October 4, 2010
Politics of Religious Freedom and the Minority Question: A Middle Eastern Genealogy
The right to religious freedom is widely regarded as a crowning achievement of secular-liberal democracy, 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. Through a focus on the history of the Middle East and Egypt in particular, Professor Mahmood's talk problematized this account of religious liberty by analyzing the structure of inequality that characterizes the relationship between First and Third World sovereignty within international law, and how the historical development of the practice and concept of religious liberty has been intertwined with the exercise of Western power. Professor Mahmood's talk was co-sponsored by the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
Dr. Saba Mahmood is an Associate Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology at UC Berkeley. Her research interests lie in exploring historically specific articulations of secular modernity in postcolonial societies, with particular attention to issues of subject formation, religiosity, embodiment, and gender. She also focuses on politics of religious liberty, particularly in relationship to religious minorities living in the Middle East. Professor Mahmood is the author of Politics and Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (Princeton University Press, 2005), and Is Critique Secular? Blasphemy, Injury, and Free Speech (edited with Talal Asad, Wendy Brown, and Judith Butler, University of California Press, 2009).