Esen Kirdis | Assistant Professor
Office: 120 Buckman Hall | Phone: (901) 843-3208 | Email:


I am a child of the post-Cold War era. I grew up in three different countries on three different continents, all of which have undergone massive transformations in the last twenty years. Turkey, where I was born, has been experiencing a fundamental questioning of its Republican form of government and a resurgence of religion in public life, and has sought to plant its feet firmly in Europe through its efforts to join the EU. I lived in Germany from 1989 to 1994 – soon after unification and the collapse of the communist bloc, and experienced the simmering resentment against immigrants, especially Turks. And I have lived in the US since 2005, experiencing firsthand changes in US foreign policy in the aftermath of 9/11 as both a Middle Eastern and a European woman. Such global changes over the last twenty years that not only affect domestic and international politics but also the lives of ordinary individuals form the background to my academic interests. In particular, my research focuses on the relationship between religion and politics in the contemporary era. I recognize the complexity of studying religion and politics, and thus the need to include both domestic and transnational elements as well as the use of multiple methodological approaches.

My current research focuses on political Islam. Islamist movements appear daily in the newspaper headlines around the world. Yet contrary to popular opinion that all Islamist movements are anti-systemic, violent, and secretive, some Islamist movements across the Muslim world have chosen to enter the system, to play by the rules, and to seek political change from within the system by forming an Islamic political party. The transformation of movements into parties—in such states as diverse as Yemen, Indonesia, Turkey, Jordan, and Morocco—is puzzling for two main reasons: movements are forming parties in both democracies as well as in non-democratic situations, in which the benefits of mobilization as a party are unclear while the potential costs in terms of repression remain high; and because Islamic religious authorities rarely endorse such a move, and often condemn it. In my dissertation I therefore ask “Why have so many Islamist movements chosen to expend considerable resources to form political parties?” To answer this question, I have conducted extensive qualitative research in Jordan, Morocco and Turkey.

My research and teaching interests are not limited to political Islam. I am also interested in democratization, social movements, international norms and institutions as well as in judicial politics. On this latter topic, I published an article recently with Hootan Shambayati in Political Research Quarterly, exploring the Turkish Constitutional Court and its political role, titled “In Pursuit of “Contemporary Civilization:” Judicial Empowerment in Turkey.”


2011, PhD, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

2005, BA, Koc University, Istanbul, Turkey


INTS 100: Introduction to International Relations

INTS 243: Government and Politics of the Middle East