Betül Başaran

Professor of History | Coordinator of Women, Gender and Sexuality Program

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I am a  scholar of the Ottoman Empire with a focus on social, economic, legal, and political transformations of majority Muslim societies in the early modern and modern eras. My courses contribute to the cross-disciplinary areas of Asian Studies, Women Gender and Sexuality Studies, History, and Religious Studies. I use an integrated and comparative approach in my teaching, with an emphasis on cross-cultural encounters between the Muslim world, Europe and the Mediterranean. I have worked extensively in the Ottoman archives and taught Ottoman language at the University of Chicago and Georgetown University. 

Born and raised in Izmir on the Aegean coast, I travel to Turkey regularly for research and family visits. I am very excited to return to India as a Fulbright Global Scholar for my current research project about the Ottoman princesses Durrushehvar and Niloufer, who married the sons of Hyderabad's 7th Nizam in 1931.


Areas of Research Specialization

  • Ottoman Empire
  • Social and Economic History of the Middle East
  • Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies
  • Mediterranean Studies

Areas of Teaching Specialization

  • History of Islamic states and societies
  • Women in the Muslim world
  • Study of Islamic civilization


  • Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at University of Chicago, 2006


  • Fulbright Global Scholar Award (2020-21)

    Professor of Religious Studies Betül Başaran has won a three-month Fulbright Global Scholar Research award to conduct critically important archival research in England and India for her book project on the legacy and impact of Princesses Niloufer (1916-1989) and Durrushehvar (1914-2006).  

    Başaran’s host institutions will be the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, The Centre for Historical Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, and the Centre for Deccan Studies in Hyderabad. As a Fulbright Global Scholar, she will give lectures about her research at each of these institutions, and organize seminars with students who have an interest in Islamic Studies and Gender Studies.  

    Başaran’s project underscores the agency of Muslim women as important role models and pioneers in world history, in contrast to the contemporary western narrative most prevalent today that reduces them to mere victims or religious extremists. 

    The story of late Ottoman princesses and their cross-cultural journeys present a unique perspective to investigate the intertwined themes of international politics, religion, royalty, and Muslim women’s agency during a turbulent period of major social and political transformations in the 20th century. The princesses belonged to the Ottoman dynasty and were condemned to life-long exile after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following World War I. Their life is a fascinating story of exile from Turkey to the French Riviera, followed by royal glamor in India as daughters-in-law of Hyderabad’s last independent ruler, where they evolved from foreign brides into cultural ambassadors dedicated to women’s empowerment. 

    Başaran’s project aims to enhance our understanding of the role of Ottoman princesses as transnational and cross-cultural agents for change during the 20th century. 

  • National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar Award: “Transcending Boundaries: The Ottoman Empire, Europe and the Mediterranean World, 1500-1800”

    Associate Professor of Religious Studies Betül Başaran received a prestigious institutional grant for St. Mary’s College of Maryland from the National Endowment for the Humanities to direct a four-week seminar for college and university professors in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 2016.

    Her seminar is titled “Transcending Boundaries: The Ottoman Empire, Europe and the Mediterranean World, 1500-1800.”  Sixteen scholars from around the country will join Başaran for an exploration of the history of religious, political and economic exchanges in the larger Mediterranean world in ways that transcend false distinctions between the so-called Christian and Islamic worlds and their societies in the early modern era.

    NEH grants are highly competitive and involve a rigorous peer-review and selection process to ensure that the projects represent the highest level of humanities research and public engagement. The primary goal of the summer seminars is to advance humanities teaching.

    More information about the seminar can be found at

  • Folger Institute Fellowship

    Betül Başaran received a fellowship at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. for the academic year 2018-19, in support of her sabbatical project, “Cross-Cultural Intimacy and Marriage between Europeans and Ottoman Women in the Early Modern Era.” The fellowship provides support for up to a three-month residence at the Folger.

    Fellowships are awarded by a committee of interdisciplinary, highly-respected scholars external to the Folger, who make recommendations on the basis of each project’s scope, promise, and high quality. Başaran’s project was judged to have exceptional merit. Basaran gave a lecture in March at the Library of Congress on a related topic of the nature of Ottoman sharia law and women’s roles and rights.


  • Başaran invited to speak on Princess Niloufer (1916-1989) at the Library of Congress as a part of Women’s History Month events

    “Ottoman Princess Brides: Princess Niloufer in Hyderabad and Visual Journey of Exile,” focuses on Niloufer who was a member of the Ottoman royal dynasty and condemned to life-long exile following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and abolition of the Islamic caliphate in 1924. Her life is a fascinating story of exile from Turkey to the French Riviera, followed by royal glamor in Hyderabad and her evolution into a modern princess dedicated to women’s empowerment. Her story reveals a young woman who pushed past borders and boundaries of politics, religion and culture to become a pioneer for women’s advancement.  

    Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building  3/12/2019 at 12:00 PM

  • “Cross-Cultural Intimacy and Marriage between Europeans and Ottoman Women in the Early Modern Era” at the Folger Institute, Washington DC

    Associate Professor of Religious Studies Betül Başaran hosted a session of Material Witness on April 25 at the Deck B. Seminar Room at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.Titled “Cross-Cultural Intimacy and Marriage between Europeans and Ottoman Women in the Early Modern Era,” Başaran examined the common cross-cultural sexual relations between European men and Ottoman (mostly Greek and Armenian Orthodox) women during the early modern period in Ottoman commercial centers, port cities, and islands according to select European sources in the Folger collection.

    Material Witness, a Folger Institute fellowships program, is designed to bring fellows-in-residence into conversation with one another and with local scholars. The series allows them to consider the value of the material object itself: the books, manuscripts, works of art, or historical artifacts that are essential to their work, thought-processes, and ideas.  

  • Selim III, Social Control, and Policing in Istanbul at the end of the eighteenth century

    In Selim III, Social Order and Policing in Istanbul at the End of the Eighteenth Century (Leiden: Brill, 2014) Başaran examines Sultan Selim III’s social control and surveillance measures. Drawing mainly from a set of inspection registers and censuses from the 1790s, as well as the Sharia court records she paints a colorful picture of the city’s residents and artisans. She argues that the period constitutes the beginnings of large-scale population control and crisis management and urges us to think about the Ottoman Empire as a polity that was increasingly becoming a “statistical” state, along with its contemporaries in Europe, and to go beyond mechanistic models of borrowing that focus primarily on military reform and European influence in our discussions of Ottoman reform and “modernity”.

  • “Some Observations on Istanbul’s Artisans during the reign of Selim III (1789-1808)"

    Betül Başaran and Cengiz Kırlı, in (ed.) Suraiya Faroqhi, Bread From the Lion’s Mouth: Artisans Struggling for a Livelihood in Ottoman Cities, New York/Oxford: Berghann Books, Feb 2015.