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 Decolonial thought.
Phone:(607) 274-3557
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 (1999-2002; 2006-2015) and also held the Spinoza Chair in Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands (2008). However, my career path 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, General Zia ul Haq, for having criticized him. I then worked as the assistant editor of the Muslim, an opposition paper, while also publishing poetry and fiction as an independent writer. In 1983, I left for the U.S. where I eventually received political asylum.

Much of my work is about violence, especially colonial, sexual, epistemic, and secular. In graduate school, I focused on the genealogy of Pakistan's militarism (and India's democracy) which I traced to the effects of British colonialism (Democracy, Nationalism and Communalism: The Colonial Legacy in South Asia, Westview; 1995). After I began teaching about Islam, I was drawn to interpretations of its scripture that condone sexual oppression and to the possibility of an alternative, liberatory, hermeneutics (Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an; University of Texas Press, 2002. A revised edition is in press, along with a monograph co-authored with David Finn, Believing Women: A Brief Introduction, from UTP.) Following 9 /11 /2001, I explored Western religious and secular violence against Muslims (Islam, Muslims and the U.S.; Global Media, 2004, and Re-understanding Islam; Van Gorcum, 2008). In recent years, I have begun to engage with secular-/ feminist scholarship which disputes the Qur'an's sacrality (Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion; Philosophy and Social Criticism, and Ch. 8 in Believing Women).

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