Asma Barlas

Asma Barlas

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

Faculty, Department of Politics

Specialty:Areas of interest: 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


This is my last semester as the Center's director, a capacity in which I have served since 2006 (and, as Founding Director, from 1999-2002). In the Fall, I will return to the Politics department where I was first hired. 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 post from which I was fired for criticizing 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.  In Pakistan, I also published poetry and short-stories.

Most of my research and writing explore different forms of violence and oppression, especially, political, colonial, sexual, and 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 forms of epistemic and polemical violence against Islam/ Muslims in the West (Islam, Muslims and the U.S., 2004; Re- understanding Islam, 2008).  I have also written about Muslim bodies, differing narratives of Abraham's sacrifice, and Islamic feminism. My most recent essays, on the Qur'an and Islam, appear in the Oxford Handbook of Theology, Sexuality, and Gender  and Patriarchal Moments, part of Bloomsbury Academic's Series, Textual Moments in the History of Political Thought, (U.K.).

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, and Dutch) 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.