New Books Network

Julia Stephens

Governing Islam

Law, Empire, and Secularism in Modern South Asia

Cambridge University Press 2018

New Books in British StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Islamic StudiesNew Books in LawNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books in South Asian Studies May 1, 2020 Kristian Petersen

As British colonial rulers expanded their control in South Asia legal resolutions were increasingly shaped by the English classification of social life. The definitional...

As British colonial rulers expanded their control in South Asia legal resolutions were increasingly shaped by the English classification of social life. The definitional divide that structured the role of law in most cases was the line between what was deemed religious versus secular.

In Governing Islam: Law, Empire, and Secularism in Modern South Asia (Cambridge University Press, 2018), Julia Stephens, Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Rutgers University, examines how Islam and Muslims were regulated within legal domains that managed various spheres of life. British rule determined that religious laws were most effective in governing family affairs but secular laws would govern markets and transactions. What complicated this simple binary was that Islamic “personal law” was very often bound up with economic issues. In our conversation we discuss British notions of “secular governance,” marriage and women’s property, the role of custom in legal reasoning, rulings around ritual and challenges to conformity, the construction of “personal law,” the relationships between colonial judges and Muslim legal scholars, how colonial law contributed to women’s economic marginalization, the relationship between gender and Islamic law, tensions between Hindus and Muslims, and how South Asia’s past can help us think about the present.


Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at kpeterse@odu.edu.