Esen Kirdis, Ph.D.

Rhodes College

Country: United States (Tennessee)

Research Interests

Middle East & North African Politics

Religion & Politics

Political Parties and Interest Groups

Countries of Interest






Journal Articles:

(2018) Wolves in Sheep Clothing or Victims of Times? Discussing the Immoderation of Incumbent Islamic Parties in Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia, Democratization

This article discusses the “immoderation” of incumbent Islamic parties – defined by the pursuit of a moral agenda and by an unwillingness to compromise with the opposition – through a comparative study of four incumbent Islamic parties in the socio-politically different regimes of Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia. Building on literature from religion and politics, social psychology, sociology of religion, and on the inclusion-moderation hypothesis, this study argues that (1) Islamic parties’ strong organizations resulted both in their success and in the absence of internal pluralism and that (2) their dominant status in the party system consolidated their majoritarian understanding of democracy. Through its discussion of “immoderation” this study aims to contribute to the interdisciplinary literature on religion and politics.

(2016) From Loyal to Hard Opposition: The Political Transformation of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, Politics Religion and Ideology

After almost three decades of electoral contestation, the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood (JMB) has moved away from being a ‘loyal opposition’ advocating the Islamization of Jordanian politics and avoiding any open confrontations with the regime, to a ‘hard opposition’ advocating political reforms and from demanding the formation of a functioning constitutional monarchy. This paper will discuss why and how on such a political transformation has taken place by utilizing theories on party change, social movements, political transitions from authoritarianism, state power, Islamic political thought, and democratization in the Middle East. In doing so, it will also critically evaluate the findings of the inclusion-moderation literature, adapt a qualitative methodology, and argue that (1) the Jordanian regime deliberalized as the JMB became electorally successful during the regime’s tactical political opening, that (2) the regime’s deliberalization created internal debates within the JMB in regards to how to respond to these transformations in the regime, and that (3) the JMB became less idealistic, that is less focused on morality issues, and more realistic, that is more focused on actual political problems and policy, such as unemployment and constitutional reforms, as a result of these internal debates.

(2016) Immoderation: Comparing the Christian Right in the US and Pro-Islamic Movement-Parties in Turkey, Democratization

This article will discuss the “immoderation” of religious political actors – defined as the continuation of a relatively closed and rigid worldview – through a cross-religious comparison of the Christian Right coalition within the Republican Party in the US with the pro-Islamic movement-parties in Turkey. By adapting a “most different systems approach”, this study will question the similar evolution of two religious political actors in two dissimilar political regimes. In particular, it will question the processes and types of immoderation by looking into (1) “behavioural immoderation”, immoderation for the strategic purpose of forming a small yet ideologically pure supporter base, and into (2) “ideological immoderation”, immoderation as a result of a continued advocacy for a moral role for the state without a full embrace of political pluralism. In this, it will argue that religious political actors are strategic actors who try to guarantee their organizational survival amidst changing costs and benefits of moderation vis-à-vis immoderation. Through its discussion of “immoderation” and through its cross-religious comparison, this study will aim to contribute to the inclusion-moderation literature.

(2015) Between Movement and Party: Islamic Movements in Morocco and the Decision to Enter Party Politics, Politics Religion and Ideology

To understand the reasons and the consequences of variation in Islamic movement behavior, this article asks: Why do some Islamic movements choose to form Islamic political parties, while others do not? Adapting a ‘method of difference’, it questions ‘variation’ in Islamic movement behavior ‘within’ the context of Morocco by focusing on two Islamic movements, one of which has shifted to party politics, while the other one has deliberately avoided doing so. Based on qualitative field research findings, this article argues that a movement's strategic objectives, defined by its ideological priorities and its organizational needs, determine whether a movement will shift to party politics. In so doing, this article also looks at the consequences of political participation vis-à-vis non-participation by evaluating the contemporary success and failures of these movements. Throughout these discussions, this article aims to address Islamic movements within the ‘framework of rational behavior’ and to discuss the ‘mechanisms’ between two moving parts, between structure and agency, to understand how Islamic movements make decisions.

Books Written:

(2019) The Rise of Islamic Political Movements and Parties: Morocco, Turkey and Jordan, Edinburgh University Press

Although regarded as a single community of Islamists, Islamic political movements utilise vastly different means to pursue their goals. This book examines why some Islamic movements facing the same socio-political structures pursue different political paths, while their counterparts in diverse contexts make similar political choices. Based on qualitative fieldwork involving personal interviews with Islamic politicians, journalists, and ideologues – conducted both before and after the Arab Spring – author Esen Kirdiş draws close comparisons between six Islamic movements in Jordan, Morocco and Turkey. She analyses how some Islamic movements decide to form a political party to run in elections, while their counterparts in the same country reject doing so and instead engage in political activism as a social movement through informal channels. More broadly, the study demonstrates the role of internal factors, ideological priorities and organisational needs in explaining differentiation within Islamic political movements, and discusses its effects on democratisation.