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55th Annual Arthur L. Throckmorton Memorial Lecture

Date: 5:30pm PST February 22 Location: Miller Hall, Room 105

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Miller Hall, Room 105

The Light in Islam:  Muslims and Liberalism in South Asia

Do Islamic imperatives prevent Muslims from embracing liberal values? Or is Western liberalism designed to exclude Muslims? This lecture addresses these questions by assessing Indian Muslim responses to the liberal ideals propagated by the British in India during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Several Indian Muslim intellectuals operating at the transnational level connected with counterparts in other parts of the Muslim world in efforts to challenge Western writers and policymakers who portrayed the Faithful as averse to reform and progress.


There is a need for a critical evaluation of the Orientalist foregrounding of “religion”, narrowly and imprecisely defined, to the point of reifying Islam in everything Muslims think, say or do. This lecture offers an alternative and historically nuanced interpretation of “liberalism” or, more aptly “roshan khayali’ (enlightened thought) as understood by Muslims, who not only engaged with but also exposed the contradictions in the articulations and practices of Western liberalism in the age of empire. In so doing, it explores whether the perceived lack of liberalism among Muslims is a product of Western liberalism’s willful exclusion and misconceptions of Islam or  rooted in the Muslim religious tradition.


Ayesha Jalal is the Mary Richardson Professor of History at Tufts University where she teaches at both the History Department and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. She obtained her BA, majoring in History and Political Science, from Wellesley College, USA, and her doctorate in history from the University of Cambridge. Dr Jalal has been a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge (1980-84), Leverhulme Fellow at the Centre of South Asian Studies, Cambridge (1984-87), fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, DC (1985-86) and Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies (1988-90). Between 1998-2003 she was a MacArthur Fellow. She has taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Tufts University, Columbia University and Harvard University. Her publications include The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan (Cambridge 1985 and 1994); The State of Martial Rule: the Origins of Pakistan’s Political Economy of Defence (Cambridge, 1990) and Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia: A Comparative and Historical Perspective (Cambridge 1995). Dr Jalal has co-authored Modern South Asia: History, Culture and Political Economy (Routledge 1998) with Sugata Bose which has been published by Oxford University Press in India and by Sang-e-Meel in Pakistan. Her study of Muslim identity in the subcontinent, entitled Self and Sovereignty: The Muslim Individual and the Community of Islam in South Asia since c.1850 appeared in 2000-2001  (London/New York:Routledge, Delhi: Oxford University Press and Lahore:Sang-e-Meel). She has also authored Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia (Cambridge, M.A: Harvard University Press; Lahore: Sang-e-Meel, 2008). She has also edited The Oxford Companion to Pakistani History (Oxford University Press 2012) and co-edited a bilingual Urdu and English volume entitled Manto (Sang-e-Meel Publications 2012). Her Lawrence Stone Lectures given at the Davis Center at Princeton University in April 2011 were published as The Pity of Partition: Manto’s Life, Times and Work Across the India-Pakistan Divide (Princeton University Press, Spring 2013). Dr. Jalal’s most recent book is The Struggle for Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics (Cambridge, M.A: Harvard University Press, 2014).

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