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.CV22.pdf (130.87 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); during this period, I also held the Spinoza Chair in Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands (Spring 2008). My career path, though, began in 1976 in Pakistan when I was recruited into its Foreign Service and from which I was fired on the orders of General Zia ul Haq, the country's military dictator, for having (privately) criticized him. I then worked briefly for the Muslim, a now defunct opposition paper, before leaving for the U.S., where I eventually received political asylum.

Punjab University

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

My scholarship focuses on various forms of political, epistemic and religious violence. In my first book, I drew on Antonio Gramsci’s concept of a passive revolution to explain the history of militarism in Pakistan's politics, in contrast to India's democracy, a comparison that seemed warranted since both were part of "British India" until 1947, hence subjected to almost a century of colonial rule (Democracy, Nationalism and Communalism: The British Legacy in South Asia; Westview, 1995; Routledge, 2020). In the next, I critiqued patriarchal interpretations of Islam’s scripture, the Qur'an, that discriminate against women while also proposing a theological hermeneutics that takes seriously the Qur'an's claim that God is beyond sex/ gender as well as the fact that missing from the Qur'an is a view of gender; this allows me to re-read the verses Muslims take as establishing male superiority over women (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). A lot of my post 9/ 11/ 2001 work details the West's millennium-long recycling of pejorative images of Islam and Muslims which suggests the eternal return of the repressed (Islam, Muslims and the U.S., India, Global Media, 2004; Re-understanding Islam: A Double Critique, Netherlands, Van Gorcum, 2008). More recent essays identify the problems with secular/ feminist approaches to the Qur'an that dispute its sacrality in the name of feminist justice and women's rights (Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion; and Philosophy and Social Criticism).  Currently, I'm writing about why provisions in the Qur'an about men's authority vis-à-vis women can be read historically and why doing so is more congruent with its “ethics of responsibilization” (to rephrase Jacques Derrida) that emphasizes their mutual recognition and guardianship.

Believing Women was published in Bahasa Indonesian (Jakarta, 2005) while derivative essays have been translated into Arabic, Bengali, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, French and German. I've also been invited to speak about it internationally, most memorably in Indonesia, Granada (Spain), Egypt, Russia, and Iceland.

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 (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.