Freud and Monotheism

New from Berkeley Forum in the Humanities

Freud and Monotheism: Moses and the Violent Origins of Religion

March 2018

Freud and Monotheism: Moses and the Violent Origins of Religion critically examines a range of discourses surrounding Freud’s Moses and Monotheism, taking as its entry point Freud’s relations to Judaism, his conception of tradition and history, his theory of the mind, and his model of transgenerational inheritance.

Gilad Sharvit and Karen S. Feldman, editors

Authors include: Jan Assmann (Egyptology, University of Heidelberg), Richard Bernstein (Philosophy, New School for Social Research), Karen Feldman (German, UC Berkeley), Willi Goetschel (German and Philosophy, University of Toronto), Ronald Hendel (Near Eastern Studies, UC Berkeley), Catherine Malabou (Philosophy, Kingston University; Comparative Literature, UC Irvine), Gabriele Schwab (Comparative Literature, UC Irvine), Yael Segalovitz (Townsend Fellow, Comparative Literature, UC Berkeley), Gilad Sharvit (Townsend Fellow, Jewish Studies, UC Berkeley), Joel Whitebook (Psychoanalytic Studies, Columbia University).

Berkeley Forum in the Humanities

ISBN-13: 9780823280032
Publisher: Fordham University Press
Publication date: 06/05/2018
Series: Berkeley Forum in the Humanities Series
Pages: 248
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)
Paperback 28.00
Hardback 95.00

In Memoriam: Saba Mahmood

On Saturday, March 10th, we lost a valued member of the Representations editorial board, Professor Saba Mahmood. Our thoughts go to her family and friends. She will be sorely missed.

Saba Mahmood, Professor of Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, passed away on March 10th, 2018.  The cause was pancreatic cancer.  Professor Mahmood specialized in Sociocultural Anthropology and was a scholar of modern Egypt.   Born in Quetta, Pakistan, in 1962, she came to the United States in 1981 to study architecture and urban planning at the University of Washington in Seattle.   She received her PhD in Anthropology from Stanford University in 1998 and taught at the University of Chicago before coming to the University of California at Berkeley in 2004, where she offered her last seminar in fall 2017.   At Berkeley, in addition to the Anthropology Department, Professor Mahmood was affiliated with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Program in Critical Theory and the Institute for South Asia Studies (where she was instrumental in creating the Berkeley Pakistan Studies Initiative, the first of its kind in the United States).

Mahmood made path-breaking contributions to contemporary debates on secularism, opening up new ways of understanding religion in public life and contesting received assumptions about both religion and the secular.  Against an increasingly shrill scholarship denouncing Muslim societies, she brought a nuanced and educated understanding of Islam into discussions of feminist theory, ethics and politics. Her publications and presentations have reverberated throughout the humanities and social sciences, profoundly shaping the scholarship of a new generation of scholars as they develop a thoughtful, knowledgeable, and critical approach to religion in modernity.  As a scholar and teacher, she embodied and followed strong moral and political principles, offered keen analyses of colonial and capitalist power in her account of secularism’s modernity, and formulated new ways of understanding the subject of feminism, relational subjectivity, religious freedom, religious injury, the rights of religious minorities, and comparative legal analysis of religious and secular family law and sexual regulations.

Together with anthropologists Talal Asad and Charles Hirschkind, Mahmood showed secularism to be a complex political formation that produces differences among the religious traditions it seeks to regulate. In her words, “political secularism is the modern state’s sovereign power to reorganize substantive features of religious life, stipulating what religion is or ought to be, assigning its proper content, and disseminating concomitant subjectivities, ethical frameworks, and quotidian practices.” Secularism never escapes its own religious histories, nor does it ever achieve autonomy from the religious formations it aims to regulate.  In fact, the distinction between public and private life central to secular reason draws its bearings from a modern Christian emphasis on private worship. This Christian religious framework, focused on belief, contrasts sharply with religions such as Islam which foreground strongly the role on embodied practices within religious life.  As a result, she argued, secular epistemologies cannot grasp the way that Islam articulates religious values, misconstruing both the Islamic subject and the public meanings of its religious practices.

Within feminist theory, Mahmood challenged readers to understand that the pious Muslim women she studied in Cairo were not mindlessly obedient subjects, but engaged in distinct hermeneutical approaches to reading the Qur’an in schools of their own, cultivating religious practice as a form of ethical conduct.  Challenging views of subjective freedom bequeathed by Western moral philosophy, she made a bold and challenging argument: to understand pious women within Islam one had to conceive of a subject defined in its relation to the textual and imagistic representations of the divine.  Women who engaged in a religious practice of this sort, she argued, ought to be understood as engaging in ethical practices of self-cultivation. And yet, in these cases, the subject of ethics is not voluntaristic, a notion that would separate ‘free will’ from formative social and religious norms; rather, in Islam, the subject of ethics embodies a living and practiced relation to the divine, and requires a different notion of subject-formation.   One consequence of this view was made clear in her intervention in the 2006 debates on the Danish cartoons caricaturing Mohammed. Those who claimed that such images were merely offensive missed the nature of the injury itself.  Within Islam, she argued, the attack on the divine image is the same as the attack on the living and embodied self, since that self resides in that very relation.

In her last work, she studied the discrimination against Coptic Orthodox Christians in contemporary Egypt’s secular regime. Against the view that tribal and religious differences are evidence of the incomplete process of secularization, she showed how religious differences, and conflict, have been exacerbated under secular regimes of power.   She argued that the discrimination and violence suffered by Coptic Christians have increased as the modern state more fully regulated and managed religious life, imposing its own rationales onto debates about religious doctrine and practice.  Far from realizing ideals of civic and political equality, the secular state facilitated religious inequalities and inter-faith violence. Mahmood considered the norms and practices developed within Islam for negotiating religious difference, showing how such religiously informed techniques of civic governance are overridden by secular regimes of power.

Mahmood was the single author of Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report (Princeton University Press, 2015) and Politics of Piety: the Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (Princeton University Press, 2005) which won the Victoria Schuck Award from the American Political Science Association.  She co-authored a Is Critique Secular? (Fordham University Press, 2011) and co-edited Politics of Religious Freedom (University of Chicago, 2015).  Her work has been translated into Arabic, French, Persian, Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish, and Polish.  She published numerous articles in the fields of anthropology, history, religious studies, political science, critical theory, feminist theory, and art criticism and served on several journal boards and read for many presses.  Professor Mahmood was the recipient of several honors and awards, including the Axel Springer Fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin, and fellowships at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University and the University of California Humanities Research Institute. She was the recipient of a major grant from the Henry Luce Foundation’s Initiative on Religion and International Affairs as well as the Harvard Academy of International and Area Studies. She also received the Frederick Burkhardt Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, as well as the Andrew Carnegie Scholars’ program as a young scholar. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Uppsala in Sweden in 2013.

Saba Mahmood was a brilliant scholar, cherished colleague, and dedicated teacher and graduate mentor.   Along with her ceaseless political passions and trenchant analyses, she keened to the beauty of the wilderness, the poetry of Ghalib, the delights of cooking and sharing excellent food. She cultivated with joyous attention her relationships with family and friends. She mentored her students with remarkable care and intensity, demanding their best work, listening, responding with a sharp generosity, coming alive in thought, and soliciting others to do the same. In her final months, she affirmed the values of thought and love, leaving now a vibrant legacy that will persist and flourish among all whose lives were touched by her life and work. She is survived by her husband, Charles Hirschkind, her son, Nameer Hirschkind, and her brothers Khalid Mahmood and Tariq Mahmood.




Art in a State of Siege

A series of events with Joseph Leo Koerner
March 15, 16, & 17
sponsored by the Townsend Center for the Humanities
at UC Berkeley


Lecture: Art in a State of Siege: Bosch in Retrospect

Thursday, Mar 15, 2018 | 5:00 pm
Morrison Reading Room, 101 Doe Library, UC Berkeley

In this lecture, Koerner examines Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Delights — a work notorious for its portrayal of nude men and women cavorting with beasts in a verdant landscape. He approaches the painting as a representation of a world without history and without law, whose imagery attracted significant attention during similarly lawless historical periods. The discussion emerges from a larger project in which Koerner explores the relationship between art and freedom under a range of emergency “states of siege,” including apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany.

Joseph Leo Koerner, Thomas Professor of History of Art and Architecture and Senior Fellow, Society of Fellows at Harvard University, is the author of Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape and Dürer’s Hands. He wrote and presented the three-part television series Northern Renaissance and the documentary Vienna: City of Dreams, both produced by the BBC. Koerner’s work has been influential for decades; his essay “The Mortification of the Image: Death as a Hermenuetic in Hans Baldung Grien” appeared in Representations 10 (1985).

Symposium on Art in a State of Siege

Friday, Mar 16, 2018 | 1:00 pm to 3:30 pm
Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall, UC Berkeley

Joseph Leo Koerner, joins a panel of scholars to discuss the role of art in a society in which freedom is radically curtailed, such as Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa. Panelists engage with audience members in lively discussion about creative expression under an emergency “state of siege.”

[image credit]

Participants: Whitney Davis, History of Art, UC Berkeley; Joseph Leo Koerner, History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University; James Porter, Classics and Rhetoric, UC Berkeley; and Jane Taylor, Centre for Humanities Research, University of the Western Cape

Film Screening: The Burning Child

Saturday, Mar 17, 2018 | 4:00 pm
Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA)
2155 Center Street, Berkeley

Joseph Leo Koerner screens a preview of his documentary film The Burning Child (2017, 120 mins). Through interviews, testimony, and archival footage, the film explores Koerner’s return to Vienna, the birthplace of his father, painter Henry Koerner, and is a meditation on the concepts of home and homemaking that emerged amidst the turbulence of 20th-century Vienna. With Q+A to follow moderated by Winnie Wong.

Tickets available at the BAMPFA boxoffice or at

Translation as Citation

New from Haun Saussy:

Translation as Citation: Zhuangzi Inside Out

(Including the essay “Death and Translation,” first published in Representations 94.

This volume examines translation from many different angles: it explores how translations change the languages in which they occur, how works introduced from other languages become part of the consciousness of native speakers, and what strategies translators must use to secure acceptance for foreign works.

Haun Saussy argues that translation doesn’t amount to the composition, in one language, of statements equivalent to statements previously made in another language. Rather, translation works with elements of the language and culture in which it arrives, often reconfiguring them irreversibly: it creates, with a fine disregard for precedent, loan-words, calques, forced metaphors, forged pasts, imaginary relationships, and dialogues of the dead. Creativity, in this form of writing, usually considered merely reproductive, is the subject of this book.

The volume takes the history of translation in China, from around 150 CE to the modern period, as its source of case studies. When the first proponents of Buddhism arrived in China, creativity was forced upon them: a vocabulary adequate to their purpose had yet to be invented. A Chinese Buddhist textual corpus took shape over centuries despite the near-absence of bilingual speakers. One basis of this translating activity was the rewriting of existing Chinese philosophical texts, and especially the most exorbitant of all these, the collection of dialogues, fables, and paradoxes known as the Zhuangzi. The Zhuangzi also furnished a linguistic basis for Chinese Christianity when the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci arrived in the later part of the Ming dynasty and allowed his friends and associates to frame his teachings in the language of early Daoism. It would function as well when Xu Zhimo translated from The Flowers of Evil in the 1920s. The chance but overdetermined encounter of Zhuangzi and Baudelaire yielded a ‘strange music’ that retroactively echoes through two millennia of Chinese translation, outlining a new understanding of the translator’s craft that cuts across the dividing lines of current theories and critiques of translation.