Saba Mahmood

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117 Kroeber
Medical Leave

Current/Future Courses

Special Interests

Religion, secularism, law and politics, ethics, gender and sexuality, violence, Islam, the Middle East, Europe, South Asia.


Professor Mahmood’s work focuses on the relationship between religious and secular politics in postcolonial societies with special attention to issues of sovereignty, subject formation, law, and gender/sexuality.  Her work is best known for its interrogation of liberal assumptions about the proper boundary between ethics and politics, freedom and unfreedom, the religious and the secular, and agency and submission.  Currently she is working on questions of political violence and survival, with a focus on Sunni-Shia relations in South Asia and the Middle East.

Professor Mahmood has been a recipeint of numerous fellowships, including from the American Academy in Berlin, Henry Luce Foundation’s Initiative on Religion and International Affairs, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, American Council of Learned Societies (Frederick Burkhardt Fellowship), and the Carnegie Scholars' program. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Uppsala in Sweden in 2013. 
For her collaborative research project funded by the Luce Foundation, see


Professor Mahmood received her PhD in anthropology from Stanford University. She holds professional degrees in architecture and urban planning, and worked in these fields before pursuing anthropology. 

Professor Mahmood teaches graduate courses on secularism and secularity; violence and hope; human rights and sovereignty; ethics and politics; modern religious hermeneutics; subject formation; and modern anthropological theory.  Her undergraduate courses focus on sexuality and gender; feminist theory and postcolonialism; anthropology of the Middle East and Islam; anthropology of religion; and ethnographic research and methodology.

Representative Publications



Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report.  Princeton University Press, 2015.

Politics of Religious Freedom (edited with W. Sullivan, E. Hurd and P. Danchin). University of Chicago Press, 2015.

The South Atlantic Quarterly, a special issue on “Religious Liberty and Secular Politics” (with Peter Danchin), 113, no. 2 (2014).

Is Critique Secular?  Blasphemy, Injury, and Free Speech (co-authored with Talal Asad, Wendy Brown, and Judith Butler).  Fordham University Press, 2011.

Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005.  Second edition, with a new preface, 2011.

** Winner of the 2005 Victoria Schuck Award, American Political Science Association.  Honorable Mention, 2005 Albert Hourani Book Award, Middle East Studies Association. Translated into French, Politique de la Piété: Le féminisme à l'épreuve du Renouveau islamique, La Décorverte, 2009.


Azazeel and the Politics of Historical Fiction in Egypt, The Journal of Comparative Literature 65, no. 3 (2013): 265-284.

Religious Freedom, the Minority Question, and Geopolitics in the Middle East, Comparative Studies in Society and History 15, no. 2 (2012):418-446.

Sectarian Conflict and Family Law in Egypt, American Ethnologist 39, no. 2 (2012):54-62.

 Can Secularism be Other-wise? in Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, eds. Michael Warner, Jonathan VanAntwerpen, and Craig Calhoun, Harvard University Press, 2010.

“Is Critique Secular?” and “Secular Imperatives?” Public Culture 20, no. 3 (2008): 447-452; 461-465.

“Feminism, Democracy, and Empire: Islam and the War of Terror, in Women Studies on the Edge, ed., Joan W. Scott, Duke University Press, 2008. 

"Secularism, Hermeneutics, Empire: The Politics of Islamic Reformation," Public Culture 18, no. 2 (2006): 323-247.

“Ethical Formation and Politics of Individual Autonomy in Contemporary Egypt,” Social Research, 70, no. 3 (2003):1501-1530.

 “Feminism, the Taliban, and Politics of Counter-Insurgency” (with Charles Hirschkind), Anthropological Quarterly, 75, no. 2 (2002):339-354.

“Feminist Theory, Embodiment, and the Docile Agent: Some Reflections on the Egyptian Islamic Revival,” Cultural Anthropology, 6, no. 2 (2001):202-236.

“Rehearsed Spontaneity and the Conventionality of Ritual: Disciplines of
Salat,” American Ethnologist, 28, no. 4 (2001):827-853.

Interviews and non-academic publications:

Interview on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 50 minutes, with David Cayley, “Myth of the Secular.”

Religious Liberty, Minorities and Islam: Interview for the Social Science Research Council “The Immanent Frame” Blog,

Interview, America Aboard Program, Public Radio International, “Should religious minorities be concerned about the rise of Islamist governments?” July 2012.

Interview, “The Light in her Eyes.”

The Architects of the Egyptian Revolution, The Nation February 14, 2011


In this volume, four leading thinkers of our times confront the paradoxes and dilemmas attending the supposed stand-off between Islam and liberal democratic values.
Politics of Piety is a groundbreaking analysis of Islamist cultural politics through the ethnography of a thriving, grassroots women's piety movement in the mosques of Cairo, Egypt.
In a remarkably short period of time, the realization of religious freedom has achieved broad consensus as an indispensable condition for peace.
The plight of religious minorities in the Middle East is often attributed to the failure of secularism to take root in the region.Religious Difference in a Secular Age challenges this assessment by examining four cornerstones of secula