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  Mayanthi L Fernando

Mayanthi L Fernando

Associate Professor of Anthropology



Social Sciences Division

Anthropology Department

Associate Professor of Anthropology
Director, Center for Cultural Studies
Director of Graduate Studies, Anthropology


Humanities Division
Feminist Studies Department
History of Consciousness Department

Regular Faculty

Religion and Secularism
Gender Studies
Feminist Theory

Social Sciences 1

On Leave

Social Sciences 1 Faculty Services

B.A., Harvard University
M.A., Ph.D., University of Chicago

Areas of Research: secularism, Islam, human/non-human entanglements, post-humanism, religious minorities in France/Europe, political pluralism

I am currently working on a second book on the secularity of the post-humanist turn that asks whether “natureculture” – a reversal of the distinction between nature and the human – might be extended to “supernatureculture.” First, I examine how, as work on multispecies worlds and indigenous ontologies expands the conventional separation of nature and humanity, it also reproduces the separation between natural and supernatural by delimiting other-than-humans to phenomena previously understood as natural. Second, I try to rethink what counts as nature – and to blur the distinction between natural and supernatural – by using insights from Islamic sciences of the unseen (‘ilm al-ghayb) and other non-Western traditions to reconsider how we might think about and know non-material beings with whom many humans are also in relation.


My first book, The Republic Unsettled: Muslim French and the Contradictions of Secularism (Duke University Press, 2014), alternates between an analysis of Muslim French politics, ethics, and social life and the contradictions of French secularity (laïcité) that this new Muslim subjectivity reflects and refracts. It explores how Muslim French draw on both Islamic and secular-republican traditions as they create new modes of ethical and political engagement, reconfiguring those traditions to imagine a future for France. It also examines how the institutions, political and legal practices, and dominant discourses that comprise French secularity regulate and govern--and profoundly disrupt--Muslim life. In so doing, it traces a series of long-standing tensions immanent to laïcité, tensions not so much generated as precipitated by the presence of Muslim French. It argues, ultimately, that “the Muslim question” is actually a question about secularism.

I have also been working on the nexus of sex and religion in the articulation of modern secularity, analyzing how the secular state’s project of regulating and transforming religious life is interwoven with its project of sexual normalization, i.e. the production of secular, sexually “normal” citizens. I am interested, in other words, in how proper religion and proper sexuality are mutually constituted (often in opposition to each other) by secular rule.

Teaching Specialties: secularism and secularity; human/non-human entanglements; religious studies; anthropology of Islam; religion and gender/sexuality; modernity and difference; postcolonial Britain and France; anthropology of liberalism; anthropology of Western Europe; multiculturalism

2018-19 Weatherhead Fellow, School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, NM

2015-2017 PI, Institute for Humanities Research cluster on "Race, Violence, Inequality, and the Anthropocene", UC Santa Cruz

2014-15 Administrative PI, UCHRI Humanities Studio on Regulating Sex/Religion

2011-12 Hellman Fellow, UC Santa Cruz

2010-2011 Member, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ

2010-2011 U.S. Fulbright Scholar Program

2010-2011 UC President's Faculty Fellowship

2010 UC Center for New Racial Studies research grant

ANTH 238: Bodies, Senses, Selves
ANTH 238: Human/Non-Human Entanglements
ANTH 238: Secularity, Science, Religion
ANTH 130T Religion and Politics in the Muslim World
ANTH 130O Postcolonial Britain and France
ANTH 197G Religion, Gender, Sexuality
ANTH 255 Anthropology of Secularism
ANTH 260 Anthropology of Freedom
ANTH 259 Regulating Religion/Sex
ANTH 200B Graduate Core Course II

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