Mahmood, Liberalism, and Agency

Bharat Ranganathan, University of Nebraska at Omaha

This is the accepted manuscript of the article published in Soundings on August 1, 2016 and can be accessed through Project MUSE


In her book, Politics of Piety, Saba Mahmood (1) challenges liberal views about agency, and (2) offers her own account of agency. This article argues that Mahmood's characterization of liberal agency is a caricature. Contrary to her view, liberalism isn't merely procedural but rather espouses stringent commitments toward protecting people's basic rights and liberties. This article then argues that her account of agency may entail practices decried by liberal and some feminist theorists. Specifically, practices that override one's status in moral and political communities cannot be defended on the grounds that they are necessary for particular forms of human flourishing.