Biography & Hagiography

Inner-Islamic Transmission of Knowledge in the Eastern Mediterranean: On Arabic-Ottoman Translations of Biographical and Hagiographical Dictionaries between 1400 and 1750

Principal Investigator: Philip Bockholt
Doctoral Researcher: Hicham Bouhadi

This project examines translations of biographical dictionaries and hagiographies from Arabic into Ottoman Turkish during the early modern Ottoman Empire (approximately 1400 to 1750). This period witnessed various political, religious, and intellectual transformations in the Ottoman identity, leading to the emergence of a noteworthy translational activity. Given the importance of biographical and hagiographical writing in Islamic intellectual history, numerous works from both genres were translated into Turkish and presented to Ottoman audiences. These translations played a pivotal role in shaping Eastern Mediterranean intellectual history and found a diverse readership across various regional and socio-cultural networks.

Islamic historical records often consisted of biographies and hagiographies of notable figures. The biographies related the lives of scholars, leaders, Sufi saints, and other prominent individuals, while hagiographies focused on telling the life stories of saints and holy men. This project examines translations related to these genres as there is a higher chance that the translator’s subjectivity significantly influenced the portrayal of prominent figures, especially those with doctrinal or political affiliations that differed from the ideological views of the Ottoman Empire.

Initially, the project will focus on the Ottoman translations of Ibn Khallikān’s (d. 681/1282) eminent work, Wafayāt al-Aʿyān. This biographical dictionary crossed linguistic boundaries and was disseminated throughout Ottoman society. In addition to analysing the textual features of the translations, it will also examine paratextual elements. These include prefaces, chapter structures, ownership stamps, endowments, and commentaries. Consequently, this study aims to develop a comprehensive philological and historical understanding of each translation process.