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The Early Modern Go-Between

While her brother Gazanfer Aga was sold into slavery, she returned to Venice. After she was left a widow with two children, the two siblings came into contact again, because, according to the author, Gazanfer, who had by then gained notoriety, hoped to strengthen his ties with the Ottoman elite. Bored in her second marriage, Beatrice left for Istanbul and converted to Islam. Dursteler explains that this conversion enabled her to gain control of her life. Similarly, Elena Civalelli was not a renegade but fled her renegade parents.

Venice withstood Ottoman opposition to have her marry into a Muslim family and supported her choice to take vows in a Venetian convent.


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Likewise, Caterina Satorovic escaped an arranged marriage. Through meticulous readings of archival records, Dursteler adroitly shows that the Venetian state intervened based on moral and religious grounds. Finally, Maria Gozzadini and her three daughters fled from Milos on a Venetian galley. The Venetian state once again intervened to help Maria and her family revert to Christianity. Though renegades were common, interreligious marriages were not without tensions.

Fatima Hatun: A Renegade Woman in the Early Modern Mediterranean

Through the unfolding of extraordinary lives, Dursteler depicts the wider reality of the early modern Mediterranean. Typically, conversion has hitherto been studied as the process of individuals and communities changing faiths. The failure to connect these polyvalent deeply entangled strands results in a truncated and incomplete view of the place of conversion in early modern Mediterranean society.

This essay aims to broaden our understanding of conversion by exploring it on multiple cultural fronts to show that it meant more than switching faiths.

Renaissance and Later Sculpture The Thyssen Bornemisza Collection

This essay instead sees conversion in terms of the uniquely human ability to change oneself, to stimulate change in society, or to react to the changes that individuals and societies faced. Understanding the larger implications of conversion begins with the recognition that all forms of conversion took place within the larger nexus of imperial expansion and constructions of rival religious, cultural, and political identities that pervaded the early modern Mediterranean.

In regard to conversion as it is traditionally understood, individual and collective changes in religious identity were always in dialogue with institutional efforts to enmesh devotion and political loyalty. Perhaps most famously in Venice, houses for catechumens were established to integrate converts into society through patronage networks and surrogate kinship Rothman, This was not only a Venetian phenomenon, as conversionary preaching and other mechanisms of fostering and safeguarding conversions took place throughout Italy Lazar, , pp.

Unsurprisingly, the Spanish in particular attempted to implement these tactics in their holdings in Italy, above all Naples Huerga Criado, ; Huerga Criado, ; Varriale, ; Varriale, and Palermo Oldrati, , two important administrative centers in the Habsburgs' Mediterranean empire that were on the front lines of Ottoman encroachment. There was much overlap of course, as evangelization was often state driven, and missionaries tended to originate from the nations backing specific missions. That said, Mediterranean conversion and evangelization have not always been treated as interrelated phenomena because early modern missionary Catholicism has traditionally been studied as an arm of European expansion in the Americas and Asia.

Consequently, Catholic efforts to combat Protestantism and heresy across the Northern Mediterranean littoral and into the European heartland Armstrong, ; Luria, , pp.

A Companion to Venetian History, : Eric Dursteler :

In other words, early modern Catholicism became a global faith partly because of the conversionary tactics sharpened in the Mediterranean both before and after the opening up of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean Worlds Selwyn, Another consequence of studying overseas missions without attending to their Mediterranean roots has been a general failure to see similarities between Catholic missions and efforts to Islamize and Ottomanize the Balkans Minkov, or even conversionary tactics in Shiite Safavid Persia Abisaab, But if we are to understand the roles of political and religious institutions in the fabrication of the loyal subject as zealous believer, we must think beyond the traditional scope of evangelization as a Catholic process tied to European global empires.

The result is a more lucid picture of the ways in which confessions and empires—which depicted one another as wholly different—acted similarly as they constructed confessions and religiously inspired empires across the Middle Sea. This is not to suggest that all conversions were the result of empire and evangelization.

First and foremost, the very nature of imperial borders—permeable and fluid with very little bearing on the everyday lives of individuals—meant that conversion often caused a certain level of anxiety for those charged with safeguarding confessional purity. The Mediterranean's porous borderlands thus functioned as theaters in which conversion could be performed as an acculturative organic process that happened locally and often with little regard for doctrinal orthodoxies or the wishes of political authorities.

As the next two sections will show, this reality rendered conversion a problem for the rhetorics of empire and evangelization that aimed to position conversion as a mechanism for consolidating authority. This will also allow us to extend the scope of early modern conversion into the realm of cultural production. Despite institutional efforts to monitor conversions, individuals could forge their own conversionary experiences and religious identities.

Many of these converts were driven by true piety and spiritual transformation in line with mainstream expectations Leone, ; Sluhovsky, These stories are reminders that zeal was not the only factor at play in how individuals articulated and shaped their religious identities.

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Fluid borders and frequent contacts with religious difference facilitated a large number of conversions. Such converts, often called renegades regardless of the motivation of their conversion, underscore the ways in which shifting mechanisms and definitions of conversion were the product of the religious fluidity and plurality of the early modern Mediterranean. Ottoman galley slavery also led to renegadism, as conversion to Islam was a means of securing one's freedom Fiume, Scholars have thus shown that we should broaden our definition of renegade to include anyone who transgressed or challenged the political, confessional, and cultural borders that Mediterranean societies constructed Dursteler, , p.

Renegades were also mediators through whom identities were constructed against one another. On the other end of the spectrum of renegadism, but also a great source of anxiety, were converts who maintained their old faiths in secret.

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Most, but not all, of these converts were Jews and Muslims who chose to convert to Catholicism Mazur, ; Roth, ; Soyer, Known as conversos and moriscos , respectively, and as New Christians collectively, these converts and their descendants were often, but not always, publicly Christians but Jews and Muslims in private Ingram, It is impossible to know how many of these converts retained their previous faiths, as many fully embraced Catholicism while others were never exposed.

In either case, it is clear that many New Christians preserved some of their prior religious and cultural traditions. Former Muslim women, known as moriscas , were central to preserving Muslim customs in the domestic sphere through ritual bathing, song, and culinary practices Perry, This has led L. Such a claim could also be extended to the Jewish converts, who preserved their identities in the face of the pressures of Catholicization Melammed, Harvey's dichotomous view assumes that religious conversion entails the abandonment of cultural mores.