Martin VAN BRUINESSEN (1946, Schoonhoven, Netherlands) studied theoretical physics and mathematics at Utrecht University, graduating 'cum laude' in 1971. He later switched to social anthropology, which he had been studying on the side. In 1974-76 he spent two years doing fieldwork in (the Kurdish-inhabited parts of) Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria for study of social organisation and social change among the Kurds. This fieldwork, supplemented with archival research, resulted in a Ph.D.thesis (Agha, Shaikh and State: On the Social and Political Organization of Kurdistan) submitted to Utrecht University in 1978, revised versions of which were later published in German, Turkish, Kurdish, Persian, Arabic and again English.
During the years 1978-81 he travelled extensively in Turkey, Iran (on which he published a number of articles) and Afghanistan (where he worked in a village development project). In between (mainly during 1979-1980), he did research in Ottoman history and taught an advanced Turkish course, both at the Department of Turkish Studies of Utrecht University. The work on Ottoman history, done in co-operation with colleagues of different backgrounds, resulted in the edition and analysis of (parts of) the single major source on Kurdish society in the 17th century, Evliya Çelebi's Seyahatname (1988).
From 1982 on, he has concentrated on Indonesia as a second area of research, spending altogether 9 years there in research and teaching on various aspects of Indonesian Islam. This included a year of fieldwork in a poor slum in the city of Bandung, four years as a consultant for field research methods at Indonesia's Institute of Sciences (LIPI), supervising large research projects on Indonesia's ulama and on co-operatives in various parts of the country, and two and a half years as a lecturer of sociology of religion and related subjects at the State Institute of Islamic Studies (IAIN) in Yogyakarta. These activities resulted in numerous publications, in English and Indonesian, including the monographs Tarekat Naqsyabandiyah di Indonesia (1992), NU:Tradisi, Relasi-relasi Kuasa, Pencarian Wacana Baru (1994), and Kitab Kuning, Pesantren dan Tarekat: Tradisi-tradisi Islam di Indonesia (1995).
Between his stays in Indonesia he returned several times to the Middle East on short research trips, focusing on Kurdish and Turkish politics and religious movements, notably on shifting ethnic and religious identities in Turkey and on developments in the Kurdish movement. In 1994 van Bruinessen returned to the Netherlands as an assistant professor of Kurdish and Turkish studies at the Department of Arabic, Persian and Turkish Languages and Cultures of Utrecht University. During the course year 1996-97 he was a guest professor for Kurdish studies at the Institute of Ethnology of Berlin's Free University. He also taught, for shorter periods, at the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO) in Paris. Much of his writing on the Kurds of this period was collected in the two volumes Mullas, Sufis and Heretics: The Role of Religion in Kurdish Society (2000) and Kurdish Ethno-nationalism Versus Nation-building States (2000).
In 1999 van Bruinessen was appointed to the chair of comparative studies of modern Muslim societies at Utrecht University and the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM). At the latter institute, he co-ordinated the research programs ‘Islam, Civil Society and the Public Sphere’ and ‘The Production of Islamic Knowledge in Western Europe’ and organized numerous conferences and workshops. His major publications were the (co-)edited volumes Sufism and the ‘Modern’ in Islam (with Julia D. Howell, 2007), The Madrasa in Asia: Political Activism and Transnational Linkages (with Farish A. Noor and Yoginder Sikand, 2008), Islam and Modernity: Issues and Debates (with M. Khalid Masud and Armando Salvatore, 2009), Producing Islamic Knowledge: Transmission and Dissemination in Western Europe (with Stefano Allievi, 2011) and Contemporary Developments in Indonesian Islam: Explaining the ‘Conservative Turn’ (forthcoming).
Van Bruinessen retired formally from Utrecht University in 2011, but he continues PhD supervision there as well as at several other universities, and was a guest professor at the Aga Khan University’s Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilizations in London in the 2011-12 winter semester. From September 2012 onwards, he is a senior visiting researcher at the Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore.
Besides the major West European languages, Van Bruinessen is fluent in, and has lectured in, Turkish and Indonesian, reads and speaks Kurdish and Persian, and has passive knowledge of Arabic. He has made most of his scholarly work available to the people with whom it deals in the form of Indonesian, Turkish, Kurdish, Persian and Arabic translations.