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 but served as the founding director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity for twelve years. During that time, I also held the Spinoza Chair in Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands (2008). My career path, however, dates from 1976 when I was recruited into Pakistan's Foreign Service and from which I was later fired on the orders of the country's military dictator, General Zia ul Haq. (I had criticized him, as well as the judiciary, for the hanging of prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.) I then worked briefly as the assistant editor of an opposition newspaper, the Muslim, while also publishing poetry and short-stories, before leaving for the U.S. where I eventually received political asylum.

My research interests have changed over the years but I remain interested in exploring violence in one form or another, political, sexual, racial, epistemic. For instance, in my first book, I traced the roots of Pakistan's militarism (and India's democracy) to the period of Britain's colonization of the Indian subcontinent (Democracy, Nationalism and Communalism: The Colonial Legacy in South Asia, Westview Press; 1995). In the next, I critiqued patriarchal interpretations of Islam's scripture, the Qur'an, that legitimize sexual discrimination while also proposing a liberatory hermeneutics ("Believing Women" in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an; University of Texas Press, 2002). A revised second edition, along with a monograph, co-authored with David Finn, Believing Women: A Brief Introduction, are in press (University of Texas Press). Following 9/11/2001, I wrote about Western racial and polemical violence against Muslims (Islam, Muslims and the U.S.; Global Media, 2004, and Re-understanding Islam; Van Gorcum, 2008). And, in the last few years, I have been engaging with secular-/feminist scholarship that disputes the Qur'an's sacrality, which is a fundamental tenet of Islamic belief and practice (Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion; Philosophy and Social Criticism, chapter 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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