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A talk by Dr. Cengiz Sisman: “Muslim Converts or Crypto Jews? Sabbatean Communities in the Ottoman Empire and Turkish Republic”

Please join our colleagues for this talk, held at 5 p.m. on November 26 in Keene-Flint 005. The talk is sponsored by the Alexander Grass Chair in Jewish Studies as part of the Mediterranean and North African Jewish History Speaker Series. Dr. Cengiz Sisman from the University of Houston- Clear Lake will be speaking on Sabbatean Communities in the Ottoman Empire and Turkish Republic. Flyer, abstract, and bio below:


Sabbatai Sevi, a seventeen century Ottoman Jewish messianic claimant, led one of the largest religious movements in Jewish and Islamic history. When Ottoman authorities forced Sevi to convert to Islam in 1666, his followers formed a crypto-sect, later known as Dönmes and maintained their overtly Muslim and covertly Jewish enigmatic identity over centuries. By using flexible and multiple identities to stymie external interference, the Dönmes were able to survive despite persecution from Ottoman authorities, internalizing the Kabbalistic principle of a “burden of silence”. Although they began to abandon their religious identities and embrace modern ideas since the nineteenth century, cultural Dönmes continued to adopt the “burden of silence” in a secular form in order to cope with external and internal challenges until today.


Cengiz Sisman earned his MA in Islamic and Jewish studies at Temple University and received his Ph.D. from Harvard University.  Since the fall of 2015, Dr. Sisman has been serving as an associate professor of history at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. His book, “The Burden of Silence: Sabbatai Sevi and the Evolution of the Ottoman-Turkish Donmes,” was published by Oxford University Press in 2015. His work is connected by his deep interest in the history of religions, religious conversion, irreligion, messianism, mysticism, crypto-double identities, and religion and modernity. Currently, he is teaching courses on world history, Islamic empires, and the modern Middle East.