Death in Istanbul: Death and its Rituals in Ottoman-Islamic Culture

Eldem, Edhem. İstanbul'da Ölüm: Osmanlı-İslam Kültüründe Ölüm ve Ritüelleri. İstanbul: Osmanlı Bankası Arşiv
ve Araştırma Merkezi, 2005, 299pp.




Death in Istanbul: Death and its Rituals in
Ottoman-Islamic Culture


İstanbul'da Ölüm: Osmanlı-İslam Kültüründe Ölüm ve Ritüelleri


This book is the
catalogue of an exhibition by the same title. The author argues that death can
be a powerful tool for social analysis and is likely to reveal much about the
culture, mentalities and social structure of a society. The book’s objective is
to pinpoint through representative examples, the ways in which death has been
perceived by the Muslim population of Ottoman Istanbul and to understand the
role it has played in the life of the imperial capital.


The author
limits his study of death by three words: Ottoman, Islam and Istanbul. The book
does not include developments prior to 1452 or later than 1922; it does not
deal with Ottoman culture and society beyond Istanbul and it excludes the non-Muslim
communities in Istanbul.

In addition to
these three words, the book includes a fourth dimension: change. According to
the author, death and its rituals constitute dynamic phenomena, closely related
to social, political, economic and cultural transformations. For this reason, a
general sense of chronology underlies the overall outline of the book, with a
thematic approach which enables occasional incursions into a specific topic.


The book is
designed as a series of case studies, each two to eight pages long, which are
grouped into general headings. With the first four headings the author tries to
contextualise the four constitutive terms of the title by looking at the
relationship between city and death through cemeteries, at the perception of death
in Ottoman culture and at the management of issues following death.


The five
headings that follow form a second section, concentrating on tombstones as one
of the most important indicators of death and combining a chronological
description of their evolution with a thematic analysis of some of their
characteristics and uses.


The three
following headings constitute a section treating various forms of death:
execution, disease and suicide and the last four sections touch upon notions of
change and transformation and discuss modernity, state and nationalism with
respect to death.


With its
easy-to-understand language, abundant visual material and an essential
bibliography and index, this book constitutes a priceless resource for both the
researcher and the lay reader. A further section on death during the transition
period between the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic would have
contributed to the strength of this book, but its lack does not take away from
its value.


Ecehan Koc

Koc, Ecehan. '"English abstract of 'Death in Istanbul: Death and its Rituals in Ottoman-Islamic Culture'". Translated by Ecehan Koç. In Cities as Built and Lived Environments: Scholarship from Muslim Contexts, 1875 to 2011, by Aptin Khanbaghi. 63. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014.
Muslim Civilisations Abstracts - The Aga Khan University
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