This project investigates how pious endowments shaped state-building in the Ottoman Empire between 1450 and 1650. Pious endowments (waqf, singular) were trusts of property devoted to charitable activities that constituted the most widespread and powerful social institutions within the empire and across Islamic societies, yet their significance for state formation has been overlooked. Previous scholarship in the field focuses on the development of institutions directed by Ottoman sultans to produce models of the state that emphasize unfettered sultanic authority. This project overturns that view by focusing on how social institutions in the form of pious endowments limited, enhanced, and shaped the character of the Ottoman state. The approach will radically reshape our understanding of the Ottoman Empire by demonstrating how a diverse range of social actors from across the empire created the early modern Ottoman state. In doing so, OTTOWAQF will fundamentally reconceive our understanding of how empire worked outside Europe.
To do this, OTTOWAQF will scrutinize a large body of legal and accounting records related to endowments to produce a comprehensive survey of their management, administration, and interaction with the state across south-eastern Europe, Anatolia, and the Arab provinces of the empire. OTTOWAQF will produce a database with a web portal offering comprehensive coverage of these endowments, including key metadata on their functioning over two centuries. In addition, the project team will complete an edited volume, one doctoral dissertation, five journal articles, and three monographs, culminating in a new synthesis that explains state-building in the Ottoman Empire. OTTOWAQF will offer a path-breaking approach to imperial state formation outside Europe that will open up new frontiers in the study of comparative empire and socio-economic and legal history.