Asma Barlas

Asma Barlas

Professor, Department of Politics
Faculty, School of Humanities and Sciences

Specialty:Research Interests: Islam; Qur’anic hermeneutics; Muslim sexual politics; Colonialism and Decoloniality.
Phone:(607) 274-3557
Office:328 Muller Center
Ithaca, NY 14850

I joined the Politics department in 1991 and will be retiring this Spring. During these years I served as the (founding) director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity (1999- 2002; 2006-15) and also held the Spinoza Chair in Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands (Spring 2008). My career path, however, dates from 1976 when I was inducted into Pakistan's Foreign Service and from which I was fired six years later on the orders of the country's military ruler, Gen. Zia ul Haq, for having criticized him. I then worked as the assistant editor of the Muslim, an opposition newspaper, until I left for the US where I received political asylum in the 1980s.

Much of my work engages with violence, in particular, colonial, sexual, religious and secular. In my first book, I traced the genealogy of Pakistan's chronic militarism (and India's electoral democracy) to the impact of British colonialism (Democracy, Nationalism and Communalism: The British Legacy in South Asia; Westview, 1995). After I began teaching about the Middle East, I became interested in interpretations of Islam's scripture that justify discrimination and violence against women. In addition to offering a theological and methodological critique of such readings, I also proposed a liberatory scriptural hermeneutics in Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an (University of Texas Press, 2002; 2019; U.K., Saqi, 2019) and Believing Women: A Brief Introduction, co-authored with David R. Finn (UTP, 2019). Following 9/ 11/ 2001, I wrote about Western religious and secular violence against Muslims (Islam, Muslims and the U.S. India, Global Media, 2004; and Re-understanding Islam. Netherlands, Van Gorcum, 2008). In the past few years, I've engaged with secular and "Third wave" Muslim feminist critiques of the Qur'an's sacrality (Ch. 8 in Believing Women; Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion; and Philosophy and Social Criticism).

My book on the Qur'an has been translated into Bahasa Indonesian (2005) while several essays have been translated into other languages (Arabic, Bengali, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, French, German). I've also been invited to speak about my work on the Qur'an in a number of countries and have especially appreciated doing so in Indonesia, Granada (Spain), Turkey, Russia, and Iceland.

I have a B.A. in English Literature and Philosophy (Kinnaird College) and an M.A. (first position) in Journalism (University of the Punjab) from Pakistan, and an M.A. and Ph.D. (with distinction) in International Studies (Graduate School of International Studies-- now the Josef Korbel School-- University of Denver) from the U.S.

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