Asma Barlas

Asma Barlas

Professor and Program Director, Center for the Study of Culture, Race and Ethnicity

Faculty, Department of Politics

Specialty:Interests: Islam & Muslims, especially women's rights; Qur’anic hermeneutics; Colonialism and decolonial thought; 'Third' world.
Phone:(607) 274-1056
Office:101 Center for Health Sciences
Ithaca, NY 14850


I have the privilege of being the Center's founding director and served in this capacity from 1999 to 2002 and then again from 2006 onward. Next month, however, I will be returning to the Politics department where I was first hired in 1991. In 2008, I also held the Spinoza Chair in Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. My career path, however, began in 1976 in Pakistan when I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a diplomat, a position from which I was fired six years later for having criticized the country's military dictator, General Zia ul Haq.  I then worked as the assistant editor of the Muslim, an opposition newspaper, before leaving for the U.S. where I eventually received political asylum.

Most of my research and writing explore different forms of violence: colonial, sexual, racial, epistemic. In my Ph.D. dissertation, I traced the genealogy of military rule in Pakistan to British colonialism in South Asia (Democracy, Nationalism and Communalism: The Colonial Legacy in South Asia,1995). After I began teaching at Ithaca, I became interested in Muslim sexual/ textual politics, specifically, in interpretations of Islam's scripture that justify women's oppression ("Believing Women" in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an, 2002). In the wake of 9/11/2001, this interest shifted to looking at epistemic and polemical violence against Islam/ Muslims in the West (Islam, Muslims and the U.S., 2004; Re- understanding Islam, 2008).  More recently, I have written about Muslim bodies, differing narratives of Abraham's sacrifice, and Islamic feminism. However, my primary interest remains the Qur'an; two essays on it were published this year in the Oxford Handbook of Theology, Sexuality, and Gender and Patriarchal Moments, in Bloomsbury Academic's Series, Textual Moments in the History of Political Thought, (U.K.). Another, "Secular and Feminist Critiques of the Qur'an: Anti-hermeneutics as liberation?" is forthcoming in the Journal of Feminist Studies of Religion. Prior to writing academically, I also published poetry and short-stories while in Pakistan.

To my good fortune, my work on the Qur'an has been translated into a number of languages (Arabic, Bengali, Indonesian, Urdu, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, and German) and I've also been invited to speak about it in several countries. I have particularly appreciated doing so in Indonesia, Granada (Spain), Russia, Turkey, the Netherlands, Egypt, and Iceland.

I have a B.A. in English Literature and Philosophy and an M.A. in Journalism (with honors), from Pakistan and an M.A. and Ph.D. (with distinction) in International Studies, from the U.S.

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