Madeleine Elfenbein


As an outsider to the Divinity School, I’m honored to be included among this year’s crop of Martin Marty Center Fellows, and I look forward to joining a community of scholars who place religion at the center of their work.

My dissertation project, undertaken in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, explores the political thought of the Young Ottoman movement of the 1860s and 1870s. By paying close attention to Young Ottoman thinkers’ claims about the legitimacy of Ottoman rule and the place of Islamic societies within global civilizational hierarchies, it seeks to develop an account of the movement as a response to the new geopolitical order that emerged over the course of the nineteenth century. Despite its reputation as a secular age, the language of global politics in this period was shot through with theological polemic. One aim of my project is to uncover the residue of Christian and Islamic apologetics in debates over the future of the Ottoman Empire, and trace the rhetorical shifts through which age-old religious conflicts were submerged in the self-consciously modernist discourse of the global era.

I look forward to the coming year as a chance for sustained intellectual companionship with my fellow Marty scholars, who have much to teach me about comparative theology and the history of religion. I’m also excited for the opportunity to reflect on my teaching practices and develop new forms of public engagement with others invested in these projects.