Like many scholars, I am interested in women’s everyday religious practices and in questions of agency. Currently there is a debate in the anthropology of Islam between those who, following Talal Asad, Saba Mahmood, and others, argue that we should see the practice of religious piety as an expression of agency, and those who, like Magnus Marsden, think that the focus on piety overlooks important aspects of life unrelated to religion, or that are marked not by purpose and certainty but rather by ambiguity and self-doubt. I am inspired by David Kloos’s intervention in this debate: that the process of religious change includes failure and self-doubt as well as purpose, it is life-long, and it changes with the life cycle.
In this paper, I will try to apply these insights to my fieldwork in two different sites—Al-Huda online Quran classes for diasporic South Asian Muslim women and a girls’ madrasa in the small UP town of Shahjahanpur in India—to explore two sets of questions: how do individual girls and women narrate the process of ethical and religious self-fashioning on which they have embarked? And second, how does their increased orthopraxy impact social relations with those around them, whether in their families or in society at large? Thus, how do they navigate social expectations around age and gender hierarchies, or expectations by husbands and in-laws when their religious knowledge inclines them to act differently from their families?