My research is located within the fields of comparative, historical and political sociology, with special attention to the structure of state-“society” relations. My research areas span from the rise of the Ottoman and Habsburg empires to the end of these empires in the late 19th and 20th centuries, and nation building in their aftermath.  At the intersection of these themes and areas, I specifically concentrate on the following substantive issues:

A– comparative study of imperial state-formation and imperial decline,

B– institutional issues of control, specifically analyzing the organizational mechanisms of how social control is effected in large-scale settings, such as empires.

C– analyses of imperial diversity; mechanisms for the maintenance of multi-ethnic diversity, toleration, assimilation and emerging issues of representation.


Comparative Study of Imperial State Formation and Imperial Decline

My first book, Bandits and Bureaucrats: The Ottoman Route to State Centralization (Cornell University Press, 1994) examines the manner in which the Ottoman state centralized, bargaining with different elements in society to consolidate control over its territory. The original puzzle for this method of centralization came out of a comparison with the European (especially the French) model of state centralization, which emphasized the wide gap between state and society, and the numerous peasant movements that ensued from centralization. The Ottoman Empire did not fit that pattern.  It never centralized by creating a large break between state and society, and also did not experience peasant rebellions. The major social upheaval, banditry, was the result of the state’s own policy of demilitarization after wars, and did not threaten the state as such.  Banditry created by the state was also quickly incorporated into the state through bargains. The case then presented an alternative method of centralization, through bargaining and incorporation, a method that the Russians used with their Cossack bands at the edges of their territory. I placed the Ottoman mode into such comparative work, presenting not only its implications, but also extending the theory of state formation in sociology.

Relevant articles:

“Rebellious Alliances: The State and Peasant Unrest in Early 17th Century France and
the Ottoman Empire,” American Sociological Review, 56 (December 1991), pp. 699-715.

“Networks of Contention: Villages and Regional Structure in the Seventeenth Century Ottoman Empire,” with R. van Rossem, American Journal of Sociology, 102: 5 (March 1997).

“Changing Modalities of Empire: A Comparative Study of the Ottoman and Habsburg Decline,” in Empire to Nation eds, Joseph W. Esherick and Hasan Kayali (London, Rowan and Littlefield, 2006).

“Hegemonic Rise and Decline in Comparative Perspective: Lessons from the Early 20thCentury,” in Hegemonic Declines: Past and Present eds., Jonathan Friedman and Christopher Chase-Dunn Paradigm Press, Boulder Colorado. (September 2004).

Social Organization of Empire in Comparative Perspective

In my book, Empire of Difference: The Ottomans in Comparative Perspective, (Cambridge University Press, 2008),  I provide a comparative study of imperial organization and longevity that assesses Ottoman successes as well as failures against those of other empires with similar characteristics.  I examine the Ottoman Empire’s social organization and mechanisms of rule at key moments of its history, emergence, imperial institutionalization, remodeling and transition to nation-state, revealing how the empire managed these moments, adapted, averted crises and what changes made it transform dramatically. The flexible techniques by which the Ottomans maintained their legitimacy, the cooperation of their diverse elites both at the center and in the provinces, as well as their control over economic and human resources were responsible for the longevity of this particular “negotiated empire.”  This analysis illuminates topics that include imperial governance, imperial institutions, imperial diversity and multiculturalism, the manner in which dissent is handled and/or internalized, and the nature of state society negotiations.

The following are the two ego networks that I have used in Empire of Difference, to demonstrate the networks of the first two sultans of the Ottoman empire, Osman and Orhan.

Osman’s egocentric network

Orhan egocentric network

Relevant articles

2016. “The Ottoman Empire (1299-1923): The Bureaucratization of Patrimonial Authority.” In Empire and Bureaucracy, edited by Peter Crooks and Timothy Parsons. Cambridge University Press.

2015. Barkey, Karen, and George Gavrilis. 2016. “The Ottoman Millet System: Non-Territorial Autonomy and Its Contemporary Legacy.” Ethnopolitics 15 (1): 24–42.

2013. Barkey, Karen, and Frédéric C. Godart. 2013. “Empires, Federated Arrangements, and Kingdoms: Using Political Models of Governance to Understand Firms’ Creative Performance.” Organization Studies 34 (1): 79–104. doi:10.1177/0170840612464754.

“In Different Times: Scheduling and Social Control in the Ottoman Empire, 1550-1650,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 38: 3 (1996).

2008 “Comparisons Across Empires: The Critical Social Structures of the Ottomans, Russians and Habsburgs,” (with Rudi Batzell) in Empires in Contention: Sociology, History and Cultural Difference, eds. P.F. Bang and C.A. Bayly. In press.

Diversity: Religion, Ethnicity and Nationalism

In each of the projects, the issue of diversity, religious, ethnic and national difference has emerged to be resolved in the context of empire as well as nation-states. While empire has been characterized by the acceptance and accomodation of difference, the nation-state has striven for a more homogenous national ideal. In many articles, I have explored the question of diversity in empire, its acceptance, toleration and incorporation into the imperial polity. I have also explored the manner in which diversity becomes a threat en route from empire to nation-state, sometimes forcing the path to ethnic and religious violence. One project, “Empire and Toleration” tries to understand the circumstances under which imperial states choose to tolerate or persecute their diverse populations, and the movement from one type of policy to another.

Relevant articles:

2017. “The Ottomans and Toleration.” In Toleration in Comparative Perspective, edited by Vicki A. Spencer. Lanham, MD. Lexington Books.

2014a. “Una Mirada SociolóGica Sobre La Tolerancia.” La Maleta de Portbou No. 8 (Religión y Razón: Nuevas Cartas sobre la Tolerncia).

2014b. “Political Legitimacy and Islam in the Ottoman Empire Lessons Learned.” Philosophy & Social Criticism 40 (4-5): 469–77.

2014c. “Empire and Toleration: A Comparative Sociology of Toleration within Empire.” In Boundaries of Toleration, edited by Alfred Stepan and Charles Taylor. New York: Columbia University Press.

2013. “Aspects of Legal Pluralism in the Ottoman Empire” pp. 83-109 in Legal Pluralism and Empires, 1500-1850, eds. Lauren Benton and Richard J. Ross. New York: New York University Press, 2013.

2011. Barkey, Karen, and Ira Katznelson. “States, Regimes, and Decisions: Why Jews Were Expelled from Medieval England and France.” Theory and Society 40 (5): 475–503.

Thinking about religion and tolerance, I have also become very interested in the role of Islam in the Ottoman empire, and the continuities between Ottoman Islam and the modern Turkish Republican revival of Islamic politics. This project, “Religion and Politics in the Lands of the Ottomans” explores the manner in which religion and politics were fashioned in the imperial setting and the manner in which the relation between the two was transformed with the changing circumstances of the empire. I make an organizational argument showing the manner in which Islam was embedded into the structure of Ottoman society, the manner in which it was constrained by state institutions that forced a certain negotiation between religion and politics consequential to imperial relations. Parts of this argument are also explored in a book project I am engaged in, entitled: Alternative Routes to State Transformation: A Relational Approach to Politics, Culture and Society in Japan, China and Turkey.  This book is co-authored with Eiko Ikegami (New School for Social Research) and R. Bin Wong (UCLA).

Shared Sacred Sites Project

Shared Sacred Sites is a collaborative project that seeks to develop a rubric for the description, classification, analysis, and publication of work relating to spaces and locations used by multiple, disparate communities for religious purposes. The project is composed of several sub-projects that individually address different and particular difficulties in the study of shared sacred sites and that combine to form an important, updated, and modern survey of the unique features, mechanisms, and adaptations of coexistence found in the communities involved with shared sacred sites.

The edited book, Choreography of Sacred Spaces: State, Religion and Conflict Resolution (with Elazar Barkan), explores the history of shared religious spaces in the Balkans, Anatolia and Palestine/Israel, all three regions once under Ottoman rule. The project provides the historical antecedents to help us understand the accommodation and contention around specific sites in the modern period, tracing comparatively areas and regime changes.

My own research now centers on Greek Orthodox churches and monasteries in
Istanbul that continue to be shared by Christians, Muslims and Jews. Having conducted ethnographic research for two summers in shared Greek Orthodox churches and one Catholic church,  my research is focused on the narratives of belonging by Muslims who attend the churches regularly.  As a tradition that has crossed from empire to nation-state, the sharing of sacred sites displays different types of narratives in imperial and contemporary settings. I try to disentangle those narratives and overlay them on networks of coexistence.

Another part of the research more intently focused on contemporary Turkey explores the continued existence of shared sites in Turkey, despite a strong state implemented policy of religious nationalism and Sunnification campaign.

My research has now shifted to Greece, where I have developed an interest and carried out research in two sites. The first site is Turbali Tekke, probably the last functioning Bektashi convent in the district of Thessaly, Larissa. This tekke was probably built in the 16th century and is now visited by Christians during St George’s Day and Muslims from Albania and Greece, who celebrate the first of May. On this day, there is an elaborate pilgrimage at this site, and the Sacred Sites team, Dionigi Albera, Manoël Pénicaud, and I have worked there in the last few years.

The second site is the Synagogue of Etz Hayyim which was restored and repaired during the 1990s and was rededicated as a functioning sacred site. The person behind this effort who founded the community of Etz Hayyim, Nicholas Stavroulakis, opened the Synagogue to all religions. Shabbat services and Jewish Festivals are observed with a multi-religious community known to be inclusive of everyone. These two sites will be compared to the Turkish sites in Successful Religious Pluralism in the Mediterranean: Comparative Perspectives.

Relevant articles:

2021. “Shared Sacred Sites: Reflections on the State and Protection.” Journal of Law, Religion and State, March.9: (1): pp. 67-94.

2018. “Contemporary Cases of Shared Sacred Sites: Forms of Othering or Belonging?” Othering and Belonging: Expanding the Circle of Human Concern, Issue 3.

2017. “Le monastère de Saint-Georges et ses visiteurs non-chrétiens.” In Coexistences: Lieux saint partagés en Europe et en Méditerranée, edited by Dionogi Albera and Manoël Pénicaud. Arles, Musée National de L’histoire de L’immigration / Actes Sud.

This research program has produced many collaborative projects, some featured below.

Visual Hasluck: Mapping Mixed Religious Sites of

the (Post-) Ottoman world

With Dimitris C. Papadopoulos and Nathanael Shelley

Visual Hasluck is a digital humanities (DH) sub-project carried out as part of the “Shared Sacred Sites and the Politics of Pluralism” project at the Institute for Culture, Religion and Public Life, Columbia University, coordinated by Professor Karen Barkey and generously supported by the Luce Foundation. The “Shared Sacred Sites” project explores the politics of sharing and tolerance in and around religious sites in historical perspective focusing on regions of the former Ottoman Empire. “Visual Hasluck” will develop an interactive version of “Christianity and Islam under the Sultans“, a milestone work by antiquarian and archaeologist F.W. Hasluck’s (edited and published in 1929 by his wife Margaret) and publish it as an open and expandable online resource for the spatial history of sacred sites and religious monuments in the (post-)Ottoman world.

Shared Sacred Sites Exhibit

With Shared Sacred Sites Team

These exhibits were initiated after the successful Lieux Saints Partagés exhibit, originally designed by The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations. This first exhibition was an affecting, multimedia exhibit featuring a variety of digital and traditional works of art and artifacts connected to modern shared sacred sites, and it provides us an opportunity to communicate the themes of tolerance and understanding through the arts without defaulting to the hollow rhetoric of “a dialogue of cultures and religions.”  As the French exhibition described, “it seems vital, amid debates about the clash of civilizations, to demonstrate that alienation and abhorrence of the other are not the required modalities of interaction between the religions of [the] Mediterranean.”

Karen Barkey has also co-curated two successful exhibitions, one in Thessaloniki, Greece in 2017, and one in New York City in 2018. Each exhibition was also accompanied by workshops that facilitated discussion on pluralism and coexistence.

More information on the Exhibition in Greece can be found here and the exhibition catalog can be downloaded here.

More information on the Exhibition in New York City can be found here and the exhibition catalog can be downloaded here.