Ellen McLarney

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
(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

Selected Grants

Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies Title VI-NRC awarded by University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill (Principal Investigator). 2018 to 2019

McLarney, E. A. Soft force: Women in Egypt's Islamic awakening. 2015, pp. 1–312.

McLarney, Ellen. “The Revival of Women’s Liberation.” Arabic Thought Against the Authoritarian Age: Towards an Intellectual History of the Present, edited by Jens Hanssen and Max Weiss, Cambridge University Press, 2018. Open Access Copy

McLarney, Ellen. “Women’s Rights and Equality: Egyptian Constitutional Law.” Women’s Movements in Post-Arab Spring North Africa, edited by Fatima Sadiqi, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. Open Access Copy

McLarney, E. “Zaynab al-Ghazali.” Encyclopaedia of Islam, Brill, 2015.

McLarney, E. “Latifah al-Zayyat.” Dictionary of Literary Biography: 20th-Century Arabic Literature, edited by Majd al-Mallah, Thompson-Gale, 2008.

McLarney, E. “Women, Gender, and Love: Modern Discourses: Arab States.” Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures, edited by Suad Joseph, vol. 3, Brill, 2005.

McLarney, Ellen. “James Baldwin and the Power of Black Muslim Language.” Social Text, vol. 37, no. 1, Duke University Press, Mar. 2019, pp. 51–84. Crossref, doi:10.1215/01642472-7286264. Full Text Open Access Copy

McLarney, E. “FREEDOM, JUSTICE, and the POWER of ADAB.” International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 48, no. 1, Jan. 2016, pp. 25–46. Scopus, doi:10.1017/S0020743815001452. Full Text

McLarney, Ellen. “Review: Reconfiguring Islamic Tradition: Reform, Rationality, and Modernity by Samira Haj.” International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 44, no. 1, Cambridge University Press (CUP), Feb. 2012, pp. 177–79. Manual, doi:10.1017/S0020743811001401. Full Text

McLarney, Ellen Anne. “American Freedom and Islamic Fascism: Ideology in the Hall of Mirrors.” Theory and Event, vol. 14, no. 3, Sept. 2011. Open Access Copy

McLarney, Ellen Anne. “The Islamic Public Sphere and the Discipline of Adab.” International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 43, no. 3, 2011, pp. 429–49. Open Access Copy

McLarney, E. A., and B. Gokariksel co-authors. “Muslim Women, Consumer Capitalism, and the Islamic Culture Industry.” Journal of Middle East Women’S Studies, Oct. 2010. Open Access Copy

McLarney, E. “The private is political: Women and family in intellectual Islam.” Feminist Theory, vol. 11, no. 2, Aug. 2010, pp. 129–48. Scopus, doi:10.1177/1464700110366805. Full Text Open Access Copy

McLarney, E. A., and B. Gokariksel. “Marketing Muslim Women, Special Issue.” Journal of Middle East Women’S Studies, 2010.


McLarney, E. “Egypt on the Brink.” The State of Things, WUNC Radio, 21 Aug. 2013.

McLarney, Ellen Anne. “Islam in Vogue: Muslim Women in the Media.” “Imagining Ourselves.” International Museum of Women, 2007.