What role did religion play in the justification and abolition discourses that emerged in the nineteenth century in both the Antebellum South and the Ottoman Empire?
Religion played an important role in the discourse used to justify as well as challenge slavery in both the Ottoman Empire and the Antebellum South. These two slave societies deployed Islam and Christianity respectively in the slavery rhetoric that emerged as early as the eighteenth century and continued to reinterpret the scripture overtime to support one side or the other.
Abolitionist impulse in America arose from Jefferson’s idea of enlightenment, which called for religious reawakening. Northern Quakers and evangelists pushed for this religious revivalism in hopes of undoing what they termed the “greatest sin ever committed against the will of God”. In the early nineteenth century the evangelical abolition movement emerged along with the formation of “abolition churches.” According to John Mckivigan, the American abolitionist movement emerged “during the 1930s as a by-product of the upsurge of revivalism popularly known as the Second Great Awakening.” This meant a harsh critique of slavery using Christian rhetoric that dubbed slavery a “personal sin…that required immediate and complete repentance in the form of emancipation” Christianity here came to hold masters morally accountable for participating in sin. Before the emergence of the abolitionist movement in the U.S., only a few small churches critiqued the evil and inhumane nature of slavery. Yet, small denominational churches, such as the Quakers, resisted enslavement using Christian teachings. They argued that to win God’s favor, Christianity needed to return to “its original form untainted by the principle of slavery.” Here the Quakers deploy Christianity as a humane institution that argues for equity, meaning that slavery was deemed a sin.
However, not all churches believed slavery was a sin; there were obvious divisions on their stance on slavery. From the early nineteenth century, we see a split between different denominational churches on the question of slavery and abolition. For instance, Methodist and Baptist churches took opposite stances on whether slavery was permissible in Christianity. Abolition fragmented the Churches within the South and between the South and North. The Methodist Churches for instance took an abolitionist stance whereas the Baptist Church vehemently stood by its pro-slavery stance. Proslavery ministers assembled elaborate justification of slavery citing passages from the Bible. It was within this already existing split that the nineteenth century evangelical abolitionist movement emerged leading to the formulation of “abolition churches.” Defenders of the establishment of the slave system in the American South argued that slavery was a “positive good” as long as slaves were Christianized.
Furthermore, both Northern and Southern states used the Bible as a weapon in their argument...