“Melania” (Chin and Schroeder, eds.)

In October, the University of California Press will release Melania: Early Christianity through the Life of One Family edited by Catherine M. Chin (University of California, Davis) and Caroline T. Schroeder (University of the Pacific). The publisher’s description follows:

melaniaMelania the Elder and her granddaughter Melania the Younger were major figures in early Christian history, using their wealth, status, and forceful personalities to shape the development of nearly every aspect of the religion we now know as Christianity. This volume examines their influence on late antique  Christianity and provides an insightful portrait of their legacies in the modern world. Departing from the traditionally patriarchal view, Melania gives a poignant and sometimes surprising account of how the rise of Christian institutions in the Roman Empire shaped our understanding of women’s roles in the larger world.

Arjmand, “Public Urban Space, Gender and Segregation”

In September, Routledge will release “Public Urban Space, Gender and Segregation: Women-only Urban Parks in Iran,” by Reza Arjmand (Lund University). The publisher’s description follows:

Public spaces are the renditions of the power symmetry within the social setting it resides in, and is both controlling and confining of power. In an ideologically-laden 9781472473370context, urban design encompasses values and meanings and is utilized as a means to construct the identity and perpetuate visible and invisible boundaries. Hence, gendered spatial dichotomy based on a biological division of sexes is often employed systematically to evade the transgression of women into the public spaces.

The production of modern urban space in the Middle East is formed in the interplay between modernity, tradition and religion. Examining women in public spaces and patterns of interaction with gender -segregated and -mixed space, this book argues that gendered spaces are far from a static physical spatial division and produce a complex and dynamic dichotomy of men/public and women/private. Taking the example of Iran, normative and ideologically-laden gender segregated public spaces have been used as a tool for the Islamization of everyday life. The most recent government effort includes women-only parks, purportedly designed and administered through women’s contributions, as well as to accommodate their needs and provide space for social interaction and activities. Combining research approaches from urban planning and social sciences, this book analyses both technical and social aspects of women-only parks. Addressing the relationships between ideology, urban planning and gender, the book interprets power relations and how they are used to define and plan public and semi-public urban spaces.

Lack of communication across disciplinary boundaries as result of complexities of urban life has been one of the major hindrances in studying urban spaces in the Middle East. Addressing the concern, the cross-disciplinary approach employed in this volume is an amalgamation of methods informed by urban planning and social sciences, which includes an in-depth analysis of the morphological, perceptual, social, visual, functional, and temporal dimensions of the public space, the women-only parks in Iran. Based on critical ethnography, this volume uses a phenomenological approach to understating women in gendered spaces. Interaction of women in women-only parks in Iran, a gendered space which is growing in popularity across the Muslim world is discussed thoroughly and compared vis-à-vis gender-neutral public spaces. The book targets scholars and students within a wide range of academic disciplines including urban studies, urban planning, gender studies, political science, Middle Eastern studies, cultural studies, urban anthropology, urban sociology, Iranian studies and Islamic studies.

Afaf, “Gendered Politics and Law in Jordan”

In August, Springer will release “Gendered Politics and Law in Jordan: Guardianship over Women,” by Afaf Jabiri (University of London).  The publisher’s description follows:

This book analyzes how the state constructs and reproduces gender identities in the context and geopolitics of Jordan. Guardianship over women is examined as not only 9783319326429the basis of women’s legal and social subordination, but also a key factor in the construction and reproduction of a gender hierarchy system. Afaf Jabiri probes how a masculine state gives power and legitimacy through guardianship to institutions—including family, religion, and tribe—in managing, producing, and constructing gender identity. Does the masculine institution succeed in imposing a dominant form of femininity? Or are there ways by which women escape and resist the social and legal construction of femininity? Based on over 60 case studies of contemporary women in Jordan, the book additionally examines how the resultant strategies and tactics developed by women in Jordan are influenced by and affect their status within the guardianship system.

Massoumi, “Muslim Women, Social Movements and the ‘War on Terror'”

In November, Palgrave Macmillan will release “Muslim Women, Social Movements and the ‘War on Terror’” by Narzanin Massoumi (University of Bath, UK). The publisher’s description follows:

On 15th February 2003, two million people marched in the streets of 9781137355645London to call on the British government not to go to war with Iraq. Though Britain did enter war, the movement did not rest in defeat. This book tells the story of what happened behind the scenes of this extraordinary mass movement, looking specifically at the political relationship between Muslim and leftist activists.

Crisis narratives about Muslims assume that they are only engaged with sectarian communalist forms of identity politics or that their supposed religious and social conservatism is incompatible with progressive values. Through telling this story, Massoumi looks closely at the role of identity politics within social movements, considering what this means in practice and whether we can meaningfully speak of identity politics. Arguing that identity politics can only be understood within the context of a wider social and political structure, this book analyses the conditions through which Muslim and leftist engagement emerges within this movement, and highlights the decisive leadership of Muslim women.

Herringer, “Victorians and the Virgin Mary: Religion and Gender in England 1830-85”

Next month, Manchester University Press will publish Victorians and the Virgin Mary: Religion and Gender in England 1830-85 by Carol Engelhardt Herringer (Wright State University). The publisher’s description follows.

This interdisciplinary study of competing representations of the Virgin Mary examines how anxieties about religious and gender identities intersected to create public controversies that, whilst ostensibly about theology and liturgy, were also attempts to define the role and nature of women. Drawing on a variety of sources, this book seeks to revise our understanding of the Victorian religious landscape, both retrieving Catholics from the cultural margins to which they are usually relegated, and calling for a reassessment of the Protestant attitude to the feminine ideal. This book will be useful to advanced students and scholars in a variety of disciplines including history, religious studies, Victorian studies, women’s history and gender studies.

Mangion, “Contested Identities”

Next month, Manchester University Press will publish Contested Identities by Carmen Mangion (Birkbeck College, University of London). The publisher’s description follows.

English Roman Catholic women’s congregations are an enigma of nineteenth-century social history. Over ten thousand nuns and sisters, establishing and managing significant Catholic educational, health care and social welfare institutions in England and Wales, have virtually disappeared from history. Despite their exclusion from historical texts, these women featured prominently in the public and private sphere. Intertwining the complexities of class with the notion of ethnicity, Contested identities examines the relationship between English and Irish-born sisters. This study is relevant not only to understanding women religious and Catholicism in nineteenth-century England and Wales, but also to our understanding of the role of women in the public and private sphere, dealing with issues still resonant today. Contributing to the larger story of the agency of nineteenth-century women and the broader transformation of English society, this book will appeal to scholars and students of social, cultural, gender and religious history.

Korteweg & Yurdakul, “The Headscarf Debates”

Next month, Stanford University Press will publish The Headscarf Debates by Anna C. Korteweg (University of Toronto) and Gökçe Yurdakul (Humboldt University of Berlin).  The publisher’s description The Headscarf Debatesfollows.

The headscarf is an increasingly contentious symbol in countries across the world. Those who don the headscarf in Germany are referred to as “integration-refusers.” In Turkey, support by and for headscarf-wearing women allowed a religious party to gain political power in a strictly secular state. A niqab-wearing Muslim woman was denied French citizenship for not conforming to national values. And in the Netherlands, Muslim women responded to the hatred of popular ultra-right politicians with public appeals that mixed headscarves with in-your-face humor. In a surprising way, the headscarf—a garment that conceals—has also come to reveal the changing nature of what it means to belong to a particular nation.

All countries promote national narratives that turn historical diversities into imagined commonalities, appealing to shared language, religion, history, or political practice. The Headscarf Debates explores how the headscarf has become a symbol used to reaffirm or transform these stories of belonging. Anna Korteweg and Gökçe Yurdakul focus on France, Germany, and the Netherlands—countries with significant Muslim-immigrant populations—and Turkey, a secular Muslim state with a persistent legacy of cultural ambivilance. The authors discuss recent cultural and political events and the debates they engender, enlivening the issues with interviews with social activists, and recreating the fervor which erupts near the core of each national identity when threats are perceived and changes are proposed.

The Headscarf Debates pays unique attention to how Muslim women speak for themselves, how their actions and statements reverberate throughout national debates. Ultimately, The Headscarf Debatesbrilliantly illuminates how belonging and nationhood is imagined and reimagined in an increasingly global world.

Iqtidar, “Secularizing Islamists?: Jama’at-e-Islami and Jama’at-ud-Da’wa in Urban Pakistan”

Next month, the University of Chicago Press will publish Secularizing Islamists?: Jama’at-e-Islami and Jama’at-ud-Da’wa in Urban Pakistan by Humeira Iqtidar (Kings College London). The publisher’s description follows.Secularizing Islamists?

Secularizing Islamists? provides an in-depth analysis of two Islamist parties in Pakistan, the highly influential Jama‘at-e-Islami and the more militant Jama‘at-ud-Da‘wa, widely blamed for the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India. Basing her findings on thirteen months of ethnographic work with the two parties in Lahore, Humeira Iqtidar proposes that these Islamists are involuntarily facilitating secularization within Muslim societies, even as they vehemently oppose secularism.

 This book offers a fine-grained account of the workings of both parties that challenges received ideas about the relationship between the ideology of secularism and the processes of secularization. Iqtidar particularly illuminates the impact of women on Pakistani Islamism, while arguing that these Islamist groups are inadvertently supporting secularization by forcing a critical engagement with the place of religion in public and private life. She highlights the role that competition among Islamists and the focus on the state as the center of their activity plays in assisting secularization. The result is a significant contribution to our understanding of emerging trends in Muslim politics.

Vakulenko, “Islamic Veiling in Legal Discourse”

9780415565509This December, Routledge will publish Islamic Veiling in Legal Discourse by Anastasia Vakulenko (Birmingham Law School). The publisher’s description follows.

Islamic Veiling in Legal Discourse looks at relevant law and surrounding discourses in order to examine the assumptions and limits of the debates around the issue of Islamic veiling that has become so topical in recent years. For some, Islamic veiling indicates a lack of autonomy, the oppression of women and the threat of Islamic radicalism to western secular values. For others, it suggests a positive autonomous choice, a new kind of gender equality and a legitimate exercise of one’s freedom of religion – a treasured right in democratic societies. This book finds that, across seemingly diverse legal and political traditions, a set of discursive frameworks – the preoccupation with autonomy and choice; the imperative of gender equality; and a particular western understanding of religion and religious subjectivity – shape the positions of both proponents and opponents of various restrictions on Islamic veiling. Rather than take a position on one or the other side of the debate, the book focuses on the frameworks themselves, highlighting their limitations.

À Nous la Liberté

Riots broke out in a Paris suburb this weekend after police ticketed a woman wearing the full Islamic veil, or burqa, on a local street. Since 2011, France has banned the burqa in public places on pain of a €150 fine. The details of this weekend’s incident are unclear, but police apparently asked the woman to remove her veil as part of an identity check. An altercation ensued, and the woman’s husband allegedly assaulted the officers. The officers then arrested the husband, and in response at least 250 people besieged the local police station, throwing fireworks and setting refuse bins and vehicles on fire. According to France 24, four police officers have been injured. The violence has continued for three nights.

The burqa ban has been controversial from the beginning. Supporters argue that it’s a necessary safety measure: terrorists could use the burqa as a disguise. But, observing the debate from this side of the Atlantic, safety issues don’t seem central. Most of the emotion in the debate relates to the burqa’s symbolic impact. The French Right supports the ban because the burqa suggests the presence of an alien culture that refuses to be French. The Left is divided. Some on the Left support the ban because the burqa suggests the subjugation of women; others argue that the burqa controversy is a sideshow to distract from France’s real social problems. And of course many French Muslims–though not all–see the ban as evidence of racism and  Islamophobia. Not to mention a violation of religious freedom.

Behind the controversy is a debate about the meaning of laïcité, that peculiarly French contribution to law and religion. Often translated loosely as “secularism,” laïcité is one of the foundations of French republicanism. But its meaning is, and always has been, contested. On one view, laïcité means only that the state should have no official ties to religion and that citizens should be free to follow whatever religion they wish. On this understanding, the ban is problematic. What legitimate reason does a liberal state have for banning religious dress in public? (A liberal state, note — not a state with a religious foundation or a “thick” conception of the public good). Public safety, surely: but the French government doesn’t ban knapsacks or raincoats, which pose greater risks. What about the fact that some women are forced to wear the burqa by family members? That’s a legitimate state concern, too. But there must be ways to address that concern that don’t involve forbidding public religious expression by women who do wish to wear the veil.

Perhaps laïcité means something different, though, something more aggressive. Perhaps laïcité requires a naked public square, in order to rid society of the influence of religions that stand in the way of progress. This view has a long lineage in France as well. Rousseau, recall, taught that society must force people to be free. On this view of laïcité, the burqa ban makes more sense. The burqa is forbidden even if women wear it voluntarily–indeed, especially if women wear it voluntarily. How else is equality to be achieved?

A few hundred women have been cited for wearing the burqa since the ban went into effect. Almost none of the citations, apparently, have led to incidents like this weekend’s. This weekend’s riots suggest, though, that the burqa ban remains deeply unpopular in some French neighborhoods, and that the controversy is far from over.

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