ÖMER FARUK HARMAN AND ALI MURAT YEL
Marmara University, Faculty of Theology, Istanbul,
Istanbul Bilgi University, Department of Sociology, Istanbul
During the formative period and early history of the Ottoman state the discipline of the History of Religions was not to be found in the curricula of the madrasas (schools), institutions that served as the basic and perhaps the most advanced teaching organisations throughout the empire. Nor was the subject taught in other schools. The studies on the History of Religions that came into being in nineteenth-century Europe had a considerable influence in the Ottoman state. Consequently, in 1874 the programme of the Darulfünun Edebiyat Fakultesi (Istanbul University, Faculty of Literature) included a class on Tarihi Umunri ve Ilm-i Esatiri'l-Evvelin(literally: General History and Science of the Religions of Ancient Peoples, or 'Mythology').
There were some attempts, especially during the reign of Sultan Mahmud II (1808-1839), to reform the educational system of the country in a Western style. Mahmud II's son, Abdulmecid (18231861), was a modernist sultan, who attached great importance to education. He demanded that some brilliant students from all over the country be brought to the Darul Maarif (a high quality private school that was established in order to prepare students for the Darulfunun) in Istanbul. Upon the completion of their studies, these students were sent to Paris to pursue their studies further. Abdulmecid's grand vizier, Reshid Pasha (1800-1858), exercised a great influence on the sultan with regard to the process of Westernisation of the country. Another vizier, Ali Pasha (1815-1871), exercised this office during the reigns of Abdulmecid and Abdulaziz. Like Reshid Pasha before him, he was sent to several European countries as an ambassador. Such diplomatic posts enabled him to compare the educational systems of these countries with the Ottoman system. He was of the opinion that the children of the religious minorities should be mixed with Muslim students in the schools, lest Greek and Bulgarian