UCL Institute for Global Prosperity


Dr Sertaç Sehlikoglu

Principal Research Fellow

Ethics Chair of the IGP and Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and Intersectionality (EDII) Lead for IGP

Research Summary

Sertaç Sehlikoglu is a social anthropologist whose work often focuses on the intangible aspects of human subjectivity that enable humans to change and transform social life. She analyses human agency and investigates its creative and imaginative capacities. In her current ERC-funded project “Takhayyul”, she directs this focus toward political transformation. The project is part of the turn towards dreams, desire, hope, nostalgia, and aspiration but it has yet to take effect in research on Islamist thought and practice. The failure to include imaginations and fantasies in political analysis is a result and malady of the Eurocentric rationality-oriented theories. We need fine-grained investigations into subjective, emotive, and imaginative forces. This project contributes to a wide array of scholarship ranging from political movements to populism, toxic nationalism, and imaginative/emotional visions of total domination as major challenges to social and political life.

Takhayyul is a collaborative study that will ethnographically excavate the imaginative forces in the formation of populist Islamist aspirations in the Balkans, the Middle East, and South Asia. This project is designed to provide a sound theoretical ground upon which to delineate the ways populist forms of Islamist politics forge imaginative landscapes beyond the borders of nation-states.

Sehlikoglu has formerly worked on human subjectivity and its agentive and imaginative capacities mostly through an analysis of gender and sexuality. Her first single-authored book, “Working Out Desire: Women, Sport, and Self-Making in Istanbul”, (2021) is a study of desiring self-making. It examines an urban trend 'spor merakı' (interest/curiosity in sport) as an object of desire shared by a broad and diverse group of women. The book also places women’s desiring subjectivity at the centre of analysis and thus pushes back against the conventional boundaries of scholarly interest in Muslim women as pious subjects. It presents the ways in which women's changing habits, leisure, and self-formation in the Muslim world and the Middle East are connected to their agentive capacities to shift and transform their conditions and socio-cultural capabilities.


Sertaç Sehlikoglu has two undergraduate degrees (Sociology at Bogazici University and Anthropology at Concordia University), collaborative masters degrees (Socio/Cultural Anthropology and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto), and a PhD (Social Anthropology, Cambridge).  

Before joining UCL in 2020, she worked as an affiliated lecturer at the University of Cambridge and completed a visiting fellowship at the LSE, an Abdullah Mubarak al-Sabah Fellowship in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and a Gibbs Travelling Fellowship at Newnham College. 

Sehlikoglu is the recipient of several awards and grants, including a BRISMES (British Institute of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies) PhD Award, a Wadad Kadi Fellowship, a BIAA (British Institute at Ankara) Study Grant, an Innovative Talent Foreign Expert Project Fellowship Award, and a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant (2019).

She formerly ran the ‘Desiring the Middle East’ seminar series and ‘Is Critique Islamic?’ reading group for four years at the University of Cambridge and taught the following courses/papers/lectures: * Anthropological theory, *Anthropology of the Middle East, *Subjectivity and desire, *Gender and sexuality,  *and Classical Arab theories - as part of the ‘Decolonising the Curriculum’ lecture series. 

Sehlikoglu is the author of three academic and two non-academic books. She is also the editor of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies’ Reviews Section.

Sertaç Sehlikoglu is currently accepting Ph.D. applications on topics related to subjective and ethical imagination in the Middle East and the Balkans, especially on the creative ways of building a better life. She also supervises projects related to gender, sexuality, and normativity.



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