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I will discuss the “woman question in post secularism” by offering my critique of Saba Mahmood’s book “Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject”. But before I do so, let me just state that I am a legal academic and I am not a reader of the field of anthropology. I am unfamiliar with the theoretic jargon of the discipline- even less so of the jargon of the subfield, anthropology of religion from which Politics of Piety hails. Each discipline is autonomous more so fields of study within each discipline. Those fields usually coalesce around a celebrity figure of a theorist who originates a theoretic language that his or her mentees use to signal their affiliation with this field. Critique of the celebrity figures of the field usually occurs by way of addition, modification, and complexification and rarely in the form of radical critique. Radical critique is usually costly for those affiliated with a field because of the way academia is organized. One needs the reference letter, the invitation to a conference, and the book review. This is all to say that Politics of Piety may have already been subject to a great deal of critique-addition/modification/complexification, sadly being an outsider and missing the subtleties of exchange between mentors and mentees within the anthropology of religion, I am unaware of any of it.

The book: Politics of Piety was published in 2005 and has had a great and successful career in EuroAmerican academia. One sees it cited everywhere- and I mean everywhere- typically in the context of denouncing Western feminism-sometimes one sees the word “secular” inserted between “Western” and “feminism= or in asserting a counter and different kind of feminism to the Western one. The book, which anthropologizes the piety movement among women in the nineties of the twentieth century, namely, the women of the mosque in Egypt, has never been translated to Arabic. It has been more than a decade since its publication and has had a huge and formative effect on a whole generation of academics in EuroAmerican Academia especially among those interested in the study of Islam and Muslims and yet seems to have had a bare life in the Arab world. It appears that a book that talks about an Arab phenomenon has caused an explosion in the West but has landed a DUD in the Arab world. The question is why?

Publication Citation

Review of Saba Mahmood’s book “Politics of Piety: Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject” (2005).