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Piety, Modernity, and Gender in Islam: Anthropological Perspectives


Admission requirements

No specific requirements


Cultivating piety or aiming at excellence in religious activities is a central concern of many Muslim women today. Their religiosity is often understood in terms of fundamentalism, backwardness, women’s subordination to patriarchal norms, and the incompatibility of Islam and modernity. This course offers an in-depth analysis of the relationship between piety, modernity, and gender through the study of two path-breaking ethnographies, Saba Mahmood’s study of women’s piety movement in Cairo, Egypt, and Lara Deeb’s study of a Shici Muslim community in Beirut, Lebanon. We will explore alternative conceptions of piety and modernity, question key assumptions in feminist and liberal thought about freedom and autonomy, and analyze the forms and role of religious arguments, bodily practices, and community commitment in the cultivation of the pious self.

Course objectives

After successfully completing the course, the student is able to:

  • convey in his or her own words the content of two ethnographical studies of Islamic piety movements and to critically discuss these two studies.

  • discuss the notions of autonomy, agency, authentication, ethical formation, and community commitment in relation to the theme of piety, modernity, and gender in Islam.

  • apply the two ethnographical studies to his or her own field of interest and to report about it in writing.


Time Table Religious Studies

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

  • Participation in class

  • Essays

  • Presentation


A detailed programme of the course announcing the themes of the meetings, reading assignments, and further requirements will be available via Blackboard.

Reading list

  • Saba Mahmood. Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject. Princeton University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-691-08695-8 (paperback).

  • Lara Deeb. An Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shici Lebanon. Princeton University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-691-12421-3 (paperback).


Via uSis.
Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Dr. N. Dessing


Each student must have a copy of the required readings at the beginning of the course. The course is designed for a class of five to eleven students. If fewer than five or more than eleven students register, the course design will be adapted.