Asma Barlas

Professor Emerita, Politics
School: School of Humanities and Sciences
Specialty: Research Interests: Islam; Qur’anic hermeneutics; Muslim sexual politics; Colonialism and Decoloniality.
file-outline C.V. - Barlas.CV23_3.pdf (132.43 KB)

I joined the Politics department in 1991 and retired from it in 2020. For about half this time, I served as the (founding) director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity (1999- 2002; 2006-15), and, for a semester, also held the Spinoza Chair in Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands (Spring 2008). However, my career path began in Pakistan when I was recruited into its Foreign Service in 1976 but fired six years later on the orders of General Zia ul Haq, the country's military dictator, for having criticized him. I then worked briefly as an assistant editor of The Muslim, a now defunct opposition paper, before leaving for graduate school in the U.S., where I also received political asylum.

Punjab University

University of the Punjab, Old Campus, Lahore, Pakistan.

My scholarship is outside my disciplinary field of International Studies and mostly about different aspects of political/ religious/ epistemic power and violence.  In my first book, I drew on Antonio Gramsci's concept of a passive revolution to trace the militarism of Pakistan's politics and India's democracy to British colonial rule, which ended in 1947 with their independence. In the next, I countered readings of Islam’s scripture as male-privileging with a theological hermeneutics centered on the absence of gender in the Qur'an as a feature of both divine and human identities. This book, Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an (University of Texas Press, 2002), was published in a revised second edition in 2019 (along with an introductory version co-authored with David R. Finn). It has since been published in Bahasa Indonesian (2005), Pakistan (Sama, 2004), and the U.K. (Saqi, 2019), while derivative essays have been translated into Arabic, Bengali, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, French and German.

In the wake of 9/ 11/ 2001, I critiqued the West's millennium-long recycling of pejorative images of Islam/Muslims, gesturing to the eternal return of the repressed, while more recently I've argued against secular/ feminist scholarship that disputes the Qur'an's sacrality in the name of feminist/ gender rights and justice.  Currently, I'm writing about why Islamic theology needs to be ungendered if it is to describe the God of the Qur'an and also why certain Qur'anic provisions about men's authority vis-à-vis women may be time- and culture- bound rather than timeless. Indeed, reading them as such aligns with the Qur'an's "ethics of responsiblization" (to rephrase Jacques Derrida) between women and men that emphasizes their mutual recognition and guardianship.

Kinnaird College, Lahore.

Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore, Pakistan.

My non-academic work includes poetry, short-stories, and a column for the Muslim, as well as op-eds for Al-Jazeera, The Guardian, Open Democracy, New Statesman and The Daily Times.

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