Ayfer Karakaya-Stump was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey. She received her Ph.D. in History and Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University. Before taking up her position at William and Mary, she was a post-doctoral fellow for two years at Cornell University’s Society for the Humanities. In the 2013-4 academic year she held a Mellon Fellowship at the American Research Institute in Turkey and a Senior Fellowship at the Koç University Center for Anatolian Civilizations.
Her scholarly interests include medieval and early modern Middle East, social and cultural history of the Ottoman Empire, Ottoman-Safavid borderlands, Sufism, nonconformist religious movements, Alevi/Bektashi communities, and women and gender in Islamic(ate) societies. Her monograph, The Kizilbash-Alevis in Ottoman Anatolia: Sufism, Politics and Community appeared in 2019 with Edinburgh University Press, and is based largely on newly discovered sources from private archives. She is also the author of a Turkish-language monograph, Vefailik, Bektaşilik, Kızılbaşlık: Alevi Kaynaklarını, Tarihini ve Tarihyazımını Yeniden Düşünmek [The Vefa‘iyye, the Bektashiyye, the Kızılbash: Rethinking Alevi Sources, History and Historiography], which appeared with Bilgi University Press, 2015; 4th edition 2022. Currently, Professor Karakaya-Stump leads a digital humanities project named the "Alevi-Bektashi Digital Archive," dedicated to recording and preserving documents and manuscripts found in the family archives of Alevi saintly lineages. This project earned her an ARIT-NEH grant in the Fall of 2023.
In addition to her academic work, Karakaya-Stump has also published commentaries in periodicals and newspapers, and given interviews, on current Turkish politics.