- The Turks and Islam in Reformation Germany by Gregory J. Miller
The impact of Ottoman expansion on the Reformation has long been noted by historians, but on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (2017), the venerable Society for Reformation Research (with its German sister-organization) devoted its annual conference to "Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the Reformation Era," signaling a new type of scholarly interest in the "other" during the early modern period. Miller's monograph is a welcome addition to this endeavor.
In chapter one, Miller describes his study as a continuation of Margaret Meserve's Empires of Islam (Cambridge: Harvard University [End Page 222] Press, 2008), an investigation of humanist understandings of the Turks and Islam between 1380 and 1510; and a broadening of the scope of Adam Francisco's study, Martin Luther and Islam (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2007) to include voices of other Protestants, Radical Reformers, Catholics, and politicians. Two events in the early sixteenth century changed the situation investigated by Meserve: the "Turkish threat" (military incursions up to the gates of Vienna) and the Reformation. Miller examines how the Reformation reshaped understandings of the Turks as an ethnic/cultural unit and as Muslims. He agrees with Meserve that although medieval depictions were recycled, increased contact with the Ottomans and new theological explanations during this period undermined traditional paradigms, opening the door for more "modern" views.
His central contribution to scholarship, he claims, is the content analysis of more than 300 publications from German-speaking lands, (2) including treatises by theologians and humanists, sermons and prayers, political speeches and propaganda, and secular ballads and spiritual hymns. Captivity narratives were among the most well-known sources of information on the Turks, and Miller not only analyzes the two most popular, but also he fully provides the first modern English translation of lengthy sections in his appendices.
Chapter two provides an overview of late medieval depictions of Islam, similar in their essence and offering a negative mirror image of Christianity. Chapter three provides a survey of the Ottoman Turks' advance into Europe up to the Hapsburg-Ottoman Peace (1545) that temporarily stabilized the region. In chapter four, "Knowledge and Depictions of Islam and the Religious Life of the Ottoman Turks in Reformation Germany," Miller analyzes differences in the portrayal of Islam resulting from confessional polemics. Chapter five, "Knowledge and Depictions of the Turks," explores understandings of the Turks as a cultural/ethnic unit, demonstrating that commentators could paradoxically disparage Islam but yet respect and even grudgingly praise Turkish culture. Chapter six, "Holy Terror: Depictions of the Islamic Threat and its Causes," argues that although all sides continued to understand the Turks as tools of divine punishment, new causes of God's wrath were assigned depending on the author's confessional affiliation. Chapter seven, "Holy War and its Discontents," [End Page 223] argues that Reformation critiques forced the modification of traditional views of Islam so that "by 1545, the monolithic medieval view had broken apart along confessional lines and the earliest beginnings of modern approaches to Islam could be seen" (123). Chapter eight, "Escaped Slaves and the Turks," offers a comparative analysis of two captivity narratives separated by seventy years that, claims Miller, demonstrate "developments in the depictions of Islam and the Turks in Reformation Germany" (151). Chapter nine restates the work's central argument.
Written in highly readable prose, Miller's monograph provides the most extensive analysis of Reformation-era perceptions of Islam and the Turks available in English. His central claim, that the Reformation helped destabilize the medieval paradigmatic understandings of Islam, is compelling, and his airing of new voices from various confessional and political perspectives is praiseworthy. But because Miller's work is essentially a survey, it lacks nuance. He generally treats the German-speaking lands as a monolith when they themselves varied significantly in their relationship to the Turks. And although Miller claims that not just the Reformation, but also trade and increased diplomacy impacted views of Islam, his exploration mostly ignores these latter factors. Finally, Miller's source base is largely...