Guarding Traditions and Laws—Disciplining Bodies and Souls: Tradition, science, and religion in the age of Ottoman reform

This article examines the religious and intellectual dynamics behind the Ottoman military reform movement, known as the New Order, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Conventionally, the New Order has been examined within the framework of the Westernization of Ottoman military and administrative institutions. The Janissary-led popular opposition to the New Order, on the other hand, has been understood as a conservative resistance, fashioned by Muslim anti-Westernization. This article challenges this assumption, based on a binary between Westernization reforms versus Islamic conservatism. It argues that the Janissary-led popular opposition, which was consolidated long before the New Order, developed as a form of resistance by antinomian elements blocking the top-down disciplinary policies of the central state throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The New Order programme, which was unleashed in 1792, was also opposed by the Janissary-led coalition, on the basis that it would wipe out vested privileges and traditions. Supporting the New Order, we see a coalition and different intellectual trends, including: (i) the Euro-Ottoman military enlightenment, led by military engineers and scientists, which developed an agenda to reorganize and discipline the social-military order with universal principles of military engineering and (ii) Islamic puritan activism, which developed an agenda to rejuvenate the Muslim order by eliminating invented traditions, and to discipline Muslim souls with the universal principles of revelation and reason. While the Euro-Ottoman military enlightenment participated in military reform movements in Europe, Islamic activism was part of a trans-Islamic Naqshibandi-Mujaddidi network originating in India. We thus witness a discursive alliance between military enlightenment and Muslim activism, both of which had trans-Ottoman connections, against a Janissary-led popular movement, which mobilized resistance to protect local conventions and traditions.