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Michael G. Peletz is a professor at Emory University's Department of Anthropology. He joined in 2006 and served as Chair of the Department from 2009 to 2012. His teaching and research interests focus on social and cultural theory; gender and sexual diversity; law, discipline, and social justice; and the cultural politics of religion, especially Islam, and modernity, particularly in Southeast Asia, the Pacific Rim, and the Muslim world. He has done extensive fieldwork in Malaysia; his research and teaching interests have also involved travel to Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, the Netherlands, and the UK.

Peletz is currently completing a new book, tentatively entitled Sharia Transformations: Cultural Politics and the Rebranding of an Islamic Judiciary. The book deals with processes of bureaucratization, rationalization, corporatization, and Islamization in Malaysia's cultural and political fields since the late 1970s. It will also address relevant comparative data from Indonesia and Egypt and some of their theoretical and other implications. Important themes the book engages include whether women are getting more justice than in earlier decades, and why neoliberalism commonly goes hand-in-hand both with a “punitive turn” in legal and cultural-political arenas, and with developments of a more “pastoral” nature.

Peletz’s earlier books have focused on gender, sexuality, and body politics across Asia, and on the ways that Islamic courts in Malaysia are involved in struggles to define the role of Islam with respect to the maintenance of national sovereignty and variously construed projects of modernity and civil society in an age of globalization. His 2009 book, Gender Pluralism: Southeast Asia Since Early Modern Times was designated by the journal Choice as an “Outstanding Academic Title, 2009”. The book examines three big ideas — difference, legitimacy, and pluralism - and is chiefly concerned with how people construe and deal with variation among fellow human beings. Why under certain circumstances do people embrace even sanctify differences, or at least begrudgingly tolerate them, and why in other contexts are people less receptive to difference, sometimes overtly hostile to it and bent on its eradication? What are the cultural and political conditions conducive to the positive valorization and acceptance of difference? And, conversely, what conditions undermine or erode such positive views and acceptance? Taking as its point of departure the prevalence of transgendered ritual specialists and the prestige accorded them throughout much of Southeast Asia’s history, the book examines pluralism in gendered fields and domains in Southeast Asia since the early modern era, which historians and anthropologists of the region commonly define as the period extending roughly from the 15th to the 18th centuries.

Peletz has served as chair or member of a variety of doctoral dissertation committees for graduate students who have done fieldwork in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, India, China, Morocco, Germany, and elsewhere; he welcomes the opportunity to continue his engagements with graduate students working in diverse locales.


Social and cultural theory

Law, discipline, and social justice

Islam and religious change

Gender and sexuality

Cultural politics of modernity

Historical anthropology

Malaysia, Southeast Asia, Pacific Rim, the Muslim world

See also[]


  • Profile of Michael G Peletz, Department of Anthropology, Emory College of Arts and Sciences[1].