In this interview, Talal Asad discusses his career, his ideas, and his future plans. An Oxford-trained cultural anthropologist, Asad began with fieldwork, studying the effects of colonialism on the political life of a nomadic tribe in northern Sudan. Asad was born in Saudi Arabia but grew up mostly in India and Pakistan. His mother was a Saudi Muslim and his father an Austrian Jew who converted to Islam and became a Muslim scholar. Although he was no longer a believer, Asad became interested in religion and involved in Middle Eastern studies, at least in part in reaction to disturbing Western attitudes toward Muslims. While he recognized the contributions of Orientalist scholars, such as their knowledge of languages and translations of key texts, he and his collaborators in England found their way of thinking unsophisticated, biased, sweepingly broad, and often just plain wrong. Asad was influenced by Marxism but was troubled by its simplified equating of religion with ideology. He read Michel Foucault with great interest, a topic he discussed with his friend Edward Said. Asad published groundbreaking studies such as Genealogies of Religion, Formations of the Secular, and On Suicide Bombing (from his 2006 Wellek lectures). He is currently working on a genealogical critique of the notion of human rights and its contradictory coexistence alongside great violence such as war and regimes of punishment.

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