The role of Muslim women has been a topic that has drawn much attention, curiosity, and speculation by a variety of contemporary thinkers, prominent figures, and activists. Muslim women’s bodies and societal roles have often been an ideological battleground for representatives of diverse modern movements such as colonialists, missionaries, second wave feminists, religious conservatives, and post-colonialist intellectuals. Arguably, few segments of women have received the scrutiny that Muslim women have in the last century. This one week intensive will critically analyze the impact of the various pressures to “liberate” Muslim women and the way that Muslim women have responded to these external forces on their own terms.
The course will begin by examining an overview of the feminist movement and the concerns women have raised within its many streams of thought. Points of convergence and divergence with Muslim women’s experiences will be explored. The underlying assumptions in the various early twentieth century Western encounters with Muslim women in the form of colonialists and missionaries and later second wave secular feminists will be examined both from a historical and theoretical perspective. Finally, we will examine what some have labeled as third wave feminism from within the Muslim experience through analyzing how contemporary scholars have worked to interpret scriptures in a way that is both authentic to the Islamic tradition while simultaneously empowering to Muslim women and their spirituality. An approach that employs critical thought and openness to diverse hermeneutical paradigms while also recognizing the significance of scriptural authority to a great many Muslims will be engaged. We will be reading a variety of perspectives in class and critically analyzing them in discussions. Come ready to fully engage and evaluate the various readings.