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

McLarney, E. "Zaynab al-Ghazali (Accepted)." Encyclopaedia of Islam. Brill, 2015.

McLarney, E. "Latifah al-Zayyat." Dictionary of Literary Biography: 20th-Century Arabic Literature. Ed. M al-Mallah. Thompson-Gale, 2008.

McLarney, E. "Women, Gender, and Love: Modern Discourses: Arab States." Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures. Ed. S Joseph. Brill, 2005.

McLarney, E. "FREEDOM, JUSTICE, AND THE POWER OF ADAB." International Journal of Middle East Studies 48.01 (February 2016): 25-46. Full Text

McLarney, E. "Review: Reconfiguring Islamic Tradition: Reform, Rationality, and Modernity by Samira Haj." International Journal of Middle East Studies 44.1 (February 2012): 177-179. (Review) Full Text

McLarney, EA. "American Freedom and Islamic Fascism: Ideology in the Hall of Mirrors." Theory and Event 14.3 (September 2011). (Academic Article) Open Access Copy

McLarney, EA. "The Islamic Public Sphere and the Discipline of Adab." International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 43.3 (2011): 429-449. (Academic Article) Open Access Copy

McLarney, EA, and co-authors, BG. "Muslim Women, Consumer Capitalism, and the Islamic Culture Industry." Journal of Middle East Women's Studies (October 2010). (Academic Article) Open Access Copy

McLarney, EA, and Gokariksel, B. "Marketing Muslim Women, Special Issue." Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies (2010).

McLarney, EA. "Burqa in Vogue: Fashioning Afghanistan." Journal of Middle East Women's Studies 5.1 (December 2009). (Academic Article) Open Access Copy

McLarney, E. ""Empire of the machine": Oil in the Arabic Novel." Boundary 2 36.2 (June 1, 2009): 177-198. (Review) Full Text Open Access Copy


McLarney, E. "Egypt on the Brink." The State of Things (August 21, 2013). (Interview)

McLarney, EA. "Islam in Vogue: Muslim Women in the Media." "Imagining Ourselves." International Museum of Women (2007). (Essay)