Gender Religion and Social Relations in the Mediterranean Essay

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Gender

Marc Baer. "Islamic Conversion Narratives of Women: Social Change and Gendered Religious Hierarchy in Early Modern Ottoman Istanbul." Gender & History 16, no. 2 (2004): 425-458

In "Islamic Conversion Narratives of Women: Social Change and Gendered Religious Hierarchy in Early Modern Ottoman Istanbul," Marc Baer presents a string of narratives illustrating the experiences of women in Early Modern Ottoman Istanbul, from around the 17th century. The narratives include strategic conversions to Islam that secured the woman some freedoms. For example, one Christian woman living in Galata near the famous tower converts to Islam. When her Christian husband refuses to convert, the woman realizes that she can be instantly divorced -- which she might not have been able to do had she not been subject to shari'ah law. Shari'ah law ironically afforded the woman, Safira (who became Saliha upon conversion) greater sexual freedom and independence.

Yet what was she sacrificing in order to gain these freedoms, and were those freedoms illusory as well as temporary? What kinds of freedoms did women actually have under shari'ah law in early modern Ottoman society, and did it matter that Istanbul was a diverse ethnic center as opposed to a small provincial town?

Another story is of a female slave of the name of Gulistan, which means rosegarden. Her narrative illustrates the widespread use of slavery as a designator of social class status, and yet slavery itself had a peculiar interpretation in shari'ah law according to Baer. Gulistan converts to Islam strategically so that she may be afforded some greater protections under the law as a Muslim woman. Yet the law does not prohibit non-Muslims from enslaving Gulistan. As a result, she continues to suffer the fate of a slave of low social status and shari'ah law affords her no real protection except only that a Muslim cannot be her owner.

Was the experience of slavery gendered or not in early modern Ottoman society? Was conversion genuinely considered a means by which to achieve social mobility, and were there cases in which Muslim women denounced the faith after their conversion or for other reasons?

The author's thesis is somewhat convincing, but the reader is better off letting the narratives -- which constitute primary sources -- speak for themselves. The author does not seem willing enough to explore the depth of social stratification and links between ethnicity, religion, gender, status, and social power.

2. James Grehan. "Smoking and 'Early Modern Sociability: The Great Tobacco Debate in the Ottoman Middle East." The American Historical Review 111, no. 5 (2006): 1352-1377.

Grehan's article "Smoking and Early Modern Sociability" explores the history and evolution of smoking culture in early modern Ottoman society. One of the main points of the article is that tobacco can be viewed as an emblem or symbol of the emerging conflict between those who viewed tobacco as a sinful object, and those who viewed it as an essential freedom. The author's thesis is that tobacco became for early modern Ottomans a means of "redefining patterns of social interaction," and providing opportunities for leisure and escapism (p. 1353). This social and cultural trend, claims the author, signifies burgeoning modernity. Tobacco was part of the new lifestyle of the early modern world; it was more than just the leaf.

Because the author makes good use of primary and secondary sources, the article…

Sources Used in Document:

References

Marc Baer. "Islamic Conversion Narratives of Women: Social Change and Gendered Religious Hierarchy in Early Modern Ottoman Istanbul." Gender & History 16, no. 2 (2004): 425-458.

James Grehan. "Smoking and 'Early Modern Sociability: The Great Tobacco Debate in the Ottoman Middle East." The American Historical Review 111, no. 5 (2006): 1352-1377.

Emma Loosley. Ladies who Lounge: Class, Religion, and Social Interaction in Seventeenth-Century Isfahan." Gender & History 23, no. 3 (2011): 615-629.

Allyson M. Poska. Babies on Board: Women, Children, and Imperial Policy in the Spanish Empire. Gender & History, Vol.22, no.2 August 2010, pp. 269 -- 283.

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