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.

Much of my scholarship, which is outside my disciplinary field of International Studies, is about different forms of violence, especially, colonial, religious, sexual/ textual, and epistemic. In my first book, I traced the militarism of Pakistan's politics (in contrast to India's electoral), to British colonialism. In the next, I countered dominant readings of  Islam’s scripture, the Qur'an, that justify discrimination against women, with an anti-patriarchal hermeneutics that draws both on the Qur'an's conceptions of God as being beyond sex/gender and on its indifference to gender as a feature of human identity.  In the wake of 9/ 11/ 2001, I critiqued the West's more than millennium-long history of recycling specious representations of Islam/Muslims, which suggests an eternal return of the repressed. More recently I've argued against secular and feminist approaches that dispute the Qur'an's sacrality in the name of women's rights and feminist justice. Currently, I'm writing about why an Islamic theology must be ungendered if it is to adhere to the Qur'an's statements about God and why certain Qur'anic allusions to men's and women's roles are time- and culture-bound. Indeed, read as such, rather than as sanctifying a gender hierarchy, they are more congruent with the Qur'an's "ethics of responsiblization" (to rephrase Jacques Derrida) that emphasize mutual care and guardianship between women and men.

My book, Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an (University of Texas Press, 2002), has been translated into Bahasa Indonesia (2005), while derivative essays have appeared in Arabic, Bengali, Spanish, Dutch, German, French and Portuguese. A revised second edition was published in 2019 (in the U.K., by Saqi), along with an abridged version co-authored with David R. Finn.

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.