As a scholar, I do not identify with the interdisciplinary field of Jewish Studies, but employ two particular Jewish experiences in history, namely the Shoah and the Jews of the Ottoman Empire. I do so as follows:
First, understanding and making sense of the Shoah has led to a very significant ontological shift in the social sciences and the humanities, a shift that was initially spearheaded by the Frankfurt School of critical theory. That shift formed the foundation of the current poststructural approaches to society, ones that specifically focus on the prejudice and discrimination experienced by the marginalized. Hence, I would argue that gender, race, queer, and postcolonial theories are all informed by and originate in the analysis of this fundamental violence in modern European history, namely the Shoah. As such, the Shoah informs my theoretical stand.
Second, my particular expertise is the Armenian Genocide, a collective violence that preceded the Shoah. I recently finished a book on the denial by Turkish state and society of the collective violence they committed against the Armenians from the late eighteenth century to the present. In order to understand the origins, development, execution, and aftermath of this collective violence, I drew extensively on the large literature on the Shoah, its public acknowledgement, and contemporary denialism. Studying multiple instances of collective violence side by side enabled me to better see the dark violent underbelly of modernity. Hence the Shoah also contributed to my empirical work.
Third, I have myself written a couple of articles on the Jews of the Ottoman Empire. I did so because I was interested earlier in my career on how the millet system, namely the system regulating the non-Muslim communities in the Ottoman Empire, operated. I specifically studied the eighteenth-century probate records of Ottoman Jews living in the imperial capital Istanbul to understand when, in settling their legal affairs, they went to a Muslim court rather than their own communal one. It turned out that their geographical proximity to a Muslim court did not make a difference. Rather, how content they were with the rulings of the rabbi heading the Jewish community at that particular time was a much better measure: their use of Muslim courts increased when they were unhappy with their rabbi and decreased when they were content. Hence the Jewish experience in the Ottoman Empire contributed to my historical archival work.
In summary then, the Jewish experience in the Ottoman Empire and contemporary Turkey informs my empirical work while the Shoah impacts my theoretical stand in the social sciences.
Born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, Fatma Müge Göçek is professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan. In her work Göçek is interested in issues of social change in non-Western states and societies in general and as it impacts minority communities in particular. After finishing a book on the denial by Turkish state and society of the collective violence committed against Armenians, she is now working on the continuity of that violence and denial onto the Kurds of Turkey.