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Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject

4.1  ·  Rating details ·  606 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews

"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. Unlike those organized Islamist activities that seek to seize or transform the state, this is a moral reform movement whose orthodox practices are commonly viewed as inconsequential to Egypt'
Paperback, 233 pages
Published November 14th 2004 by Princeton University Press (first published January 1st 2004)
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Preethi Krishnan
Feb 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Saba Mahmood's ethnographic account of the Women's Mosque movement in Egypt is quite an enlightening read. She poses some very interesting questions. She hopes “This attempt at comprehension offers the slim hope that in this embattled and imperious climate…analysis as a mode of conversation, rather than mastery, can yield a vision of coexistence that does not require making other lifeworlds extinct or provisional.”

Her project is situated in a particular point in history (after September 11)wher
Aug 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
A part ethnographic, part theoretical book that leverages a fundamental critique to the secular-liberal assumptions of Western feminism through a study of the motivations of the women in the mosque movement in Cairo, Egypt. Although I have a few problems with the methods/methodology of the book, it is a must read for anyone interested in feminist theory, Islamic feminism, and anthropology.
Feb 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
a phenomenal book that disentangles human agency from liberation politics. individuals don't just exercise agency when they rebel against hegemonic, existing norms, but they also do so when they inhabit the hegemonic norms. through a study of the feminist mosque movement in egypt, mahmood shows us that women are rebelling against *some* traditional norms-- specifically, the norm of only males being able to interpret the koran-- in that they are reading and interpreting the koran for themselves. ...more
Maarya Abbasi
May 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviews
TLDR: overrating this w/ three stars b/c of my sheer appreciation n awe that a work like this exists, but found a lot of problems with it overall

My overly long book review below:

Saba Mahmood, in her book, Politics of Piety, proposes that despite their inclusionary intentions, existing feminist accounts of the agency of Muslim women from “other” parts of the world obfuscate rather than clarify our understanding of these individuals; more problematically, they tend to erase the religious subject
May 29, 2007 added it
fascinating interrogation of subjectivity. particularly interesting treatment of the relationship that western anthropologists have with the concept of personal agency as it relates to the feminist subject and the trend of ostensibly renouncing agency among Islamic women in Egypt and the Middle East. also some fun bits on embodiment through ritual practice.
Jan 30, 2013 rated it liked it
fascinating topic, wonderful research. drug on a bit.
Josh Duxbury
Oct 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Roger Green
Sep 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent feminist account of piety among women in the mosque movement in Cairo. A harmonious balance of rigorous theory and ethnographic research. I loved it, and its arguments remain crucial for understanding liberalism's intimate relationship with empire.
May 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
An interesting ethnographic study on the women's piety movement in Egypt, and analysis of how prevalent political notions such as "agency" (which often shows in up discussions of feminist politics) need to be revisited in light of examples where the actors do not seek to subvert a patriarchal norm.

There is also an examination of the process of religious pedagogy that the movement emphasized (the practise of actions to cultivate personal piety - ie. prayer, veiling, cultivation of virtues, parti
Aug 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
good theory, awful ethnography. S. Mahmood wants to have a chat with Judith Butler, Jennifer Nedelsky and Joan Wallace Scott and tell them how wrong they are. Cool, there is nothing wrong with that. However, portraying your informants as nothing but morally overdetermined, timeless, faceless Muslim subjects who help you to score against some others is a pretty boring thing. Meaning: textual and political priorities should be reviewed here, maybe change their places. And there is a lack of contex ...more
Feb 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
A really interesting approach to feminist discourse and ethnocentric ideals that run throughout feminist anthropology. Mahmood writes wonderfully about how we may shift our understanding of female agency in Islamic society, and the ways in which our views on certain practices, such as veiling, need to be re-worked.

Although I did enjoy this ethnography and the many insights it offers, I did find it difficult to fully engage with due to the complex theory discussed throughout. Further study of the
Feb 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Saba Mahmood’s Politics of Piety offers a rigorous investigation of Western feminist politics and secular-liberal political imaginations through her ethnographic account of women’s mosque movement which is a part of the Islamic Revival in Cairo, Egypt (2). Unlike other feminist ethnographers of non-liberal societies, she explicitly says that her project does not aim to “recuperat[e] latent liberatory potentials so as to make the movement more palatable to liberal sensibilities” (5). Rather, she ...more
Aug 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Politics of Piety is an analysis and ethnography of the women’s piety movement taking place in mosques in Cairo. In Saba Mahmood's own words, the book “is an attempt to understand the Islam contemporary da’wa movement - as articulated against many of the concepts, sensibilities, practices, and forms of life associated with a secular-liberal understanding of religion.” She presents a compelling argument that interrogates the implicit assumption Westerners make that women who ascribe to Islamic fo ...more
Jun 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Mahmood writes in an outstanding fashion. Parts of the book are very theory heavy and rightfully so, but may deter a reader unfamiliar with the scholarship she is conversing with. I wished she included more of her experiences while carrying out her ethnography, and clearer explanations to some of her claims. For example, she wrote more than once that Islamic, not Arab, law makes it difficult for women to divorce - without a footnote, which left me confused as my encounter with Islamic texts says ...more
Mahdi Zaidan
Mar 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Analytically rigourous but conceptually and methodologically limited. there is limited contextualization of the pious movement she studies, no politics or utility to feminists.
This book is excellent and I'm surprised it isn't being read more broadly in post-structuralist and even liberal circles not directly concerned with feminism or Islam, because the central contribution of the book is a re-working of the concept of agency that challenges the presuppositions of nearly every academic viewpoint in the West. It's been a long time since I encountered a work that challenged so many of my own assumptions. I still have concerns about the framing of the research subjects i ...more
Lindsey Taylor
Sep 12, 2016 rated it liked it
Interesting look into the Mosque Movement in Cairo.
May 10, 2009 rated it liked it
Mahmood kept my brain moving and alive through out the book. I have to confess that I did not read the book in its entirety, but delved into the parts more interesting to me. She did a good job giving the reader plenty of information and discription to picture themselves as a traditional passive and submissive female in the muslim world. Instead of women being forced into doing religious acts/living they created a paradigm shift to believe it is their choice to live the way they are living. This ...more
May 10, 2009 rated it it was ok
It promises to be an ethnography and it's quite dissapointing as that, spending very little time on pure anthropological ethnographic content (which is nevertheless the most interesting part of the book) instead opting to spend copious amounts of time on analyzing various theories about feminism and piety movements in Egypt, which is both unnecessarily verbose javascript:{}(to the point of pretentiousness) and uninteresting. In the end the main argument here seems to be, "it's more complicated t ...more
Feb 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Read this as a textbook for a Global Studies course at University (Global Perspectives on Women, Power, and Politics), and found it very enlightening in regards to women in the Piety movement in Egypt as well as some different perspectives on how women in Islam are treated and how many of them practice agency in different ways than what those in the West typically believe is agency, by subscribing to cultural/religious norms, rather than subverting them. And it all comes from someone who spent a ...more
Yasmine Flodin-Ali
Oct 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Excellent, excellent, excellent. Saba Mahmood uses ethnography and historical context to explore the women’s mosque movement in Egypt. She seeks to evaluate her subjects’ conceptions of agency and self within the parameters of an Islamic framework as they define it. By adopting this position, she tries to avoid what she sees as a pitfall of feminist anthropology where subjects’ religious beliefs are read according to a pre-determined narrative and accordingly misconstrued in absolutist terms as ...more
كمال شقي
Nov 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: islam, anthro
The question raised by this book is: Were women to successfully challenge the existent patriarchy of a given Islamic context from within the religion itself, would secular feminists be supportive of them? Consider this book the answer to this question as regards current ideas of women within Islamic societies and the spaces they create and the reforms they engender. Mahmood challenges critics of the religion to examine their own stereotypes and distorted worldview that ends up only being another ...more
Oct 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: islam, philosophy
Excellent book. Mahmood's highly theoretical ethnography about the Islamic "resurgence" in Egypt knocks it out of the park. Although I feel her ethonography could of been more exciting, her theoretical underpinnings were great. She relies an awful lot on Foucault by way of Judith Butler. Mahmood's theories on subjectivity, agency, and the constitution of the self, in relation to this piety movement in Egypt, is really interesting.
May 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
An incursion into a women religious movement of Egipt, this book develops a sophisticated argument which contradicts standard feminist assumptions that views women from the point of view of suppression. It argues that women sometimes choose their conditions. It also addresses the issue of secularization, transformation of Islam in a simple cultural characteristic and the willingness of women to revive the true religiosity in their daily practice.
Nov 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
Incredibly well-written and thought-provoking... Mahmood dissects many ideas about the construction of femininity within the context of post-colonial and "non-secular" societies, arguing back against the assumption that the secular-liberal is the only sphere that can provide individuals, particularly women, with agency and freedom. A lot of technical terms as to be expected, but I really loved the addition of Arabic phrases in the transcriptions.
Nov 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interested in religion
Shelves: favorites
This is a rewarding book on many levels. It is an eye-opening critique of social movements theory and contemporary feminism's conception of agency, but it is also a sensitive portrait of an Islamic women's movement in Egypt. Highly recommended for anyone interested in feminism, religion, religion & politics, or Islamist social movements.
Heather Montes Ireland
This is a very interesting ethnography that makes a bold argument about women's agency outside of / against a Western context. While there are many aspects of the book that I find problematic and possibly undermining of the very concepts of feminist analysis, freedom and selfhood, it is, all-in-all a worthwhile read that challenges Western imperialist notions of Muslim women.
Aug 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Makes some really, really fascinating and important statements about agency and gender and religion based on the author's fieldwork in Cairo. Awfully theoretical and tough to get through at some points, though.
Aug 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I read this book in my Anthropological Theory class... This is true Feminism... not the kind of feminism that teaches you to burn your bras... Saba Mahmood is an up and coming cultural anthropologist and she dives right into the heart of women's movements in Islam.
Aug 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Not quite finished with this yet but it's really outstanding. Can't reccomend it enough to anyone interested in contemporary Islamic life
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Saba Mahmood is an associate professor of social cultural anthropology at UC Berkeley.
More about Saba Mahmood