Mahmure Idil Ozkan

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Northwestern U.

Grant number

Gr. 10140

Approve Date

April 8, 2021

Project Title

Ozkan, Mahmure Idil (Northwestern U.) "Tracing Spanish Roots, Curating Ancestry: Language Ideologies, Materiality, and National Belonging Among Turkish Jews"

MAHMURE IDIL OZKAN, then a graduate student at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, was awarded funding in April 2021 to aid research on ‘Tracing Spanish Roots, Curating Ancestry: Language Ideologies, Materiality, and National Belonging Among Turkish Jews,’ supervised by Dr. Shalini Shankar. In 2015, the Spanish government enacted a law offering Spanish citizenship to Jews worldwide as atonement for the horrors of the Inquisition. This offer was contingent, however, on applicants proving their Sephardic lineage, as well as passing a language and a civics exam. This dissertation ethnographically investigates how Turkish Jews trace their medieval Iberian roots via language, collective memory, and documents of religious life events. It investigates the semiotic pathways through which linguistic and material artefacts (signs) shift indexical values (significations), to become evidence for authentic belonging. The research analyzes the meaning of ‘Sephardic’ as a lived reality in contemporary Turkey, an ethnoreligious minority at the turn of the 20th century Ottoman Empire, and an imagined community that is ‘inherently Spanish’ as framed in the Spanish law. The grantee examines how Sephardic identity and ancestry have been created in law, bureaucracy, and everyday life. Through ethnographic and archival research, this project will explore 1) ideologies about language and citizenship, 2) material claims of ethnoreligious ancestry, and 3) diverse understandings and valuations of citizenship. Amid ongoing debates on the elasticity of Europe’s cultural fabric and the challenges to (Muslim) integration, this project explores the ambivalences of liberal multiculturalism in contemporary Europe.