Women in Saudi Arabia are often described as either victims of patriarchal religion and society or successful survivors of discrimination imposed on them by others. Madawi Al-Rasheed's new book goes beyond these conventional tropes to probe the historical, political and religious forces that have, across the years, delayed and thwarted their emancipation. The book demonstrates how, under the patronage of the state and its religious nationalism, women have become hostage to contradictory political projects that on the one hand demand female piety, and on the other hand encourage modernity. Drawing on state documents, media sources and interviews with women from across Saudi society, the book examines the intersection between gender, religion and politics to explain these contradictions and to show that, despite these restraints, vibrant debates on the question of women are opening up as the struggle for recognition and equality finally gets under way.
Madawi Al-Rasheed is Professor of Anthropology of Religion at King's College London. She specialises in Saudi history, politics and society. Her publications include Contesting the Saudi State (2007), Kingdom without Borders (2009) and A History of Saudi Arabia (2010).
Introduction: the 'woman question' in Saudi Arabia; 1. From religious revival to religious nationalism; 2. Schooling women: the state as benevolent educator; 3. Symbols of piety: fatwa on women in the 1980s; 4. The quest for cosmopolitan modernity; 5. Women in search of themselves; 6. Celebrity women novelists and the cosmopolitan fantasy; 7. Guarding self and nation: women preachers and activists; Conclusion: light at the end of the tunnel.