Asma Barlas

Professor Emerita, Politics
School: School of Humanities and Sciences
Speciality: Research Interests: Islam; Qur’anic hermeneutics; Muslim sexual politics; Colonialism and Decoloniality.
file-outline C.V. - barlas.cv21.pdf (146.47 KB)

I joined the Politics department in 1991 and retired 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 and 2006-15). In Spring 2008, I also held the Spinoza Chair in Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. However, my career path began in 1976 when I was recruited into Pakistan's Foreign Service but from which I was later fired at the behest of the country's military ruler, General Zia ul Haq, for having criticized him. I then worked briefly as the assistant editor of the Muslim, an opposition newspaper, before leaving for the U.S., where I received political asylum.

My non-academic work includes poetry, short-stories, and a weekly column for the Muslim. My academic engages with different aspects of violence, specifically, colonial, sexual, religious, and epistemic. My first book traces Pakistan's chronic militarism and India's electoral politics to British colonial rule (Democracy, Nationalism and Communalism: The British Legacy in South Asia; Westview, 1995). My next contests interpretations of Islam’s scripture that sanction violence and discrimination against women and also proposes a liberatory hermeneutics (Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'anUniversity of Texas Press, 2002; 2019; U.K., Saqi, 2019; and, Believing Women: A Brief Introduction, co-authored with David R. Finn, UTP, 2019). Post 9/ 11/ 2001 writings focus mostly on the more than millennium long history of Western misrepresentations of Islam and Muslims (Islam, Muslims and the U.S., India, Global Media, 2004; Re-understanding Islam: A Double Critique, Netherlands, Van Gorcum, 2008). Newer work examines secular and Third wave Muslim feminist critiques of the Qur'an's sacrality (a new chapter in Believing Women; Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion; and Philosophy and Social Criticism). Currently, I'm exploring why some rights in the Qur'an aren't universal but historically contingent, as a way of recuperating the Qur'anic emphasis on mutual guardianship and an "ethics of responsibilization" (to rephrase Jacques Derrida) between women and men.

Photo of Punjab University

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

Believing Women has been published in Bahasa Indonesian (2005) while several essays deriving from it have been translated into other languages, including Arabic, Bengali, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, French, and German. I've also been invited to speak about it internationally, most memorably in Indonesia, Turkey, Spain (Granada), Egypt, 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) (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, U.S.).