“Joyful Converts” and Painful Divisions: English Use of the “Turk” in 1650s London

This paper explores the dissemination of information about“Turks” in the mid-seventeenth century London press through a series of conversion narratives detailing the journeys of young Muslim men from both foreign religion and foreign lands to English Christianity.

These accounts, both in their standard narrative formulae and in their variations, reflect cultural, religious and gender concerns within English society and connections between England and the larger world.

Faced with political uncertainty in the aftermath of the English Civil War and rampant religious factionalism, English authors used “Turks”—and Muslim converts in particular—to critique flaws in English attitudes and behaviors. Idealized as instruments of God, these converts were employed to shame and inspire errant English citizens to mend their ways. This treatment represents a shift from straightforward demonizations of Ottomans and Muslims prevalent during other decades in English history and illustrates the role of religion in the negotiation of social reality.

In particular, this paper focuses on religion as a space in which to construct and dismantle boundaries between European and Turk and on the complex identity assigned to the Ottoman Empire and its residents during the turbulent Interregnum period. I also investigate both the presence of Turks in England and networks of Ottomans and Middle Easterners in early modern Europe. In a broader context, this paper speaks to the ways–both negative and positive–in which people conceive of difference, the motivations surrounding such classifications, and how individuals and societies use those perceptions.