Decolonization Resource Collection: Religion

Detail from Jose de Paez’s “The Destruction of Mission San Saba in the Province of Texas and the Martyrdom of the Fathers Alonso de Terreros, Joseph Santiesteban” (1765). Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Primary sources

Pontiac, “Proclamations of the “Master of Life” (1763)
After the end of the Seven Years’ War in North America, the British Empire continued to station troops in Indian country without conforming to proper trade or diplomatic protocol. In 1763, the Ottawa Chief Pontiac appropriated the spiritual prophecies of a Delaware prophet, Neolin, in order to recruit tribes from across the region in a series of attacks against British military posts that later spiraled into a full-on war.

Balfour Declaration (1917)
The Balfour Declaration was a public statement issued by the British government during World War I announcing its support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, then an Ottoman region with a minority Jewish population.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah, “Presidential Address to the Muslim League” (1940)
In his address to the Lahore Conference that passed a resolution calling for the partition of British India into three sovereign states, Jinnah declares his full-fledged support for Pakistani independence. According to Stanley Wolpert, this was the moment during which Jinnah abandoned his support for Hindu-Muslim unity in favor of an independent Muslim state.

Secondary sources

Articles and essays

Jackson, Stephen, “In Accord with British Traditions: The Rise of Compulsory Religious Education in Ontario, Canada, and Victoria, Australia, 1945-50,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 42, 4 (2014): 693-709.
This article examines the establishment of legally mandated Protestant training in the Australian state of Victoria and the Canadian province of Ontario. Fearing moral decay at home and a menacing world environment seemingly unfavorable to the ‘British way of life’ in the 1940s, educators asserted that religion, and specifically Protestant Christianity, was the only means by which the moral core of their British democracy could be preserved. The teaching of religious instruction was highly controversial in both places.

Jalal, Ayesha, “Nation, Reason and Religion: Punjab’s Role in the Partition of India,” Economic and Political Weekly 33, 32 (1998).
In this article, Jalal argues that the cultural roots of Indian nationalism during the early to mid-twentieth century owed far more to religious ideals, reinterpreted and reconfigured in imaginative fashion, than has been acknowledged. Jalal constructs her argument around cultural and religious nationalism in Punjab and how this dynamic region influenced Partition and its social, religious, and cultural implications.

Books and readers

Ansari, Sarah, Sufi Saints and State Power: The Pirs of Sind, 1843-1947, Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Ansari examines the system of political control constructed by the British in Sind between 1843 and 1947. In particular, she explores the part of the local Muslim elite, the pirs or hereditary sufi saints. Using a wealth of historical material and in depth interviews, the author looks at the development of the institution of the pir, its power base and the mechanics of the system of control into which the pirs were drawn. The overall success of the political system depended on the willingness of the elite to participate and Ansari argues that it did indeed work in Sind.

Ari, Waskar, Earth Politics: Religion, Decolonization, and Bolivia’s Indigenous Intellectuals, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.
This book focuses on the lives of four indigenous activist-intellectuals in Bolivia, key leaders in the Alcaldes Mayores Particulares (AMP), a movement established to claim rights for indigenous education and reclaim indigenous lands from hacienda owners. The AMP leaders invented a discourse of decolonization, rooted in part in native religion, and used it to counter structures of internal colonialism, including the existing racial systems.

Bhatt, Chetan, Hindu Nationalism: Origins, Ideologies and Modern Myths, Bloomsbury Press, 2001.
This book examines the history and ideologies of Hindu nationalism and Hindutva from the end of the last century to the present, and critically evaluates the social and political philosophies and writings of its main thinkers. Hindu nationalism is based on the claim that it is an indigenous product of the primordial and authentic ethnic and religious traditions of India. The book argues instead that these claims are based on relatively recent ideas, frequently related to western influences during the colonial period.

Devji, Faisal, Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008.
Devji focuses on the ethical content of Osama bin Laden’s and Al-Qaeda’s jihad against America and the West, as opposed to its purported political intent. Devji contends that Al-Qaeda, with its decentralized structure and emphasis on moral rather than political action, differs radically from such groups as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Indonesia’s Jemaah Islamiyah (which aim to establish fundamentalist Islamic states), and actually has more in common with multinational corporations, antiglobalization activists, and environmentalist and social justice organizations.

Dhulipala, Venkat, Creating a New Medina: State Power, Islam, and the Quest for Pakistan in Late Colonial North India, Delhi, India: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
This book examines how the idea of Pakistan was articulated and debated in the public sphere and how popular enthusiasm was generated for its successful achievement, especially in the crucial province of UP (now Uttar Pradesh) in the last decade of British colonial rule in India. It argues that Pakistan was not a simply a vague idea that serendipitously emerged as a nation-state, but was popularly imagined as a sovereign Islamic State, a new Medina, as some called it.

Fontaine, Darcie, Decolonizing Christianity: Religion and the End of Empire in France and Algeria, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
This book tells the story of Christians in Algeria who undertook a mission to ‘decolonize the Church’ and ensure the future of Christianity in postcolonial Algeria. But it also recovers the personal aspects of decolonization, as many of these Christians were arrested and tortured by the French for their support of Algerian independence.

Green, Nile, Islam and the Army in Colonial India: Sepoy Religion in the Service of Empire, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Set in Hyderabad in the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this book, a study of the cultural world of the Muslim soldiers of colonial India, focuses on the soldiers’ relationships with the faqir holy men who protected them and the British officers they served. Drawing on Urdu as well as European sources, the book uses the biographies of Muslim holy men and their military followers to recreate the extraordinary encounter between a barracks culture of miracle stories, carnivals, drug-use and madness with a colonial culture of mutiny memoirs, Evangelicalism, magistrates and the asylum.

Hanses, Thomas Blom, The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.
Hansen analyzes Indian receptivity to the right-wing Hindu nationalist party and its political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which claims to create a polity based on “ancient” Hindu culture. Rather than interpreting Hindu nationalism as a mainly religious phenomenon, or a strictly political movement, Hansen places the BJP within the context of the larger transformations of democratic governance in India.

Harding, Christopher, Religious Transformation in South Asia: The Meaning of Conversion in Colonial Punjab, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008.
This book investigates mass conversion movements towards Christianity in late colonial India, examining the internal dynamics of conversion and Christian community-building in the region of Punjab. It follows the tempestuous local relationships which lay at the heart of religious transformation, from tensions both within and between the missions of the (Catholic) Belgian Capuchins and (British Evangelical) Church Missionary Society to the incompatibilities of aspiration where oppressed rural low-caste — so-called ‘Chuhra’ — converts, as well as mission personnel and institutions, were concerned.

Jalal, Ayesha, The Sole Spokesman Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan, Cambridge University Press, 1985.
In 1940 the All-India Muslim League orchestrated the demand for independent Muslim states in India. Seven years later Pakistan was created amidst a communal holocaust of unprecedented proportions. Concentrating on the All-India Muslim League and its leader, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, this book assesses the role of religious communalism and provincialism in shaping the movement for Pakistan.

Rai, Mridu, Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights and the History of Kashmir, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.
How did religion and politics become so enmeshed in defining the protest of Kashmir’s Muslims against Hindu rule? This book reaches beyond standard accounts that look to the 1947 partition of India for an explanation. Examining the 100-year period before that landmark event, during which Kashmir was ruled by Hindu Dogra kings under the aegis of the British, Rai highlights the collusion that shaped a decisively Hindu sovereignty over a subject Muslim populace.

Robinson, David, Paths of Accommodation: Muslim Societies and French Colonial Authorities, Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2000.
Between 1880 and 1920, Muslim Sufi orders became pillars of the colonial regimes and economies of Senegal and Mauritania. In his book, David Robinson examines the ways in which the leaders of the orders negotiated relations with the Federation of French West Africa in order to preserve autonomy within the religious, social, and economic realms while abandoning the political sphere to their non-Muslim rulers.

Robson, Laura, Colonialism and Christianity in Mandate Palestine, Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2011.
This book brings to light the ways in which the British colonial state in Palestine exacerbated sectarianism. By transforming Muslim, Christian, and Jewish religious identities into legal categories, Robson argues, the British ultimately marginalized Christian communities in Palestine. Robson explores the turning points that developed as a result of such policies, many of which led to permanent changes in the region’s political landscapes.

Sarkar, Tanika, Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation: Community, Religion, and Cultural Nationalism, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2001.
Sarkar analyzes literary and social traditions, the elite voices and popular culture that helped create the lived reality of north India today. She explores the proto-nationalist novels of Bankimchandra Chattopadhyaya as well as scandal literature, rumors, women’s memoirs, and the popular press of colonial times for the “subaltern” ideas that have shaped contemporary India. Sarkar also examines the way earlier Indian religious traditions of saintliness, sacrifice, heroism, and warfare are being subverted or transformed by militant and fundamentalist forms of Hinduism.

Sevea, Iqbal Singh, The Political Philosophy of Muhammad Iqbal: Islam and Nationalism in Late Colonial India, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
This book reflects upon the political philosophy of Muhammad Iqbal, a towering intellectual figure in South Asian history, revered by many for his poetry and his thought. He lived in India in the twilight years of the British Empire and, apart from a short but significant period studying in the West, he remained in Punjab until his death in 1938. The book studies Iqbal’s critique of nationalist ideology and his attempts to chart a path for the development of the ‘nation’ by liberating it from the centralizing and homogenizing tendencies of the modern state structure.

Sherman, Taylor, Muslim Belonging in Secular India: Negotiating Citizenship in Postcolonial Hyderabad, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
This book surveys the experience of some of India’s most prominent Muslim communities in the early postcolonial period. Muslims who remained in India after the Partition of 1947 faced distrust and discrimination, and were consequently compelled to seek new ways of defining their relationship with fellow citizens of India and its governments. Using the forcible integration of the princely state of Hyderabad in 1948 as a case study, Sherman reveals the fragile and contested nature of Muslim belonging in the decade that followed independence.