Intelligent Souls? offers a new understanding of Islam in eighteenth-century Britain. Samara A. Cahill explores two overlapping strands of thinking about women and Islam, which produce the phenomenon of 'feminist orientalism.' One strand describes seventeenth-century ideas about the nature of the soul used to denigrate religio-political opponents. A second strand tracks the transference of these ideas to Islam during the Glorious Revolution and the Trinitarian controversy of the 1690s. The confluence of these discourses compounded if not wholly produced the stereotype that Islam denied women intelligent souls. Surprisingly, women writers of the period accepted the stereotype, but used it for their own purposes. Rowe, Carter, Lennox, More, and Wollstonecraft, Cahill argues, established common ground with men by leveraging the 'otherness' identified with Islam to dispute British culture's assumption that British women were lacking in intelligence, selfhood, or professional abilities. When Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman she accepted that view as true-and 'feminist orientalism' was born, introducing a fallacy about Islam to the West that persists to this day.
Samara A. Cahill has produced a comprehensive study of one of the central tropes in the evolution of feminist orientalism, from the turbulent 1690's to the revolutionary 1790's, with detailed analyses drawing on a variety of discourses, both competing and complementary, from an impressive array of genres and texts. --Martine W. Brownley Emory University In Intelligent Souls, Cahill shows how an especially disturbing aspect of anti-Islamic thought--the false notion that Muslims believe women do not have souls--found purchase not only in eighteenth-century Christian theology, but also in British feminism. Troubling and important, this study is crucial reading for all who wish to understand how racism and religious bigotry informed early assertions of (European, Christian) women's rights, and thus how the work of assembling more intersectional, inclusive feminisms can proceed . --Laura M. Stevens The University of Tulsa