city's illustrious ancient philosophers, whose reputation enjoyed a robust afterlife in both Christian and Muslim culture. This vivid life-stream, and the creative uses made of it by those who occupied, viewed and described the Parthenon in its Christian and Muslim phases, calls into question our own meticulous separation of what we call 'superstitious' or 'mythical' and 'scientific' or 'historical', our own categories that we project onto how the Parthenon was viewed before its European 'discovery'.