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Prophecy, Rebellion and Nationalism in Ottoman Europe

Wednesday, March 8, 2017, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

Historians studying the Ottoman Europe tend to emphasize that the general religious framework of Orthodox community after the fall of Constantinople (1453) treated the Ottoman expansion and conquest as divine retribution for human sin, legitimizing hence the Muslim rule over eastern Christians. This reading usually overlooks the prophetic and apocalyptic beliefs of the ruled - and those of the rulers. It also tends to dismiss the capacity prophecy has for popular mobilization and downplay its importance in cementing bonds for those experiencing setback and defeat during the long period of the Ottoman rule. This paper attempts to throw new light on the subject focusing on the myths and meanings of eastern Christian political eschatology. I have proposed elsewhere that a messianic tradition of prophecy, which existed as part of the religious belief system of the Orthodox since the days of the Byzantine empire, evolved so as to counterbalance the sense of accommodation with the Ottoman authority assuring the faithful that their political status would be reversed before the End of Times. From the 15th to 18th century, post-Byzantine messianism expected the advent of a worldly king-deliverer who would topple the rule of Muslims and restore imperial sovereignty and sacred space to Christian hands. I have also argued that, in the age of revolution, post-Byzantine messianism was important in facilitating the agenda of Greek nationalism. In this lecture I will deal with three questions that extend the scope of my research agenda: given that, in the early modern context, messianic prophecy looked for the external intervention of a divine agent, could it hinder or allow for violent political action based on human effort? Second, given that the Muslim community drew from an equally rich repertoire of apocalyptic and prophetic beliefs, could a comparative study on the prophecy of the rulers and the ruled in the Ottoman empire be feasible? Third, given that messianic prophecy furnished bases for Greek nationalist mobilisation, might it also do the same for other national movements in the Balkans?

Marios Hatzopoulos pursued Nationalism studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science where he received his PhD (2005) under the supervision of Anthony D. Smith. Currently, he is a research fellow at the Research Centre for Modern History (K.E.N.I.) of the Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences in Athens. He is also a researcher and a management committee member in the European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) Action CA 15101 “Comparative Analysis of Conspiracy Theories (COMPACT)”. His most recent publication is the chapter “Prophetic structures of the Ottoman-ruled Orthodox Community in comparative perspective: some preliminary observations”, in Paschalis M. Kitromilides & Sophia Matthaiou (eds), Greek-Serbian Relations in the Age of Nation-Building, Athens: National Hellenic Research Foundation 2016, 121-147.