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 in 2020. During this time I served as the founding director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity for twelve years (1999- 2002; 2006-15) and also held the Spinoza Chair in Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, for a semester (Spring 2008). My career path, however, dates from 1976 when I was inducted into Pakistan's Foreign Service and from which I was fired on the orders of General Zia ul Haq, the country's military ruler, for having criticized him. I then worked as the assistant editor of the Muslim, an opposition newspaper, until I felt compelled to leave Pakistan. In the 1980s I received political asylum in the U.S. while in graduate school.

In general, my work engages with different forms of violence, especially colonial, sexual, religious and secular. In Democracy, Nationalism and Communalism: The Colonial Legacy in South Asia (Westview; 1995) I traced the genealogy of Pakistan's chronic militarism to the British colonial period. After I began teaching about the Middle East, I became interested in interpretations of Islam's scripture that justify male privilege and violence against women. In addition to eventually 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 explored the long history of Western epistemic and secular violence against Muslims (Islam, Muslims and the U.S. India, Global Media, 2004; and Re-understanding Islam. Netherlands, Van Gorcum, 2008). More recently, I've been engaging with secular and "Third wave" Muslim feminism which disputes the Qur'an's sacrality while also reifying its patriarchal exegesis (Ch. 8 in Believing Women; Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion; and Philosophy and Social Criticism).

My book on the Qur'an was translated into Bahasa Indonesian (2005) and parts of it have been translated into other languages as well (Arabic, Bengali, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, French, German). I've also been invited to speak about it in a number of countries and have especially enjoyed 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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