Yüksel Sezgin is an assistant professor of comparative politics and law at Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, and a Visiting Research Scholar at Center for Democracy, Toleration and Religion at Columbia University .
Yüksel was born in Izmir, Turkey in 1974. He graduated first in his class from Izmir Ataturk High School in 1991. He obtained his B.A. in International Relations & Law, magna cum laude, from the Mekteb-i Mülkiye, formerly known as the Imperial College of Civil Service. After the college, he worked as the Assistant Regional Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa region at the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey (DEIK) in Istanbul.
Later, he won a scholarship from the Israeli Government to conduct a study on Russian Jewry and pursue his M.A. at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. During his time in Israel, Yüksel also worked as a freelance-correspondent for the BBC Turkish News Service, NTV, and the Turkish Daily Radikal, reporting on regional affairs from Jerusalem and the West Bank.
To deepen his understanding of the Arab and Muslim world, Yüksel continued his graduate studies in London where he received an M.A. in Near and Middle Eastern Studies and graduated summa cum laude from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Upon successful completion of his graduate work in London, he moved to the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle where he earned his PhD. in political science and public law. The doctoral dissertation that Yüksel wrote under the supervision of Profs. Joel S. Migdal, Michael McCann, Ellis Goldberg and Gad Barzilai received both the American Political Science Association's Aaron Wildavsky and the Middle East Studies Association’s Malcolm H. Kerr best dissertation awards in 2008. While working on his PhD at UW, Yüksel also concurrently earned a graduate degree in international development policy and management from the Evans School of Public Affairs.
Yüksel has taught comparative politics and law at the University of Washington, the City University of New York (the Graduate Center & John Jay College), and the Harvard Divinity School, and held research positions at Princeton University (PIIRS), American University in Cairo, and the University of Delhi.
Yüksel’s research and teaching interests include legal pluralism, informal justice systems, legal empowerment, access to justice, comparative religious law (Islamic, Jewish and Hindu), state-society relations, and human and women's rights in the context of the Middle East, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa. His articles on comparative law, religion, and politics have appeared in various edited volumes and journals.
Yüksel is the author of Human Rights under State-Enforced Religious Family Laws in Israel, Egypt and India (2013, Cambridge University Press). As the title suggests, the book analyzes the impact of state-sanctioned religious family laws on human rights, and explores the various resistance strategies that rights activists in the aforementioned countries have successfully mobilized to protect and advance their fundamental rights against the encroachment of so-called religious laws and institutions. Based on key lessons and best practices identified through in-depth analysis of the three countries, and the book also makes policy recommendations for successful integration of universal human rights principles into religious and customary legal systems elsewhere.
Nowadays, Yüksel spends most of his time working on a new book project tentatively entitled “Democratizing Shari‘a: How Do Non-Muslim Democracies Apply and Regulate Islamic Law?”. The new book will address the question of how non-Muslim democracies (i.e., Israel, India, Ghana, Greece etc.) have tackled challenges of implementing Shari‘a within a democratic framework. Some of the challenges that reformers in the Muslim world have to overcome are well-known. But what about the challenges that reformers need to surmount in non-Muslim countries? Has it been easier or more difficult to reform Islamic law for non-Muslim administrations? What strategies and tactics they have adopted to curb such oppressive practices as underage marriages, unilateral divorce (talaq) or polygyny? Have they been successful? And most importantly, in the backdrop of Arab “Spring” and the strong showing of Islamic parties in recent elections in Tunisia and Egypt, what lessons, if any, can democratizing Muslim nations learn from experiences of non-Muslim democracies? Democratizing Shari’a will engage these vital questions and many others and provide thought-provoking answers based on rich archival documentation, interviews and court observations across major Shariʿa-implementing non-Muslim democracies.
In addition to his academic work, Yüksel has also served as a consultant with major international development agencies including the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), World Health Organization (WHO), and USAID among others.
Yüksel is an executive body member of the Commission on Legal Pluralism, and the associate editor of the Journal of Legal Pluralism.
He is married to Gökçe Doğanay Sezgin, the director of marketing at Sensio Inc. They have a son, Derin Ege Sezgin, named after the beautiful Aegean Sea and westernmost region of Turkey, the ancestral homeland of the Sezgin family.