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
E-mail:abarlas@ithaca.edu
Office:328 Muller Center
Ithaca, NY 14850

I joined the Politics department in 1991 and will be retiring in 2020. In this time, I've 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 (2008), for a semester. My career path, however, dates from 1976 when I was inducted into Pakistan's Foreign Service but from which I was later fired for having criticized General Zia ul Haq, the country's military ruler. I then worked as the assistant editor of the Muslim, an opposition newspaper, while also publishing poetry and short stories. In 1983, I felt compelled to leave Pakistan and some years later got political asylum in the U.S.

In general, my work engages with various forms of violence, particularly, colonial, sexual, religious and secular. In my first book, I traced the genealogy of Pakistan's recurrent military dictatorships (and India's democracy) to the period of British colonialism (Democracy, Nationalism and Communalism: The Colonial Legacy in South Asia, Westview; 1995). After I began teaching about Islam, I became interested in contesting traditional interpretations of its scripture as a patriarchal text and in an alternative, liberatory, hermeneutics (Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an; University of Texas Press, 2002; 2019; and Believing Women: A Brief Introduction, co-authored with David R. Finn, UTP, 2019). In the wake of 9/ 11/ 2001, I explored Western epistemic and secular violence against Muslims (Islam, Muslims and the U.S.; Global Media, 2004; Re-understanding Islam; Van Gorcum, 2008). In recent years, I have reverted to critiquing patriarchal readings of the Qur'an, this time by secular-/ feminists who also dispute its sacrality (Ch. 8 in Believing Women; Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion; and Philosophy and Social Criticism).

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

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