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Secularism, Religion and Sexuality: A Postcolonial Genealogy


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Speaker(s): Saba Mahmood
Chair: Professor Anne Phillips

Recorded on 12 November 2012 in Sheikh Zayed Theatre, New Academic Building.

The relegation of religion and sexual reproduction to the private sphere is widely regarded as a key feature of modern secular societies. While postcolonial states of South Asia and the Middle East are heir to this arrangement, they are also distinct in that they retain religious laws for the regulation of family affairs. As a result, both minority and majority religious communities of these postcolonial polities continue to exert a fair degree of judicial autonomy over family affairs based on their religious traditions. Professor Mahmood’s talk tries to rethink the classical debate around “family law” and “minority rights” by parsing out the contradictions that attend the public-private distinction institutionalized by the modern state, particularly the complex intertwining of gender, sexuality and religion.

Saba Mahmood is associate professor of Anthropology at the University of California Berkeley. She 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. Most recently she is the co-author of Is Critique Secular? Blasphemy, Injury, and Free Speech (2009) published by the University of California Press. Her work has appeared in a variety of journals including Critical Inquiry, Cultural Anthropology, Boston Review, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Social Research, American Ethnologist, Public Culture, and Cultural Studies. Mahmood is a recipient of the Carnegie Corporation’s scholar of Islam award (2007), and the Frederick Burkhardt fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (2009-10). In Spring 2013 she will be a resident fellow at the American Academy in Berlin.

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