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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 July 2013

Faculty of History, University of Cambridge E-mail:


This essay focuses upon a single speech by the Ottoman man of religion Shaykh Ahmad Tabbarah. Though short, it allows us to reconsider the ways in which we have framed intellectual production beyond Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For even as scholars have queried the diffusionist sweep of earlier narratives, asserting the intellectual agency of non-Western thinkers, they have continued to lay the emphasis on the ways the latter customized European thought to local exigencies. Tabbarah, however, engaged in two-way translations and transgressions. Arraying French sources into a Khaldunian narrative even as he slotted statistics into conventional rhetorical forms, he imbued the secular with the religious, and the religious with the secular. Resolutely refusing to choose between these various elements, he laced them together into a compound creation, which drew its strength from the confluence of two seemingly incommensurable bodies of thought.

Forum: A World of Ideas: New Pathways in Global Intellectual History, c.1880–1930
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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The author would like to thank Anthony Acciavatti, Michael Cook, Cathrine Evans, Stefanie Gänger, Shruti Kapila, Su Lin Lewis, Sam Moyn, and an anonymous reader for their judicious and helpful comments on this piece.


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