13 June 2018

BOOK: Julia STEPHENS, Governing Islam - Law, Empire and Secularism in South Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018). ISBN 9781107173910, £ 62.99

Cambridge University Press has just published a book which looks at the relation of colonial laws to contemporary struggles between Islam and secularism.


Governing Islam traces the colonial roots of contemporary struggles between Islam and secularism in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The book uncovers the paradoxical workings of colonial laws that promised to separate secular and religious spheres, but instead fostered their vexed entanglement. It shows how religious laws governing families became embroiled with secular laws governing markets, and how calls to protect religious liberties clashed with freedom of the press. By following these interactions, Stephens asks us to reconsider where law is and what it is. Her narrative weaves between state courts, Islamic fatwas on ritual performance, and intimate marital disputes to reveal how deeply law penetrates everyday life. In her hands, law also serves many masters - from British officials to Islamic jurists to aggrieved Muslim wives. The resulting study shows how the neglected field of Muslim law in South Asia is essential to understanding current crises in global secularism.
Provides a historical foundation for understanding contemporary debates about Islam, law, and secularism

Combines colonial legal archives with vernacular legal sources

Explains why Islamic law has occupied such a pivotal role in global debates about the relationship between religion and the state


Julia Stephens, Rutgers University, New Jersey

Julia Stephens is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Rutgers University, New Jersey. Her research and teaching span the fields of modern South Asian history, law, Islam, colonialism, and gender. Her writings have appeared in History Workshop Journal, Law and History Review, Modern Asian Studies, and the Journal of British History.

List of maps and figures
Note on translation, transliteration, and abbreviations
1. Forging secular legal governance
2. Personal law and the problem of marital property
3. Taming custom
4. Ritual and the authority of reason
5. Pathologizing Muslim sentiment
6. Islamic economy – a forgone alternative
Select bibliography

More information with the publisher 

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