As we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century, global media continue to traffic in representations of Muslim women, while representations produced by Muslim women are gaining international traction. Contemporary discussions around the role of Islam in foreign and domestic policy, civil society and democracy, war, globalization, human rights, and the private sphere increasingly hinge upon the semiotics of gender. However, despite the race to represent—and through representation to understand—the Muslim woman, prevailing debates on gender and Islam remain trapped in neo-Orientalist discourses and occluded by political ideologies worldwide.
As symbols of both oppression and liberation, Muslim women have historically been agents of political change and subjects of restrictive state policies in the West as well as in Muslim-majority societies. Lively religious debates on gender and the challenges of modernity prevail at the confessional level within Muslim communities. These debates are recast into objects of consumption by audiences unacquainted with the breadth and complexity of the Islamic scriptural tradition.
This conference explores how representations of Muslim women within visual and material cultures and in historical and contemporary literatures inform popular imagination and public policy on Islam even as they are influenced by them. Presentations will explore not only how Muslim women have been represented and have engaged in practices of representation, but will critically examine the structures of power such representations may serve, subvert, create, negotiate, or complicate.