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Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  798 ratings  ·  60 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's ...more
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 + verbose 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 religio
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
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.
Oct 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Raheleh Abbasinejad
Mar 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: anthropology
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. ...more
עדית (Edith)
May 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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
May 12, 2020 rated it liked it
I think Politics of Piety must be read with the constant reminder that it was published in 2004, in the United States, at the height of the Bush administration's War on Terror. It was intended to, and I believe successfully did, make a critical intervention in the liberal and feminist theory of that era, and I think Mahmood's undoubtedly superb theorizing is an achievement that must be read this light. Politics of Piety explicitly engages with and critiques a frankly amazing range of political a ...more
Tiffany Wacaser
Feb 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
Saba Mahmood’s ethnographic study of the women’s mosque movement in Egypt challenges feminist theory by asking if its goals can appropriately be applied universally. She notes that feminists tend to privilege resistance narratives. What goes unsaid is that feminists often fail to understand women who do not resist patriarchy. According to Leila Ahmed, feminism was used as a tool of colonialism and to assert European superiority. In that context, it makes sense the Arab Muslims might resist femin ...more
Mar 06, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5, a very readable and interesting study, challenging in particular liberal notions of agency and feminist tendencies to wed agency to a false binary of subordination/resistance by demonstrating a variant of modalities of agency and different perceptions of performativity. Most importantly there is no homogenization or uniformity in the presentation of the women of, and without, the women's mosque movement. The ethnographic vignettes are brief but colorful and well presented to make a clear an ...more
Mark Collins
Nov 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
I appreciate Mahmood's aim to unsettle the pervasive binary at the heart of Western feminist definitions of agency--that of resistance vs. submission. Instead, Mahmood argues that this binary does not account for other modes of agency---why is subscribing to societal norms always framed as unthinkingly submitting to hegemonic power? Is there a way to conceptualize the following of norms in a less "victimizing" manner? Why is resistance deemed the only positive agentive action available to subjec ...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
Nov 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Among the best books talking about women’s agency in Islam and the (Foucauldian) paradox of subjection. With this book, we know there is such thing called “quiet riot,” although does not necessarily shake up the patriarchal patrimonialism that is predominant in Islam. Women take back their narration on Islam through mosque movements in Cairo; movements are sometimes not a protest. It may be an act of resistance, or it may be an act of reinterpretation. Mahmood’s book is just so good :( especiall ...more
Jun 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
But the questions that I have come to ask of myself, and which I would like to pose to the reader as well, are: Do my political visions ever run up against the responsibility that I incur for the destruction of life forms so that "unenlightened" women may be thought to live more freely? Do I even fully comprehend the forms of life that I want so passionately to remake? Would an intimate knowledge of lifeworlds distinct from mine ever lead me to question my own certainty about what I prescribe as ...more
Dec 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Read in the late fall of 2018, during what I then thought was my penultimate semester at Whitman College, this book was and remains one of the most impactful works of theory--and works in general--on my thought. I owe much of my understanding of it to extensive conversations with my close friend Olivia Gilbert--it remains one of the most wellhandled touchstones in our conversations.
Dec 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: school
Mahmood is worth the read for an exploration of various manifestation of a woman's religious movement and for her desire to take up matters of feminism and Butlerian performance that go beyond mere agreement or disagreement. ...more
Melodie Roschman
Sep 05, 2019 rated it it was ok
Smug, pretentious, and so impressed with its own jargon that reading it was insufferable. There’s very little field work here; cut away all the self-satisfied masturbatory theorizing and the book could he summed up in a few paragraphs.
May 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Insightful book about religious life among women in modern Egypt. Mahmood is an intelligent writer who manages to weave rather abstract thinkers into her own text in a natural and fluent way. Very readable!
May 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The most transformative academic book I read in my undergrad. Mahmood is so brilliant. Her use of Aristotelian ethics and her reframing of agency challenged so much - pretty much everything - I took as uncomplicated fact.
Emily O.
Dec 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book changed the way I think and talk about religion, values, and rights. It highlights the tensions between human rights and cultural relativism. While I still hold to notions of universal human rights, I understand better the nuances of this conversation.
Resistance to the liberal trajectory of the emancipated individual by persistent attention to life forms that offer agency outside these western demands.
Sharad Pandian
Should have been a longer book.
Dec 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This bomb af
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Saba Mahmood is an associate professor of social cultural anthropology at UC Berkeley.

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