In south Asia as elsewhere in the world, religion has come to play an increasing role in shaping and reshaping women’s lives. This process is a particular challenge to people like Firdous Azim, a feminist who “grew up” intellectually and politically via involvement in the women’s movement of the 1980s in Bangladesh. The activism of that period was explicitly secular; its main priorities were the issues of rights, inequalities and violence prevalent in a young state which had achieved independence only in 1971. Firdous Azim is professor in the department of English and the humanities at BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh. At that time, the idea of religion - specifically, in Bangladesh, Islam - as a site in which women might find or exercise “empowerment” was unthinkable to us. A generation later, however, the whole area of religion - the application of its foundational beliefs, its public presence, its social and cultural practices - has acquired different meanings. The new ways that women are engaging with these aspects of religion form the basis of a research project Firdous and her colleagues are conducting, as part of the international “pathways to women’s empowerment” initiative. This article describes how the focus of their work is evolving to take account of the growing influence of religion in women’s lives.