Yalman received his high school diploma from Robert College, Istanbul, one of Turkey’s premier private high schools. For his BA and PhD, he studied Social Anthropology at Cambridge University under the mentorship of Edmund Leach and carried out fieldwork in Sri Lanka. At Cambridge, Yalman was a Bye-Fellow of Peterhouse, and subsequently joined the anthropology faculty at the University of Chicago. During his stay at Chicago, he served as Director for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies from 1968-1972. He then joined the Harvard University faculty in 1972. Yalman is also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Although his first book, Under the Bo Tree, was on Sri Lankan kinship and marriage, he has since expanded his research to include religion and politics in Middle Eastern and Muslim cultures. Not only has he written about many countries of the world, he has also conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Sri Lanka, India, Iran and Turkey. Yalman’s varied research interests are expressed in the wide number of languages he speaks: Turkish, English, French, German, some Persian, Sinhalese, Italian and Arabic.  He teaches courses on structuralist and post-structuralist theory and on issues of modernization and social change.
- A Passage to Peace: Global Solutions from East to West. A Dialogue with Daisaku Ikeda. I.B. Tauris, 2009, ISBN 978-1-84511-923-2
- Under the Bo Tree: Studies in Caste, Kinship, and Marriage in the Interior of Ceylon. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1967.
- "On the Purity of Women in the Castes of Ceylon and Malabar," The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 93, No. 1 (Jan., 1963), pp. 25–58
- "On Land Disputes in Eastern Turkey" in Tikku, Girdhari L., and Von Grunebaum, G. E. Islam and its cultural divergence; studies in honor of Gustave E. von Grunebaum, edited by Girdhari L. Tikku University of Illinois Press Urbana, 1971
- "De Tocqueville in India: An Essay on the Caste System," Man, New Series, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), pp. 123–131
- "The Structure of Sinhalese Healing Rituals," The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 23, Aspects of Religion in South Asia (Jun., 1964), pp. 115–150