Saba Mahmood

Saba Mahmood's picture
Associate Professor
Graduate Faculty Advisor
Special Interests: 
Religion, secularism, law and politics, ethics, gender and sexuality, Islam, the Middle East, Europe.


Professor Mahmood’s work focuses on the interchange between religious and secular politics in postcolonial societies with special attention to issues of embodiment, cultural hermeneutics, 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.  
Professor Mahmood is currently working on a book about the right to religious liberty and non-Muslims minorities in the Middle East. With a particular focus on Egypt in the context of international and regional developments, three questions are central to the framing of this project: How has the inequality of first and third world sovereignty affected the exercise of religious liberty differently for religious minorities of the Middle East?  How has the discourse on minority rights and religious liberty been transformative of the self-understanding of indigenous Christians in the region? What normative conceptions of freedom, religion, community, and citizenship 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?


Professor Mahmood received her PhD in anthropology from Stanford University.  Before joining UCB, she taught at the University of Chicago.  She holds professional degrees in architecture and urban planning, and worked in these fields before pursuing anthropology.
She is the recipient of a number of fellowships, most recently:  the American Academy in Berlin (Spring 2013); Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford (2009-10); the Frederick Burkhardt Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (2009-10); and the Carnegie Scholars award (2008-09).  Professor Mahmood is a co-PI on a three year project (2010-2013) entitled “Politics of Religious Freedom: Contested Norms and Local Practices” funded by the Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religions and International Affairs.  The aim of the project is to chart the checkered and contested career of the right to religious freedom in the United States, the Middle East, South Asia, and countries of the European Union.  For more information on the project, see:
Professor Mahmood has taught graduate courses on secularism and secularity; human rights and sovereignty; ethics and politics; modern religious hermeneutics; religion and the body; as well as 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.
117 Kroeber Hall
Representative Publications: 



Is Critique Secular?  Blasphemy, Injury, and Free Speech(co-authored with Talal Asad, Wendy Brown, and Judith Butler).  University of California Press, 2009.

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.


Religious Freedom, the Minority Question, and Geopolitics in the Middle East, Comparative Studies in Society and History 15(2):418-446, 2012.


Sectarian Conflict and Family Law in Egypt, American Ethnologist 39(1):54-62, 2012.

 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(3): 447-452; 461-465, 2008.


“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(2): 323-247, 2006.

“Ethical Formation and Politics of Individual Autonomy in Contemporary Egypt,” Social Research, 70(3):1501-1530, 2003.

 “Feminism, the Taliban, and Politics of Counter-Insurgency” (with Charles Hirschkind), Anthropological Quarterly, 75(2):339-354, 2002.

“Feminist Theory, Embodiment, and the Docile Agent: Some Reflections on the Egyptian Islamic Revival,” Cultural Anthropology, 6(2):202-236, 2001.

“Rehearsed Spontaneity and the Conventionality of Ritual: Disciplines of
Salat,” American Ethnologist, 28(4):827-853, 2001.

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