Faculty Directory

Mayanthi L Fernando
  • Title
    • Associate Professor of Anthropology
    • Director, Center for Cultural Studies
    • Director of Graduate Studies, Anthropology
  • Division Social Sciences Division
  • Department
    • Anthropology Department
  • Affiliations Humanities Division, Feminist Studies Department, History of Consciousness Department
  • Phone
  • Email
  • Office Location
    • Social Sciences 1, 347
  • Office Hours On Leave
  • Mail Stop Social Sciences 1 Faculty Services
  • Mailing Address
    • 1156 High Street
    • Santa Cruz CA 95064
  • Faculty Areas of Expertise Religion and Secularism, Gender Studies, Feminist Theory, Sexuality
  • Courses 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

Summary of Expertise

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

Research Interests

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.

Biography, Education and Training

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

Honors, Awards and Grants

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

Selected Publications

Teaching Interests

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