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Faculty of Divinity

Subject area and speciality:
• Secularism
• Islam and Muslims in the West
• Muslim-Jewish relations
• Religious conversion
• Empathy
• Holocaust memory
• Civil religion
• Turkey
• Germany


Professor Esra Ozyurek joined University of Cambridge after having taught at the London School of Economics and University of California, San Deigo. She completed her PhD at the University of Michigan and prior to that she received a completed her undergraduate degree in Sociology and Political Science at Bogazici University, Istanbul. 



Secularism, Christianity, Islam, liberalism, and democracy are among seemingly universalist worldviews, inviting any individual, community, or government to embrace them. However, they are also considered indigenous to certain geographies and populations and foreign imports to others. My overall research agenda explores this tension between the universalism and particularism of globally appealing religious and post-religious belief and value systems by studying them ethnographically as they travel in and out of their assumed natural habitats. More specifically, as an anthropologist, I am interested in the personal experiences of individuals who embrace a universalistic ideology or belief system that they did not inherit from their grandparents, but instead choose to borrow from others and make their own, with a specific focus on Islam and Muslims. I explore what it means to be a secular Turk in a country where political Islam is on the rise; to be an ethnic German who converted to Islam; and a Turk who converted to Christianity. I am currently working on a project about Muslim background Germans who look for ways to adopt the memory of the Holocaust as proof of their commitment to liberal democracy and empathic humanity. I examine the conditions under which such engagements are judged as genuine and sincere, or as suspect and fake. 


Each individual choice of adopting a worldview, belief system, or lifestyle that one did not inherit reveals that moving in and out of seemingly opposing worldviews is quite possible, and indeed quite common. At the same time, the particular challenges these individuals face give us clues about how humans make and remake divisions in the first place. While overlooked, individual acts of borrowing across genealogies are fundamental to the formation and transformation of these alignments. Importantly, consequences of conversion are independent of whether or not the individual converts with a political motivation. The acts of conversion I study explore the nature of porous boundaries between Islam and Christianity; religion and non-religion; democracy and authoritarianism; Turkey and Europe. 


Key publications: 


Being German, Becoming Muslim: Race, Religion, and Conversion in the New Europe. Princeton  

              University Press, 2015.  

              Turkish translation: Müslüman Olurken Alman Kalmak: Millet, Ümmet ve  

              Din Değistirme. İletişim Yayinevi, 2015. 

              Malay translation: Kekal Jerman, Menjadi Muslim: Kaum, Agama Dan Penukaran  

              Agama Di Eropah Baru. Zi Publications Sdn. Bdh. 

German translation: Deutsche Muslime – Muslimische Deutsche. Springer Verlag, 2017. 


Nostalgia for the Modern: State Secularism and Everyday Politics in Turkey. Duke Univ. Press, 2006.  

Turkish translation: Modernlik Nostaljisi: Turkiye’de Laiklik ve Gündelik Hayatta Siyaset. Boğaziçi University Press, 2008. 


Edited Volumes 

Authoritarianism and Resistance in Turkey. Co-edited by Emrah Altındiş and Gaye Özpınar.  

              Springer Verlag, 2018.   


Contemporary Turkey at a Glance: Turkey Transformed? Power, History, and Culture. Co-edited by  

              Meltem Ersoy. Springer Verlag, 2017. 


The Politics of Public Memory in Turkey. Syracuse Univ. Press, 2007. 


(in Turkish ) Remembering and Forgetting: Social Memory in Turkey. Istanbul: İletişim, 2001. 

Peer Reviewed Articles  

“Spiritualizing reason, rationalizing spirit: Muslim public intellectuals in the German far  

right” Ethnicities 2020. (co-written by Julian Goepffarth). 


“Civic and Civil Death in the New Authoritarianisms: Punishment of Dissidents Through  

Juridical Destruction, Ethical Ruin, and Necropolitics in Turkey” British Journal of Middle East Studies 46(5): 699-713. 2019.(co-written by Seckin Sertdemir) 


“Muslim Minorities as Germany’s Past Future: Islam Critics, Holocaust Memory, and  

              Immigrant Integration” Memory Studies 15(1), 2019. 


"Exile and Plurality in Neoliberal Times: Turkey's Academics for Peace" Public Culture 31(2),  

235-259, 2019. (co-written by Seckin Sertdemir and Nil Mutluer) 


“Rethinking Empathy: Emotions Triggered by the Holocaust among Muslim-minority in  

Germany” Anthropological Theory 18(4): 456-477, 2018.  


“Export-Import Theory and Racialization of Antisemitism: Turkish and Arab-only  

Prevention Programs in Germany” Comparative Studies in Society and History 58 (1): 40-65, 2016.  


“Turkish and Christian: Secularist Fears of a Converted Nation” Comparative Studies of South  

Asia, Africa, and the Middle East 29(3): 398-412, 2009. 


“‘The Light of Alevi fire was Lit in Germany and then spread to Turkey’: The Debate about  

the Relationship between Alevism and Islam” International Journal of Turkish Studies, March 2009. 


“Convert Alert: Turkish Christians and German Muslims as Threats to National Security in  

the New Europe” Comparative Studies in Society and History 51(1): 91-116, 2009. 


“The Politics of Cultural Unification, Secularism, and the Place of Islam in the New Europe”  

American Ethnologist, 32:4, 509-12, 2005. 


“Miniaturizing Atatürk: Privatization of the State Imagery and Ideology in Turkey” American  

Ethnologist, 31:3, 374-391, 2004. 


“Feeling Tells Better Than Language: Emotional Expression and Gender Hierarchy.’’ New  

              Perspectives on Turkey, 16 (Summer): 41-52, 1997 



Book Chapters 


“Giving Islam a German Face” In Moving in and out of Islam, edited by Karin van Niewkerk.  

Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018. 


“Introduction” In Authoritarianism and Resistance in Turkey, edited by Esra Özyürek, Gaye  

Özpınar and Emrah Altındiş, Springer Verlag, 2018. 


“Turkish Converts to Islam and German Converts to Christianity Challenge National  

Identities” In Religion, Identity, and Politics: Germany and Turkey in Interaction, edited by Haldun Gülalp and Gunther Seufert. London: Routledge, 2013. 


“Converted German Muslims and Their Ambivalent Relations with Born Immigrant  

Muslims” in Islamophobia/Islamophilia: Beyond the Politics of Enemy and Friend, edited by Andrew Shryock. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 2010. 


 “Beyond Integration and Recognition: Diasporic Constructions of Alevi Muslim Identity  

between Germany and Turkey” in Transnational Trascendence, edited by Tom Csordas. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008. 


 “Political Memory as Battleground: Islamist Subversions of Republican Nostalgia” in  

  Politics of Public Memory: Production and Consumption of the Past in Turkey, edited by Esra Özyürek. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2007. 


“Wedded to the Republic: Public Intellectuals and Intimacy Oriented Publics in Turkey” in  

Off Stage/On Display: Intimacies and Ethnographies in the Age of Public Culture, edited by Andrew Shryock, 101-130. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004. 


(in Turkish) “The Headscarf Knot in the Parliament.” In Ayşe Gül Altınay (ed.) Homeland,  

              Nation, and Women. Istanbul: İletişim, 2000, 339-57. 



Other publications 


"Perfides Ablenkungsmanoever" Die Zeit, July 10, 2020.



“Contagious Crowds: Religious Gatherings in the Age of Coronavirus” LSE Religion Global  

              Society Blog, May 13, 2020. 


“Writing in times of crisis” LSE Higher Education Blog, April 10, 2020. 



“Inheritance and Belief” The Immanent Frame: Secularism, religion, and the public sphere 

  by Social Science Research Council, July 3, 2018. 


“Converts often Play the Role of the Mediator” L.I.S.A Wissenschaftsportal Gerda Herkel  

  Stiftung, March 29, 2018. 


“Muslims are already German” 2016. 



“Konvertiten erfahren besonders viel Abneigung” Der Spiegel. September 14, 2916. 


“A Turkish ‘I apologize’ Campaign” LA Times. January 5, 2009. 


Teaching and Supervisions


Paper coordinator Religious Conversion (Df1)

Sultan Qaboos Professor of Abrahamic Faiths and Shared Values
CIP Academic Director
Professor Esra  Özyürek

Contact Details

Email address: 
Takes PhD students
Not available for consultancy