Unravelings: Authoritarianism, Secularization, Non-Muslims, and the Politicization of Islam in the Late Ottoman Empire

This event has passed.

@ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Color photograph portrait of a smiling man with dark hair in very dark contrast. Man wears a black suit with a purple shirt.
Image courtesy of Richard Antaramian.

[Due to COVID-19, this event has been moved to a digital conferencing platform. For more information about participation, contact IRH at info@irh.wisc.edu.]

Monday Seminar:

Richard Antaramian

Kingdon Fellow (2020-2021)

History, University of Southern California


Anthropologies of secularism describe the phenomenon as a project that, contrary to its purported aim of removing religion from public space, oftentimes exacerbates differences and leads to the greater marginalization of minorities in politics and society. Secularism, in other words, translates majoritarian concepts and assumptions into politically neutral language that sets the parameters for social and political action. This talk builds upon these insights to explore the conjunction of secularization and the politicization of Islam in the late Ottoman Empire (1839-1915). Secularization and the politicization of Islam are frequently viewed in contention with one another, the former a ventriloquization of European modernity and the latter a violent reaction to it. The two were, when observed from the vantage point of non-Muslim experience, intertwined processes that supported the imperial state’s efforts to appropriate sovereignty from its subjects. The Ottoman organization of difference around confessional markers had woven non-Muslim communities deep into the fabric of imperial society and made them important brokers between the state and Muslim political forces. Ottoman secularization projects of the nineteenth century, such as the Tanzimat reforms, severed non-Muslims’ links to that society and, in their stead, created opportunity for Sufi orders to furnish social links between Muslim political forces and a Sunni-dominated state. Through secularization, a politics of difference gave way to a politics of exclusion.


Richard Antaramian is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Southern California. His first book, Brokers of Faith, Brokers of Empire: Armenians and the Politics of Reform in the Ottoman Empire, was published in June 2020 by Stanford University Press. He holds a PhD from the University of Michigan and a BA from the University of Wisconsin.