To what extent was religion a divisive force between early modern European states and the Ottoman Empire?

Introduction

Across the period of 1453-1774, 102 of these years were conflict ridden,[1] implying that there were strong divisive forces between the Ottoman Empire and the European states. Given the early modern Ottoman Empire was for the most part Muslim[2] and conversely the European States widely Christian[3], religion could be considered a divisive factor in terms of the creation of a competition to determine which religion was more superior, stemming from fundamental differences in doctrines. On the other hand, other factors such as culture could be considered to have created a divide between the early modern Ottoman Empire and the European states due to differences in politics, technology and military power which may have caused friction between the states from a lack of understanding – whilst the awareness of other countries expanded with the creation of geographical maps. Although these factors suggest that there was a negative and confrontational divide between the Ottoman Empire and the early modern European states, it could conversely be argued that religion was not a divisive force from the Ottoman side, as they coexisted peacefully with other religions such as the Jews, with 200 of these years being conflict free,[4] suggesting toleration of multi-culture was also prominent. 

 

Main Text

It can be argued that religion was not the sole divisive force between early modern European states and the Ottoman Empire, but rather the fundamental differences in culture generally that led to division through misunderstandings and fear of the other. Both had their own political systems, language, trade and differences in race and education[5]. Education in the Ottoman Empire was run by the state whilst Europe preferred to adopt private tutors to educate the aristocracy, whilst being largely influenced by religion.[6] These cultural differences ultimately suggest that these two differing cultures will not cooperate as one as they are fundamentally different and would lack understanding of each other’s way of life, which could potentially be seen as a threat in a world which strives to achieve uniformity. The fear of difference was prominent during the early modern period, illustrated in Shakespeare’s play Othello, whereby Shakespeare places a heavy emphasis on Othello’s being ‘black’ and a ‘stranger of here and everywhere’[7] which implies that generally people of this era heavily distinguished people based upon their ethnicity and skin colour which seemed almost alien in comparison to their own. Therefore, this suggests that it was a general lack of understanding of each state, through the perceived lack of similarities which created the divide between the early modern Ottoman Empire and the European states, rather than differing religious beliefs. However, as politics were predominantly based upon religious ideology at this time, it can be argued that religion was a cause of divide in the sense of clashing cultures.

In conjunction with this however, religion is one of these fundamental differing elements of culture between the early Ottoman Empire and the European states, as an isolated factor and due to it being joined with politics at this point in history. The Ottoman Empire had a Byzantine and Latin religious foundation which built its ideology from Islamic and Arabic heritage,[8] whereas Europe was widely Christian and built its laws around the doctrine of Christianity[9]. In Daniel Goffman’s book on The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe, from a Christian perspective, the Ottomans can negatively be considered to be ‘persecutors of Christians[10].’ To some extent, the difference in religion created an incentive for a battle of superiority, whereby Islam would war against Christianity in order to determine which side God truly lied upon, supposedly justifying a series of holy wars fought in the name of God stemming from a ‘bitter rivalry’ between doctrines.[11] The fact that wars were occurring in the name of religion implies that religion was at the heart of the divisions of the early Ottoman Empire and the European states and their inability to tolerate each other. Furthermore, with regards to the desire to achieve uniformity, much like in the other aspects of culture previously mentioned, the treat of differing religions would cause strong divides between the early modern European states and the Ottoman Empire, particularly from Europe after the reformation and counter reformation in which Edward, Mary and Elizabeth conveyed the necessity for a uniform religion within Christianity in terms of Protestantism or Catholicism – if Protestantism was the desired religion then Catholicism and Catholic countries were seen as a threat, such as Spain[12]. The fact that England desired uniformity of religion within Christianity, suggests that the divide between differing religions such as the Ottoman Empire’s Islam would be even stronger, due to a potential threat of war.

To further this argument, given that the Austrian Habsburgs desired to create an anti-Ottoman alliance, pressing Venice to join forces, this suggests that race in terms of geography and skin colour was not a divisive factor in early Modern Europe as a whole; although it could be argued that the European states were relatively similar in their day to day life and running of the countries within their borders close proximities to each, whereas the Ottoman Empire was set apart distinctly different culturally.[13] However, this further supports the argument of the fear of the other in terms of religion as in the 102 years of Holy wars fought between 1453-1774 Christian countries such as Austria, Spain and Venice united as allies to fight a common cause, turning to those with similar doctrines whom they did trust – strengthening Christian Unification of Catholics and Protestants against a common cause to attack a differing religion which they did not understand and therefore refused to trust[14]. Ultimately, as war between the Ottoman Empire and Europe was considered at the time a ‘Holy war’, this implies that religious differences were at the heart of the divide and consequent conflict, particularly as the Emperor Rudolph of Prague was encouraged to join the alliance and fight the Ottoman Empire on the basis that it would it would fulfil his religious and dynastic duty to fight against the Ottomans, regardless of whether other factors may have constituted a divide between the Empire and the States.[15]

On the other hand, it can be argued that religion wasn’t a divisive factor as the Ottoman Empire was inclusive of multicultural, multi-lingual, and multi-ethnic diversity.[16] For the majority of the time, 200 years out of just over a 300 year period were conflict free, [17] implying that different nationalities and religions coexisted peacefully. The Ottoman Empire has been described as a haven for runaways from fiercely intolerant Europe. This can be said of the Jews in particular, who were encouraged to emigrate[18] on the basis of their expulsion and ‘torment’ from Christian countries such as Hungary in 1376 France in 1394, and most notably the Spanish Inquisition of 1492.[19] Therefore it can be argued that in relation to the Christian countries of Europe, the Ottoman empire did not see religion as a divisive force otherwise they would not have invited the Jews to seek refuge in their Empire with open arms. Despite this, religion could be considered a divisive factor as intermarriage between religions was still not permitted by the Ottoman Empire, creating a strict social divide between the Muslim community and Christianity and Judaism. Having said this, the Ottoman millet system for ethnic and religious minorities restricted their power in governing their concerns.[20] This implies that whilst tolerance was apparent in the Ottoman Empire towards other religions, this was still a fundamental barrier towards full integration within the multicultural society.

However, whilst religion may be the main cause of divisions between early modern European states and the Ottoman Empire, it could be argued that the development of maps brought highlighted differences in culture, through showing the scale and proximity of other countries.[21] Maps would have given the European states a perceived closeness of the Ottoman Empire, and implanted both curiosity of the Ottoman Empire and fear of the threat of their military and naval power in an age of discovery and exploration[22]. This again reinforces the fear the threat of war which may have created divides between the two cultures. This could be considered a divide due to superiority, whereby the European states resented the Ottoman Empire for having over-sufficient means of warfare in comparison to their own provisions, which at the same time evoked fear as Daniel Goffman states that Europe dreaded the ‘Ottoman giant’[23]. Fear naturally creates divides as there is a lack of trust between the European states and the Ottoman Empire, yet also presents a basis for competition as the European states wish to prove that they can defeat the ‘Ottoman giant’, implying that divisions evolved from the perception of war, but at the same time war evolved from the perception of divisions and superiority differences which automatically created hostility[24].

Conclusion

In conclusion across the period of 1453-1774, 200 years were conflict free and showed toleration of differing cultures and religion in terms of the Jewish refugees which suggests that divides between the early modern European states and the Ottoman Empire were not solely due to religious differences – otherwise the Ottomans would not have encouraged the Jews to seek refuge in their territory and would have treated them with severe disrespect consequently. This implies that the divisions between the European states and the Ottoman Empire lied with the fundamental cultural differences which the other culture failed to understand as they judged their traditions against their own criteria for the likes of education, politics and trading. However, it must be acknowledged that the 102 years of fighting between the Ottoman Empire and the early modern European states were obviously for the most part caused by divisions stemming from clashes with religion with regards to differing doctrines or a combination of religion and politics between the Muslim and Christian communities. This was largely a result of the apparent fear of the ‘other’ and the threat of war between differing religions, of which Europe had been facing across the period of reformation and counter reformation in England, Spain and France in particular. This is further supported by the succession of Holy Wars was fought, confirming that the Ottoman Empire and Austrian Habsburg anti-Ottoman alliance were fighting based on fundamental differences in religious doctrines which created natural divisions.

Bibliography

Avraham, Rachel. Jewish History: Medieval Jews Fleeing Persecution Take Refuge in Ottoman Turkish Empire, https://unitedwithisrael.org/jewish-history-jewish-people-find-refuge-in-ottoman-turkish-empire/, [last updated: 26/02/13] [accessed: 26/11/16]

BBC History, Ottoman Empire (1301-1922) http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/history/ottomanempire_1.shtml [Last updated: 04/09/09] [accessed: 25/11/16]

BBC History, Roman Catholic Church http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/catholic/catholic_1.shtml [accessed: 25/11/16]

Essential Humanities, History of Early Modern Europe, http://www.essential-humanities.net/western-history/early-modern-europe/ [accessed: 29/11/16]

Geology.com, (Image) World Map – Political, http://geology.com/world/world-map.shtml [accessed: 29/11/16]

Goffman, Daniel. The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe, Cambridge University Press (2002) pp. 1-20

Holocaust A Call To Conscience, Jews in the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, http://www.projetaladin.org/holocaust/en/muslims-and-jews/muslims-and-jews-in-history/jews-in-the-ottoman-empire-and-turkey.html, [accessed: 26/11/16]

Kermel, Eugine. The Right to Choice: Ottoman ecclesiastical & communal justice in Ottoman Greece in Christine Woodhead (ed.) The Ottoman World, Abingdon, pp.347-361

Knocker, James P. ‘New means to an old end: early modern maps in the service of an anti-Ottoman crusade’, Imago Mundi 60.1 (2008) pp. 23-38

Lee, Rosemary. University of Virginia, Islam & Early Modern Europe:

Images, Encounters, Approaches, http://www.essaysinhistory.com/content/islam-early-modern-europe [Accessed 26/11/16]

New World Encyclopedia,Ottoman Wars in Europe, http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Ottoman_wars_in_Europe [viewed 30/11/16]

Shakespeare, William. “Othello”, Oxford University Press (1603)

Stott, Dr Anne. Literacy and education, http://early-moderneurope.blogspot.co.uk/2009/09/problem-of-literacy.html [accessed:27/11/16]


[1]New World Encyclopedia,Ottoman Wars in Europe, http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Ottoman_wars_in_Europe [viewed 30/11/16]

[2] BBC History, Ottoman Empire (1301-1922) http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/history/ottomanempire_1.shtml [Last updated: 04/09/09] [accessed: 25/11/16]

[3] BBC History, Roman Catholic Church http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/catholic/catholic_1.shtml [accessed: 25/11/16]

[4] New World Encyclopedia,Ottoman Wars in Europe, http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Ottoman_wars_in_Europe [viewed 30/11/16]

[5] Daniel Goffman, The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe, Cambridge University Press (2002) pp. 1-20

[6] Dr Anne Stott, Literacy and education, http://early-moderneurope.blogspot.co.uk/2009/09/problem-of-literacy.html [accessed:27/11/16]

[7]William Shakespeare, “Othello”, Oxford University Press  (1603)

[8] Daniel Goffman, The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe (2002) pp. 1-20

[9] BBC History, Roman Catholic Church http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/catholic/catholic_1.shtml [accessed: 25/11/16]

[10] Daniel Goffman, The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe (2002) pp. 6-7

[11] Daniel Goffman, The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe (2002) pp. 1-20

[12] Essential Humanities, History of Early Modern Europe, http://www.essential-humanities.net/western-history/early-modern-europe/ [accessed: 29/11/16]

[13] Geology.com, (Image) World Map – Political, http://geology.com/world/world-map.shtml [accessed: 29/11/16]

[14] James P. Knocker, ‘New means to an old end: early modern maps in the service of an anti-Ottoman crusade’, Imago Mundi 60.1 (2008) pp. 23-38

[15] James P. Knocker, ‘New means to an old end: early modern maps in the service of an anti-Ottoman crusade’, Imago Mundi 60.1 (2008) pp. 23-38

[16] Eugine Kermel, The Right to Choice: Ottoman ecclesiastical & communal justice in Ottoman Greece in Christine Woodhead (ed.) The Ottoman World, Abingdon, pp.347-361

[17] New World Encyclopedia,Ottoman Wars in Europe, http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Ottoman_wars_in_Europe [viewed 30/11/16]

[18] Holocaust A Call To Conscience, Jews in the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, http://www.projetaladin.org/holocaust/en/muslims-and-jews/muslims-and-jews-in-history/jews-in-the-ottoman-empire-and-turkey.html, [accessed: 26/11/16]

[19] Rachel Avraham, Jewish History: Medieval Jews Fleeing Persecution Take Refuge in Ottoman Turkish Empire, https://unitedwithisrael.org/jewish-history-jewish-people-find-refuge-in-ottoman-turkish-empire/, [last updated: 26/02/13] [accessed: 26/11/16]

[20] BBC History, Ottoman Empire (1301-1922), http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/history/ottomanempire_1.shtml

[21] James P. Knocker, ‘New means to an old end: early modern maps in the service of an anti-Ottoman crusade’, Imago Mundi 60.1 (2008) pp. 23-38

[22] Rosemary Lee, University of Virginia, Islam & Early Modern Europe:

Images, Encounters, Approaches, http://www.essaysinhistory.com/content/islam-early-modern-europe [Accessed 26/11/16]

[23] Daniel Goffman, The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe (2002) pp. 1-20

[24] James P. Knocker, ‘New means to an old end: early modern maps in the service of an anti-Ottoman crusade’, Imago Mundi 60.1 (2008) pp. 23-38

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