MESA Book Awards

Saba Mahmood

University of California, Berkeley

2005 Albert Hourani Book Award Honorable Mention

Saba Mahmood

Saba Mahmood

Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject
Princeton University Press, 2005

Focusing on the mosque-based piety movement among groups of women in urban Egypt, and specifically on all-female teaching circles, Mahmood’s book is a provocative interrogation of western-provenant theories of social organization and the formation of the subject from the perspective of a particular collective experience among Egyptian Muslim women now.  In particular, her use of theories of performativity—the significance of actual bodily practices and training to a spiritual and communal worldview—is a strong and convincing challenge to more idealist and text-based studies of contemporary Islamic movements, as it is to many representations and homogenizations—even academic ones—of “Muslim women.”

As one committee member commented, this book “breaks new methodological ground and whacks sacred cows all over the place. Eloquently and persuasively, it challenges primarily Western endemic perceptions of Muslim women en masse as perennial victims …. Mahmood leaves hardly anything unquestioned regarding various versions of this master narrative informed by secular-liberal notions of individual agency and freedom. She also interrogates the approaches of those who with the best of motives have previously tried to problematize these dominant narratives.”   As another committee member put it, “Strong in its theoretical analysis, and in relating discussion of Islamic revival to the social sciences, Dr. Mahmood’s book shows impressive empathy for the subject matter and great dexterity in handling complex theories from different disciplines.  The book will have a profound impact on social and gender theories in its engagement of social science theory.  Here is a book that does not use theory to explain the Muslim world, but uses the Muslim world to profoundly change social science theory.”

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