Early in the post-colonial era, politics in most Muslim countries were
framed in secular and nationalist terms. During the last thirty years,
the Islamic revival has dramatically changed this picture.
Anthropologist Saba Mahmood talks with IDEAS producer David Cayley about her book, The Politics of Piety.
In the decades after the Second World War most Muslim countries were ruled by secular and nationalist ideologies - from Sukarno's Indonesia to Nasser's Egypt to the Shah's Iran. Then around 1980 there was a sea change. The Iranian revolution of 1979 is often taken as the watershed. Islam reasserted itself - and as something more than what the secular West had come to understand as religion - merely private belief. It reasserted itself as a way of life - as much political as personal. This Islamic Revival, as it's sometimes called, directly challenged one of the axioms of modern social thought - that modernizing societies would inevitably grow more secular as they developed, and the significance of religion would fade. Instead religion was growing in power and political influence. What was going on?
One of the people who's tried to provide an explanation is anthropologist Saba Mahmood
, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Her book The Politics of Piety
grew out of several years of field work in Egypt where she studied the religious practices of a group of devout Egyptian women and concluded that to really understand these women she would have to rethink much of what she had grown up believing.