Ellen McLarney

Associate Professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

External address: 
2204 Erwin Road Room 226, Box 90414, Durham, NC 27708
Internal office address: 
Box 90414, Durham, NC 27708-0414
Phone: 
(919) 668-3849

My training is in Comparative Literature and Middle East Studies—at the intersection of cultures, languages, peoples, civilizations, and literatures. This has been the moral compass of my studies and the guiding principle of my research. I recognize the power dynamics inherent in the comparison of cultures, and the twisted political histories of such philological endeavors, whether during colonial expansion, in the midst of Cold War tensions, or in the “clash of cultures” thesis. Nonetheless, I maintain an abiding faith in the potential of cross-cultural dialogue and inquiry to further not just knowledge, but self-knowledge. (“We made you male and female, nations and tribes so that you may know one another” 49:13.)

My early research was on the Arabic novel, as a vehicle of cross-cultural fertilization under the conditions of colonial modernity, but also as an alternative vision of indigenous political and cultural expression. If anything, my work is on the political power of cultural forms. During a Stanford Humanities Fellowship, my research turned toward the fertile Islamic literary tradition, using literary hermeneutics to approach current Islamic cultural production that extends far beyond the text, into film, audio, video, radio, television, and the digital world.

My first book Soft Force: Women in Egypt’s Islamic Awakening draws on sermons, lectures, theses, reports, autobiographies and memoirs, websites, YouTube videos, Qur’an exegeses, and popular literary production. Soft Force analyzes how women revivalists have contributed to shaping an Islamic public sphere through writings on Islamic law, family, motherhood, sexuality, girls’ education, women’s work, and women’s liberation.

My new project uses a cultural studies approach to analyze the media networks cultivated by Islamic communities and institutions in Latin America, as well as related cultural output—films dubbed into Spanish from Farsi and Arabic, Spanish and Portuguese literature revolving around Islamic themes, transnational connections between Beirut and Brazil in the art world, Latin American political movements that invoke Palestine, and a shared political vocabulary of decolonization, social justice, and liberation theology that articulates not just South-South solidarities, but also the contours of a contemporary Latin American Islam.

Education & Training

  • Ph.D., Columbia University 2004

  • M.A., Columbia University 1998

  • B.A., Brown University 1992

McLarney, E. "The Socialist Romance of the Postcolonial Arabic Novel." RESEARCH IN AFRICAN LITERATURES 40.3 (2009): 186-205.

Roy, O. "Secularism Confronts Islam." Middle Eastern Studies Association Bulletin (2009).

McLarney, EA. "Literacy and the Literary: Reading and Speaking Arabic." ADFL Bulletin 37.1 (October 2005). (Academic Article)

McLarney, EA. "The Politics of Driss Chraibi’s Le passé simple." Journal of North African Studies 8.2 (July 2003). (Academic Article)

McLarney, E. "Politics of Le passé simple." The Journal of North African Studies 8.2 (June 2003): 1-18. Full Text

McLarney E, . "Review: The House on Arnus Square by Samar Attar." Journal of Arabic Literature 34 (2003). (Review)

McLarney, E. "The 'House on Arnus Street'." JOURNAL OF ARABIC LITERATURE 34.3 (2003): 289-293.

McLarney, and E, . "Review: Under the Naked Sky by Denis Johnson-Davies." Journal of Arabic Literature 33 (2002). (Review)

McLarney, EA. "Unlocking the Female in Ahlem Mosteghanemi." Journal of Arabic Literature 33.1 (2002). (Academic Article)

McLarney, EA. "The Algerian Personal Statute: A French Legacy." Islamic Quarterly 41.3 (1997). (Academic Article)

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