Contemporary Muslim Women's Autobiographies: Situating the Self


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This paper examines several autobiographies by contemporary Muslim women, focusing on how the authors situate their own spiritual development within the discourse(s) of contemporary Islam(s). Although autobiography has long been studied as a literary genre, in this paper I look at it as both epistemology and ethnography. Muslim women’s autobiographies, often hard won “ways of knowing,” are understudied as sites of cultural, religious and personal authority. One important feature of the works in question is that self-definition and self-understanding as a Muslim is described developmentally in terms of various processes of exploration, education, rejection, reversal, experience, reflection, synthesis and so on. The vitality of these processes is complex, rich and deserving of exploration. Also important is the discursive character of these processes of self-definition. In other words, dominant and contested public interpretations of Islam at the local, national and international level are engaged and debated sometimes struggle with dominant institutionalized and publicly authorized versions of Islam. An ethnographic / epistemological study of these autobiographies provides a unique angle on the pluralism of Islamic discourse, which is critical to thinking about Islam(s) in the contemporary world. Further, studying the developmental and discursive character of these stories of “believing selves” makes a connection between the realities of private “inner life” and public “world religion” which can also be thought of as a connection between an anthropology of ethics and an anthropology of religion.


Arts and Humanities | Ethnic Studies | Religion | Women's Studies

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