David Selim Sayers

Lecturer in Turkish Studies

Contact Information

Office: HUM 531

Phone: (415) 338-1169 

Email: dsayers@sfsu.edu


David Selim Sayers joined San Francisco State University in 2013 with the mandate of setting up a program in Turkish Studies. He received his PhD in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton, his MA in Turkish Literature from Bilkent University, Ankara, and his BA in Theological and Religious Studies from the University of Cambridge, UK.

To Dr. Sayers, Turkish Studies is fundamentally about two things: cultural breadth and historical depth.  Cultural breadth celebrates the culturally, ethnically, and religiously diverse composition of Turkish society. Next to people who simply identify as Sunni Muslim and Turkish, Turkey has been, and continues to be, the home of Alevis, Kurds, Armenians, Orthodox Christians, Jews, Laz, and many other ethnic and religious groups. Sometimes overlapping, sometimes conflicting, and often brutally oppressed by the state, these large groups have ensured the dynamism of Turkish society and are the reason why Turkey, more than any other transcontinental country, lays claim to the title of  “bridge between East and West”.

Historical depth asserts that any true understanding of modern Turkey must encompass the Ottoman past. Turkey’s relations with this past have been problematic, swinging back and forth between unquestioning ancestor worship and total rejection as backward and outdated. Ottoman Turkish is not taught at Turkish schools, making it impossible for average Turkish citizens to access and independently evaluate anything written in their own language prior to the twentieth century. It is a vital scholarly task to reconnect Turkey, in a critical way, with this past, without which not just Turkey itself, but also the Balkans, the Middle East, and North Africa cannot be properly understood. 

Dr. Sayers' main scholarly research concerns Ottoman prose literature: He published his first book in 2013 on the Tıfli Stories, a hardly-studied genre of “Ottoman pulp fiction” casting light on Istanbul subcultures and exploring themes ranging from drug use to pederasty, from blackmail to murder in the Ottoman capital. The book, Tıfli Hikayeleri, was published in Turkish by Bilgi University Press, one of Turkey’s foremost academic publishing houses. Dr. Sayers' PhD research is on Mekr-i Zenan, another neglected tradition of Ottoman fiction that deals with the “wiles of women”, featuring stories that have women trick men into submission in countless ways. While Mekr-i Zenan literature goes all the way back to the Quran and beyond, Sayers' is the first comprehensive study on the Ottoman branch of this tradition.

Apart from Turkish politics and Ottoman literature, David has produced academic work on modern Turkish literature, as well. His article, “Must all Literature Have Identity?” (Journal of Turkish Literature, 2006), conducts a trilingual analysis of Turkish “guest worker literature” in Germany from the 1960s to the present. Dr. Sayers is trilingual: Turkish, English, and German are his native tongues. For research (and recreation), he also employs languages such as Persian, Azeri, Karamanlidika, Latin, French, Russian, and Chinese. David is one of the founding editors of the Journal of Turkish Literature (published by Syracuse University Press), the first and only English-language academic journal devoted entirely to the subject.

Finally, Dr. Sayers has been involved in various branches of the Turkish media. From 2000 to 2002, he produced and presented the TV show Net on CNN Türk, the Turkish subsidiary of the international news organization. He has worked as producer, presenter, and DJ for two Turkish radio stations. He has written newspaper articles for Milliyet and a weekly column for Sabah, two major Turkish dailies. And he cannot pass up the opportunity to mention Baltam Gelecek, Kellen Gidecek! (My Axe Will Come, Your Head Will Go!), a Turkish horror B-movie in which he acted as one of the hapless victims.

At SF State, Dr. Sayers has been teaching courses on Turkish politics, history, literature, and language. Please contact him via e-mail at dsayers@sfsu.edu or at his office in HUM 531.