Saba Mahmood

Saba Mahmood

Saba Mahmood is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of California Berkeley.  She is a co-PI (with E. Hurd) on the research project “Politics of Religious Freedom: Contested Norms and Local Practices” (funded by the Luce Foundation 2011-2014).  Mahmood’s work focuses on historically specific articulations of secular modernity in postcolonial societies of the Middle East, with particular attention to issues of ethics, religion, liberal governmentality, gender, and Islam.

Mahmood is the author of Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject that received the 2005 Victoria Schuck award from the American Association of Political Science.  She is also the co-author of Is Critique Secular? Blasphemy, Injury, and Free Speech (with Talal Asad, Wendy Brown, and Judith Butler), 2009.  Her work has appeared in a variety of journals including Critical Inquiry, Cultural Anthropology, Boston Review, Social Research, American Ethnologist, Public Culture, and Cultural Studies.  Mahmood was the recipient of the Carnegie Corporation’s Scholars of Islam Award (2007), and the Frederick Burkhardt fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (2009-2010).  She was a resident fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University during 2009-2010.

Mahmood’s current project focuses on politics of religious liberty, particularly in relationship to religious minorities living in the Middle East.  The right to religious freedom is widely regarded as a crowning achievement of secular-liberal democracies, one that guarantees the peaceful co-existence of religiously diverse populations.  Enshrined in national constitutions and international laws and treaties, the right to freedom of conscience is seen as a key mechanism for ensuring that religious minorities are able to practice their traditions freely.  Mahmood rethinks this narrative by focusing on three broad questions: How has the inequality of first and third world sovereignty affected the exercise of religious liberty differently for religious minorities living across this divide?  How has the right to religious liberty become central to contemporary geopolitics, transforming the relations between Muslims and Christians living in the Middle East?  What normative conceptions of freedom, religion, community, and the individual are encoded in the right to religious freedom as it has come to be litigated in recent jurisprudence of courts in Europe and the Middle East?

Return to Project Team