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Emrah Yıldız

Assistant Professor of Anthropology and MENA Studies

PhD Harvard University 2016

Emrah Yıldız (he/him/ois a socio-cultural anthropologist of cross-border mobility and region formation,  whose research spans political economy, religious studies, and social geography. More specifically he researches and teaches about ritual, saints and mobility in Islam; sanctions, contraband commerce and national currencies in political economy as well as asylum, borders and their territorial states across Southwest Asia.

Yıldız’s first book, Zainab’s Traffic: Moving Saints, Selves, and Others across Borders (University of California Press, 2024) synthesizes these areas of scholarship to chronicle Iranian visitors’ journeys via Turkey to the Sayyida Zainab shrine in Syria. Rather than thinking of ritual as a scripturally canonized manual for pious self-cultivation, the book makes the argument for approaching rituals of mobility like saint visitation (ziyarat) as a traffic of pilgrims, goods, and ideas across Iran, Turkey, and Syria. Mobilizing ethnographic and archival data collected across Persian, Turkish, and secondarily Arabic and French, Zainab’s Traffic produces a cross-sited, cross-lingual and cross-scalar conception ziyarat as a ritual of mobility—whereby religious practices interarticulate with social and spatial institutions, including bazaars, borders and shrines, neglected in recent anthropological work on Islamic religiosity. The dissertation that serves as the basis for Zainab’s Traffic garnered the Malcolm H. Kerr Award in the Social Sciences  from the Middle East Studies Association. 

Yıldız is editor of the Journal of Cultural Economy special issue kaçak | qaçax |  قاچاق: Fugitive Forms of Bureaucracy and Economy across Southwest Asia (2024), and co-editor (with Anthony Alessandrini and Nazan Üstündağ) of the JadMag volume “Resistance Everywhere”: The Gezi Protests and Dissident Visions of Turkey (2014). He published research articles with Cultural Anthropology, d i f f e r e n c e s, Journal of Cultural Economy, Journal of the Royal Anthropological InstituteInternational Journal of Middle East Studies, and Toplum ve Bilim as well as short-form public-facing commentaries, translations and interviews with Asoo, Bianet, Counterpunch and Jadaliyya. His writings are bookmarked here.

Yıldız has received research grants and residential fellowships from Cora Du Bois Charitable Trust, DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service), Die Zeit Stiftung Bucerius Program in Migration Studies, Forum transregionale Studien Berlin, Gerda Henkel Stiftung, marra.tein—Beirut,  Max Planck Institut für ethnologische Forschung, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research (doctoral research, postdoctoral research, and international workshop grants). Yıldız has conducted ethnographic and archival research in Germany, Lebanon, Iran, Syria, and Turkey.

Yıldız is currently at work on two lines of research: The first one, funded by Gerda Henkel Stiftung and The Sexualities Project at Northwestern (SPAN) and tentatively titled Bearing Asylum: Queer travels across class, gender and religion, chronicles queer asylum as an asylum of translation across Iran, Turkey and Germany. The second, supported by the Buffett Institute for Global Affairs and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, investigates the regional lives of economic sanctions and studies cross-border trade in ‘fictitious commodities’ (money, land, and labor) between Iran and Turkey as one method of sanction mitigation. Yıldız will be spending the 2024-2025 academic year as a Global Horizons Junior Fellow at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study to shape that second line of research into his second monograph, Outsmarting Smart Sanctions: Currency, Mobility and Security between Iran and Turkey.

At Northwestern Yıldız has taught across anthropology, gender and sexuality studies, Middle East and North African Studies, and religious studies. He has also served as Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities Faculty Fellow (2019-2020), College Fellow (2016-2017), Crown Junior Chair in Middle East Studies (2020-2023), and continues to serve as faculty board member for Keyman Modern Turkish Studies Program, and founding member and co-convener of the Colloquium for Global Iran Studies (CoGIS).




Zainab’s Traffic: Moving Saints, Selves, and Others across Borders. Atelier: Ethnographic inquiry in the twenty-first century, 16. University of California Press, 2024.

Edited Volumes & Journal Special Issues

kaçak | qaçax |  قاچاق: Fugitive Forms of Bureaucracy and Economy across Southwest Asia, Journal of Cultural Economy 17 vol. 2, 2024.

Resistance Everywhere”: The Gezi Protests and Dissident Visions of Turkey , co-edited with Anthony Alessandrini and Nazan Üstündağ, JadMag 1 vol. 4, 2014.

Journal Articles

“Guaranteed contraband”: a cultural biography of kaçak tea in Gaziantep’s Iranian Bazaar, Journal of Cultural Economy 17 vol. 2 (2024): 34-53.                             

Zainab’s Traffic: Spatial lives of an Islamic ritual across Southwest AsiaJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 30 vol. 1 (2024): 168-186.

Migrant Sexualities, Queer Travelers: Iranian Bears and the Asylum of Translation in Turkeyd i f f e r e n c e s: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 33 vol.1 (2022): 119-147.  

Of Nuclear Rials and Golden Shoes: Scaling Commodities and Currencies across Sanctions on IranInternational Journal of Middle East Studies 53 vol.4 (2021): 604-619.  

Nested (In)securities: Commodity and Currency Circuits in an Iran under sanctionsCultural Anthropology 35 vol.2 (2020): 218-224.  

Fugitive Markets and Arrested Mobilities: An Essay on Antep’s Iranian Bazaar, Kaçak (Contraband) Labor, and Its Cross-Border TransgressionsToplum ve Bilim 131 (2014): 186-207. In Turkish. 

Book Chapters & Introductory Editorials

kaçak | qaçax |  قاچاق: Fugitive Forms of Bureaucracy and Economy across Southwest Asia, Journal of Cultural Economy 17 vol. 2 (2024): 1-7.

Cruising Politics: Sexuality, Solidarity and Modularity after Gezi, (ed. Özkırımlı) The Making of a Protest Movement: #occupygezi. London: Palgrave. (2014): 103-122. 

A Brief Introduction to Dissident Visions of Turkey, co-authored with Anthony Alessandrini and Nazan Üstündag in ‘Resistance Everywhere’: The Gezi Protests and Dissident Visions of Turkey, JadMag 1 vol. 4 (2014): 3-10.

 Alignments of Dissent and Politics of Naming: Assembling Resistance in Turkey, (ed. Alessandrini et al) “Resistance Everywhere”: The Gezi Protests and Dissident Visions of Turkey, JadMag 1 vol.4 (2014): 21-28. 

Short-form Analyses, Interviews and Translations

Us&Them: An Example of Threshold LiteratureAsoo Magazine, May 26, 2021. In Persian.  

What does Trump’s celebration of the resurgent dollar tell us about the international monetary system? Counterpunch, April 17, 2020.  

The Ankara Massacre and the State as a Serial Killer in Erdogan’s TurkeyJadaliyya, October 12, 2015. Translated into Spanish and republished on Rebelión, October 15. 

Fugitive Markets and Arrested Mobilities: Gaziantep’s Iranian BazaarJadaliyya, November 15, 2014. Translated into Persian, Jadaliyya, February 12. 

“Alevizing Gezi” by Ayfer Karakaya-Stump, trans. from the Turkish, in Jadaliyya, March 26, 2014.  

Cruising Politics: Sexuality and Solidarity after GeziCounterpunch, July 12, 2013.  

Alignments of Dissent and Politics of Naming: Assembling Resistance in TurkeyJadaliyya, June 4, 2013. Translated into Arabic, Jadaliyya, June 13, 2013. 

Rojava’s Political Structure by Amed Dicle, trans. from the Turkish, in Jadaliyya. September 23, 2013. 


Recent Courses Taught

ANTH 101 Moving Papers: Money, Passports and Visas in a Global Context (College Seminar) 

ANTH 242 | MENA 290. Porous Borders? Geography, Power and Techniques of Movement 

ANTH 290.  Fundamentals of Political Economy vol. 1: The Commodity Form

ANTH 384 | MENA 301 | REL 359. Traveling While Muslim: Islam, Mobility, Security after 9/11 

MENA 390/490 | ANTH 390/490. Sexing the Middle East: Gender & Sexuality in the Making of a Region 

MENA 410.  Locating the Middle East and North Africa (Graduate Proseminar) 

ANTH 442. Territory: Space, Power and Mobility  

ANTH 490. Migrant Sexualities, Queer Travelers: Trans-locations