BC Istanbul Summer 3-Week Course Description (next offered May/June 2008):

Exploring the Religious Worlds of Istanbul and Anatolia

This summer course will provide a firsthand acquaintance with many of the central features of Islamic religious and devotional life (pilgrimage, sainthood, poetry, music, architecture, iconography and ritual), along with an initial introduction to key sites and institutions of Eastern Orthodox Christianity—with readings focusing on the fascinating mosques, shrines, Sufi tekkes, and churches of historic Istanbul/Constantinople.  We will also travel to major religious shrines, monuments, places of worship and centers of pilgrimage—often shared by Muslims and Eastern Christians—in Konya, Ephesus (Mary’s house), Bursa, Edirne, and Cappadocia.

[The following is the prospective course description and entirely unofficial; see Prof. Morris for the final course syllabus and other organisational details as they become available.]

Exploring the Religious Worlds of Istanbul and Anatolia: Pilgrimage,
Sainthood, Poetry, Music, Sacred Architecture, Iconography and Ritual

The great metropolis of Istanbul/Constantinople has for centuries been one of the most important cultural, religious and political centers of the Islamic world (as the capital of the multi-confessional Ottoman empire), while for almost two millenia it has played an even more central role in the development of Eastern Christianity, and has also provided a home and refuge for major Sephardic Jewish communities. Earlier in history, the neighboring regions of Eastern Anatolia and the Mediterranean littoral gave rise to some of the earliest known agrarian civilizations, and they then became the site of many of the most familiar religious and cultural centers of classical antiquity.  And finally, the flourishing Hellenistic cities and cultural centers of this region were home to the earliest churches and Christian communities outside Palestine, as witnessed in the voyages and epistles of Paul and other apostles.   Even today, living traces of all of those earlier traditions are encountered wherever one travels in the old city of Istanbul and surrounding regions.

This intensive three-week summer course will provide a firsthand introduction both to the historical monuments and riches of this extraordinary crossroad of civilizations, and to the wide range of living, still highly creative religious, spiritual, and artistic traditions one immediately encounters in the old city of Istanbul and its environs.  Thus we will visit the great Ottoman mosque-complexes (including schools, hospitals, libraries, bazaars, workshops, and shrines) of Istanbul, Bursa and Edirne; the famous churches of Hagia Sophia, St. Irene, Kuçuk Aya Sofya, and the unforgettable mosaics of the Chora/Karii and other Byzantine monuments; the Greek Orthodox patriarchate in Fener; local Armenian churches and Orthodox monasteries and pilgrimage sites on nearby islands; a local synagogue and related Jewish sites; and the major Istanbul museums of classical archaeology and Islamic art. 

At the same time, we will also visit (participating in ziyārat, or pilgrimage) the popular, always crowded shrine complexes of Ayyub Sultan (the patron saint of Istanbul), Aziz Mehmet Uday Efendi in Uskudar, Hazrat-i Uftade (in Bursa), and the Prophet’s famous relics within the Topkapi palace complex.  The course will conclude with a week-long journey to the great pilgrimage centers of Ephesus (Mary’s house, and the shrine of the “Seven Sleepers”), Konya (the shrine of Mevlana Rumi), Hajji Bektash, Cappadocia, and several of the Anatolian cities visited or addressed by St. Paul.  An important part of the course will be devoted to visits to typical rituals and ceremonies, such as an Orthodox church, the complex Mevlevi samā’ and dance of the “whirling dervishes” in Galatasaray, and the dhikr of several other local Sufi orders.  These liturgical visits will be complemented by background talks and informal visits and conversations with leading Turkish scholars and Sufis, including the remarkable woman who heads the largest and most active modernist Sufi group in Istanbul: see some details below.

The course readings are intended to provide students with essential background regarding both the monuments and the spectrum of living religious practices that we will be visiting and encountering, beginning with basic texts on pilgrimage and related practices, the multi-faceted expressions of “sainthood” (walāya) in Islamic devotional life; the central devotional roles of spiritual poetry and music; and the often unfamiliar iconography and history of the Eastern church and its many monuments in Istanbul and nearby areas.  Major regional Muslim groups  to be covered in the course readings—with some introduction to their distinctive musical and ritual traditions, along with visits with local adherents—include Rumi and the Mevlevi order  (Shaykh Ghalib, Aflaki’s hagiography); the specifically Turkish Jerrāhī and Khalvetī tariqas (Hazrat Uftade, Udayy Effendi); the influential Naqshbandi tariqa; and the dramatic figures of the poet Yunus Emre, Hajji Bektash, and the wider Alevi religious movement.  Other readings will provide necessary background for understanding the distinctive iconography encountered in our visits to Orthodox churches (e.g., the account of Mary’s life in the Gospel of James) and to Mary’s house and shrine in Ephesus—along with background concerning historically key moments in the history of the flourishing Jewish communities of Istanbul and the Ottoman empire.

Guest Speakers/Conversations:

Friends who have already agreed to speak (subject to scheduling details) with the students in this course include Prof. M. Erol Kiliç (president of the Museum of Islamic Art and head of the Faculty of Theology and Sufism, Marmara University), Turkey’s leading authority on Ottoman Sufism and related poetry and literature; Prof. Victoria R. Holbrooke (retired head of Turkish Studies, Ohio State), the leading American authority on the Mevlevi tradition, Shaykh Ghalib, and translator of many of Orhan Pamuk’s novels; Mrs. Cemalnur Sargut, guide of the largest and most progressive women’s Sufi group (“Turkish Women’s Cultural Association”); Philip Schwartz, regional director of AIG Insurance in Turkey and the Gulf (to speak on current regional economic and social developments); and adherents or teachers, many of them women, from the Naqshbandi, Jerrahi, and Mevlevi orders.  Other local speakers will be added once we are sure the course enrolment is sufficient to go forward.

Course Structure and Logistics:

During the first two weeks, students will be living in a small hotel in the Sultan Ahmet/Hagia Sophia area at the very center of historic Constantinople/Istanbul.  For the final week, we will be traveling together to visit Iznik (Nicea), the old Ottoman capital of Bursa, Ephesus (Mary’s house), Konya (Rumi’s shrine), the famous rock-churches of Cappadocia (including the nearby Alevi pilgrimage center of Hajji Bektash), and returning to Istanbul via Ankara (the shrine of Hajji Bayram, and the extraordinary archeological museum and wall-paintings of Çatal Huyuk).  The two weekends during the Istanbul period will also include day-trips to Sinan’s great mosque and other Ottoman monuments in Edirne/Adrianople; to the Greek and Armenian monasteries and chapels on the nearby Princes’ Islands, in the Sea of Marmara; and to Sunday services (if open to our group) at the Orthodox patriarchate in Fener, as well as other Eastern churches (Armenian, Syriac) in the old city.

Weekday Course Structure will normally be divided into three parts.  Each morning we will be visiting as a group a major monument (mosques, churches, synagogue), pilgrimage site (shrine), museum, or region of the old city of Istanbul and Uskudar (across the Bosphorus).  After a long break for lunch/siesta during the hottest part of the afternoon, we will have a two-hour lecture/discussion session (4-6 pm) focusing on each day’s assigned readings, which will usually relate to places to be visited in coming days.  Evenings will often be free for preparing assigned readings, as well as for students to explore, on their own, interesting areas and attractions of modern Istanbul.  Normally, related film showings and guest lectures or discussions and visits to religious ceremonies (the Mevlevi samā‘ in Galata, dhikr sessions of other Sufi orders) will also take place during the evening hours. 

Grading/Course Evaluation:

All students will be asked to keep a daily journal relating to their visits and readings, and to prepare short (max. 1-page) daily reaction papers relating to the study questions for each day’s assigned readings.  In addition, each student will prepare a slightly longer (6-8 page) exploratory paper based on wider reading about a particular related topic or site of interest, due at the end of the course.  These individual papers may focus on any aspect of the course, including the poetry, music, architecture and iconography, historical figures studied, experiences in visiting shrines, mosques or churches, and so on.  The packet of daily short reaction papers as a whole will receive one collective mark (2/3 of overall grade), and the individual exploratory paper will account for the other 1/3 of the overall course grade.

Required Readings:

Almost all required background readings (details below) will be included in a large photocopied packet of short selections from the following sources provided to each student as part of their course participation fee.  The only other required individual book purchases will be Alan Williams’ new translation (Penguin Classics pb.) of vol. I of Rumi’s Spiritual Verses (Masnavi) and the current “Rough Guide” guidebook for Turkey, which includes both extensive historical background and detailed discussions of most of the major monuments and historical sites we will be visiting.

Major Turkish Sufi Figures (Poetry, Music, Hagiography, Institutions):

Jalaluddin Rumi.   The Rumi Collection: An Anthology of Translations (ed. K. Helminski), and selections from Books 2, 3 and 6 of The Masnavi (tr. R. Nicholson).

Shamsuddin M. Aflaki.  The Feats of the Knowers of God: Manaqeb Al-Arefin (tr. J. O’Kane).  [The major hagiography of the early Mevlevi and Bektashi traditions.]

R. Lifchez, ed.  The Dervish Lodge: Architecture, Art, and Sufism in Ottoman Turkey.

Yunus Emre.  Selected poems from The  Drop that Became the Sea (tr. K. Helminski and R. Algan), and The City of the Heart (tr. Soha Faiz). 

Şeyh Galip (Shaykh Ghalib).  Beauty and Love (tr. V.R. Holbrooke).

Uftade.  The Nightingale in the Garden of Love: The Poems of Uftade (tr. P. Ballanfat).

Pilgrimage Process and Dimensions of Sainthood(walāya):

M. Chodkiewicz.  The Seal of the Saints

Anna G. Edmonds.  Turkey’s Religious Sites (2nd ed., Istanbul, Damko, 1997).

Ibn ‘Arabi.  Chapter 1 on “Journeying” in The Reflective Heart (tr. J. Morris).

Victor Turner.  “Pilgrimage and Communitas”, in Studia Missionalia (v.  23, 1974).

___________ and Edith Turner.  “Introduction: Pilgrimage as a Liminoid Phenomenon”, in Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture, ed. V. and E. Turner (NY, Columbia U. Press, 1978)

The Figure of Mary in Orthodox/Eastern Iconography:

Selections on the life of Mary (“Protoevangelion”) from The Infancy Gospels of James and Thomas. (tr. R.F. Hock).  [Source of key elements of the iconography of the Virgin in Orthodox devotions and religious art.]

A. C. Emmerich.  The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary: From the Visions of Ven. Anne Catherine Emmerich.  (tr. Sir Michael Palairet; Rockford, Tan Books, 1970).

Sephardic Communities of the Ottoman Empire & the Sabbatian Movement:

G. Scholem.  Short selections from Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism; The Messianic Idea in Judaism...; and Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah.

A. Green.  Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav (ch. 2 on R. Nachman’s journey to the Land of Israel).


Approximately May 25-June 15, 2008.

In addition to the required common readings, we plan to send over and keep on-site a number of basic reference volumes for art and architectural history, which will be available for consultation by the participating students.