skip to content

Cambridge Interfaith Programme

The sun sets behind rows of dark stone - image of the Holocaust Memorial, Berlin, Germany - from the cover of Subcontractors of Guilt

Professor Esra Özyürek joined the University of Cambridge in 2020, becoming Sultan Qaboos Professor of Abrahamic Faiths & Shared Values and Academic Director of the Cambridge Interfaith Programme. This distinctive event introduced her formally to the University (by means of an inaugural lecture) and provided a reception for her latest book, Subcontractors of guilt: Holocaust memory & Muslim belonging in post-war Germany (Stanford University Press, 2023).

A recording of this event is available to watch again--with captions:

The following information was shared in advance of the event:

We will hear how the book fits into Professor Özyürek's wider work and how it tessellates with the vision of the Cambridge Interfaith Programme. Invited discussants, each significant figures in their own field, will then respond to the book and reflect on how its findings and analysis resonate with their research. 

Outline schedule

Introduction by Professor Richard Rex, incoming Chair of the Faculty of Divinity

To and from Subcontractors of Guilt, Professor Esra Özyürek

Responses to Subcontractors of Guilt: Holocaust Memory & Muslim Belonging in Post-War Germany

Opportunity for questions

About Esra Özyürek

Professor Esra Özyürek joined the University of Cambridge from the London School of Economics, where she held a chair in Turkish Studies. Her undergraduate studies were in Sociology and Political Science at Bogazici University, Istanbul. She then completed her PhD at the University of Michigan, moving to teach at the University of California, San Diego. 

A political and religious anthropologist, Özyürek has focused her attention on the personal experiences of individuals who embrace an ideology or belief system that they did not inherit from their grandparents. Secularism, Christianity, Islam, liberalism, and democracy are among seemingly universalist worldviews. Each invites any individual, community, or government to embrace them. However, these worldviews are also considered indigenous to certain geographies and populations and foreign imports to others. Focusing on people who have adopted (and adapted) others' beliefs, the ethnographer can study how belief systems change as they travel in and out of their “natural habitats”. In this way, Özyürek's research identifies and explores tensions between the universalism and particularism of globally-appealing religious and post-religious belief and value systems. Her research thus demonstrates the porosity of the boundaries between Islam and Christianity, religion and non-religion, democracy and authoritarianism, Turkey and Europe. 

Subcontractors of guilt is her third book-length study. Her first, Nostalgia for the modern: state secularism and everyday politics in Turkey (Duke University Press, 2006) describes how ordinary Turkish citizens demonstrated their affinity for Kemalism (the official ideology of the Turkish Republic founded in 1923): in the ways they organized their domestic space, decorated their walls, told their life stories, and interpreted political developments. Her attention subsequently shifted to Germany, generating a second monograph: Being German, becoming Muslim: race, religion, and conversion in the new Europe (Princeton University Press, 2015). Here, she interviewed and observed German-background converts to Islam, analysing patterns within their religious and political experience.

About the book

Subcontractors of guilt: Holocaust memory & Muslim belonging in postwar Germany (Stanford University Press, 2023) focuses on the experience of Muslim-background Germans seeking to adopt the memory of the Holocaust as proof of their commitment to liberal democracy and empathic humanity. Under what conditions are such commitments judged as genuine and sincere, or suspect and fake? And what are the ramifications for those engaged in educational projects linked with the Holocaust and other genocides?


David Feldman

A specialist in the history of antisemitism, Jewish history, the history of migration in modern Britain and the history of racialization, Professor David Feldman has been Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck College, London, since it was established in 2010. In addition to his work as a historian, David is actively engaged in research which addresses public policy. He led a pan-European project exploring contemporary antisemitism in western Europe, and advised international institutions including the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the United Nations and UNESCO. In the UK, his expertise has been sought by the All Party Group Against Antisemitism, the Runnymede Trust, the Trades Union Congress, the Labour Party and the Football Association.

Michael Banner

Dean and Fellow at Trinity College, the Revd Dr Michael Banner is known for his work--theoretical and practical--on moral theology and ethics. Past academic roles include Professor of Ethics and Public Policy in Life Sciences in the School of Molecular and Clinical Medicine, University of Edinburgh, and F.D. Maurice Professor of Moral and Social Theology, King’s College, London. In the wider world, he has advised the UK Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Department of Health, the Home Office, and the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, and completed a nine-year term on the board of the Human Tissue Authority. Espousing a commitment to ethical investment, he also served on advisory boards for F&C Asset Management and Friend’s Life, in the City of London. He is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day.

Sarah Colvin

Schröder Professor of German at the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Jesus College, Sarah Colvin leads the Cultural Production and Social Justice research group, examining the relationship between artistic production such as film, novels, poetry, performance, and social and epistemic justice. She held chairs at the universities of Edinburgh, Birmingham and Warwick before becoming Schröder Professor of German at Cambridge in 2014. She is Gender Equality Champion at the University of Cambridge and an Advisory Group member for the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance.

Shruti Kapila

Professor Shruti Kapila's work addresses modern and contemporary India (c. 1770 to the present) and global political thought. Her academic life has been defined by centering the importance of India for the remaking of global political languages. Her most recent book, Violence Fraternity: Indian Political Thought in the Global Age (Princeton University Press & Penguin Random House India, 2021) focuses on 20th century political thought and theory and the Indian rewriting of modern political languages notably sovereignty, democracy, violence and republicanism. Her latest research explores Indian democracy and its constitution, conservatism and global anti-imperialism. Her wider interests include the history of the modern subject, psychoanalysis and psychiatry in colonial India and the present day, the history of modern science and race, gender and political violence. She is a Co-Director of the Global Humanities Initiative at the School of Arts and Humanities, working with seven universities across the global south in partnership with Cambridge for the creation of new curriculum and new institutional capabilities.


Light refreshments will be available from 4:15pm.

Pre-ordered copies of the book can also be collected between 4:15pm and 5pm (and directly after the event).

The event will begin at 5:00pm. 

Register (via Eventbrite) to guarantee your place in the audience at the Faculty of Divinity.

(An alternative link is given below for the livestream.)

Wednesday, 3 May, 2023 - 17:00 to 18:30
Contact email: 
Event location: 
Faculty of Divinity, Cambridge (also livestreamed)

Latest news

[Event report] The Art of Peace—Sir David Khalili on coexistence and intercultural exchange

11 June 2024

On Thursday 23 May, the Cambridge Interfaith Programme welcomed Professor Sir David Khalili for a keynote lecture exploring “The Art of Peace”. Over the course of 50 minutes...

Conference report | Being with Water Otherwise

14 May 2024

The conference Being with Water OTHERWISE (April 15-16, 2024) brought together scholars, practitioners, and activists from diverse backgrounds to explore the intricate...