Minorities and Philosophy: Frontispiece of the Ledger of Fools: The Radical Potential of Non-Radical Texts in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire
The separation of science and religion is a common trope in early modern scientific texts. What we do not know is how this argument fared in non-Christian settings. In this talk, I will be offering a historical exegesis of the Sunni-Ottoman version of the separation argument from 1732, when a Sunni-Shia war was still raging and a bloody revolt in Istanbul had just been quelled. Ibrahim Müteferrika (1674?-1745), a Socinian radical who had converted to Islam and was serving the Ottoman Sultan as printer and geographer, used three texts with almost no radical potential to level a powerful attack against the Ottoman Empire’s over-Sunnitized culture. He was calling for a complete separation of science from matters of faith, a sentiment that he shared with some of his Ottoman contemporaries.
Müteferrika called the Baghdadi scholar Nazmizade, “If there were a ledger of fools, he would be its frontispiece” (serdefter-i agbiya). In the early eighteenth century, Nazmizade had written a Sunni history of Baghdad that omitted the efflorescence of Graeco-Arabic philosophy, and had also prepared a Turkish translation of al-Suyuti’s work on prophetic astronomy, which proposed a flat earth theory. In the same work, Müteferrika also invited Sunni scholiasts to abandon the “false” views of Ptolemy. The venue for Müteferrika’s attacks was his “Printer’s Preface” to a fresh edition of Katip Çelebi’s Cosmorama, a revered seventeenth-century Ottoman geographical masterpiece. While making his case for separating science from the Sunni faith, Müteferrika invoked one of the most underutilized passages in the Incoherence of the Philosophers, where Ghazali advocated that the pious should abstain from foolishly contesting the claims of philosophy. Müteferrika also drew heavily on Edmond Pourchot’s Foundations of Philosophy, a heavily censored Cartesian textbook that was the product of the Catholic (Counter)Reformation.
|Lecture / Discussion
|Happening @ Michigan from Department of Philosophy, Global Islamic Studies Center
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