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; Race and colonialism/ decolonial thought; 'Third' world.
Phone:(607) 274-1056
Office:101 Center for Health Sciences
Ithaca, NY 14850

A biographical note

I was hired in the Politics department in 1991 but am presently the director of the CSCRE (a separate unit). In 2008, I also held the Spinoza Chair in Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. My career path, however, began much earlier in Pakistan in 1976 when I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from which I was later fired for criticizing the country's military ruler, General Zia ul Haq.  I then worked briefly as the assistant editor of the Muslim, an opposition newspaper, before leaving for the U.S. where I eventually received political asylum. While in Pakistan, I also published poetry and short-stories.

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

Much of my work engages with the political, sexual, racial, and epistemic aspects of violence. 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 coming to Ithaca, I became interested in Muslim sexual/ textual politics, specifically, in patriarchal interpretations of Islam's scripture that are used to justify women's oppression ("Believing Women" in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an, 2002). This interest then shifted to examining some of the 'larger historical narratives,' as Richard Rorty calls them, about Islam/ Muslims in the West (Islam, Muslims and the U.S., 2004; Re- understanding Islam, 2008).  More recently, I've written about Muslim bodies, differing interpretations of Abraham's sacrifice, and Islamic feminism. Two essays, on the Qur'an and Islam, are forthcoming in the Oxford Handbook of Theology, Sexuality, and Gender, and Patriarchal Moments, to be published in 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 several languages (Arabic, Bengali, Indonesian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, and Urdu) and I've also been invited to speak about it in the U.S. and abroad. I've particularly liked doing so in Indonesia, Egypt, Granada (Spain), Turkey, the Netherlands, Finland, Iceland, and Russia.