Lebanese American University


LAU professor wins prestigious book prize

Dr. Selim Deringil, professor at the Department of Humanities, receives the Koprulu Book prize for his Conversion and Apostasy in the Late Ottoman Empire.

On October 15, the Turkish Studies Association informed Dr. Selim Deringil, professor at Department of Humanities at LAU, that he was chosen as the co-winner of the M. Fuad Koprulu Prize for his latest book, Conversion and Apostasy in the Late Ottoman Empire.

In their assessment of the work, the Koprulu prize committee wrote: “Deringil ably argues that the spread of nationalism has made conversion and apostasy a highly symbolic political issue and it has critically contributed to the articulation of modern identity.”

MarCom interviewed Deringil after he received the prize.

What are your research interests?
Dr. Deringil: My interests are teaching and research on comparative themes in Ottoman and European history. Right now, I am exploring the possibility of writing a monograph on orphanages that were established in Lebanon during WW1. Many of these institutions hosted Armenian orphans, who were displaced due to the genocide and I am interested, with the help of fellow scholars, to investigate the ‘Islamization’ that occurred in these spaces.

What has attracted you to the study of cultural and intellectual history?
Dr. Deringil: When it comes to doing historical research, often the sources will dictate the direction the research takes. Initially I was trained in European history and once I learned the old Turkish script, it opened up a whole new world for me and heightened my interest in Ottoman history.

You recently received the prestigious Koprulu Book prize. What is the central argument of your book?
Dr. Deringil: There is the common perception that nationalism replaced religion in the age of modernity. I found this to be not entirely true when comparing how issues of conversion and apostasy were regarded in the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire versus the seventeenth century. The difference lies in the fact that the nineteenth century saw a sharp rise of ethnic nationalism and the age of National Revival movements swept across Europe. These movements were creating mythical history and this national identity filtered down to the lower strata of society. And in this context, conversion and/or apostasy were viewed as particularly dangerous because they were perceived as threats to nationalism. Consequently these sorts of acts took on a greater meaning and such individuals were viewed to as potential “unravellers” because others may follow their lead. Through this book I offer an alternative perspective on the nature of nationalism and religious identity and how the two are interconnected.

Why is this book so timely?
Dr. Deringil: With all the changes that are occurring in the Middle East, many people look to history for easy answers, yet a good history book should complicate matters rather than simplify them. Ever since the Arab Spring began, Turkey’s increasing role in the region has been a hot item on the political agenda. At the outbreak of the Arab revolutions, Turkey was held up as a “role model” for what was supposed to be newly emerging democratic, pro-Western countries. But something seemed to go wrong. The hasty and excessive enthusiasm with which Turkey espoused the anti-Assad cause has led to a situation where Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s policy of “zero problems with neighbors” has become in two short years “problems with all neighbors.”


Dr. Deringil will be giving a talk on Neo-Ottomanism, as well as recent developments at LAU Beirut on November 25, from 4-6pm in BB 1301. All are welcome.





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