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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.

Punjab University

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

My academic work 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). 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.

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.

Faculty Excellence Award, May 14, 2019. Acceptance Comments.

Thank you very much for this award; I'm relieved it isn't the Hell Raiser's Lifetime Achievement prize since that’s not how I’d like to be remembered. I’m very grateful for your recognition especially since I work alongside many stellar teachers, scholars, and campus and community leaders who are deserving of it as well.

Teaching was my third career and I came to it rather late in life. In fact, I was 41 when I joined IC as an assistant professor. But, I’ve appreciated it the most even though the process of being in the academy was at some level self-destructive. I say this because I’ve been trying to excavate my own intellectual foundations ever since graduate school when I first began to recognize that I was a colonized subject whose first language, English, isn't even her mother tongue. Being in the classroom allowed me to continue dismantling parts of myself, which is perhaps why I chose to teach what—and how-- I did.

And, that of course was self indulgent since my own struggles and desires and anxieties shaped the texts I picked with which generations of students then had to struggle as well. I also feel self-indulgent because I had the freedom to write about things that mattered most to me and to speak my mind, freely, even when doing so was the wrongest thing to do.

So, I’m grateful to my students and faculty and staff colleagues for having given me the space to find myself more fully through my teaching and scholarship and service; to then reward me for that journey is astonishing to me!

Kinnaird College, Lahore.

Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore, Pakistan.

My non-academic work in Pakistan included poetry, short-stories, and a column for the Muslim. I've also written 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), University of Denver, U.S.