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_0.pdf (129.69 KB)

I joined the Politics department in 1991 and retired in 2020, having served for nearly half this time 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 Pakistan where I was recruited into its Foreign Service in 1976 and was fired six years later at the edict of General Zia ul Haq, the country's military ruler, for having criticized him. I then worked briefly for 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.

In part because of my political interest in violence and in part because of some of my personal experiences as well as a Eurocentric education, I've written mostly about aspects of colonial, sexual, religious and epistemic violence. In my first book, I trace the imprints of British colonial rule on state, class, and politics in post-independence Pakistan and India by drawing on Antonio Gramsci’s concept of a passive revolution (Democracy, Nationalism and Communalism: The British Legacy in South Asia; Westview, 1995; Routledge, 2020). In the next, I counter patriarchal readings of Islam’s scripture that justify women's oppression with a theological hermeneutics grounded in the Qur'an's depictions of God as beyond sex/ gender (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). Many post 9/ 11/ 2001 writings detail the West's millennium-old recycling of pejorative images of Islam/ Muslims, gesturing to 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). Over the past few years, I've questioned third-wave Muslim feminist attempts to dispute the Qur'an's sacrality in the name of feminist justice and women's rights  (Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion; and Philosophy and Social Criticism). Currently, I am writing about Qur’anic provisions that most most Muslims treat as giving men universal rights vis-à-vis women with a view to demonstrating that these can be read as being historically contingent. Doing so, in fact, allows one to recuperate an “ethics of responsibilization” (to rephrase Jacques Derrida) between women and men that is in more in line with the Qur'anic notion of their mutual guardianship than imputing sex/ gender bias to the text.

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.