The Aga Khan Case: Religion and Identity in Colonial India

[Cross-posted from New Books in Islamic Studies] How does colonial power, both discursive and institutional, transform the normative boundaries and horizons of religious identities? Teena Purohit, Assistant Professor of Religion at Boston University, examines this question in The Aga Khan Case: Religion and Identity in Colonial India (Harvard University Press, 2012). This book is clearly written and carefully researched straddling multiples fields and disciplinary approaches. The crux of the study is the transformation of Khoja Isma’ili identity in colonial India. The title refers to a case in 1866 lodged by the Khojas of Bombay against the then Aga Khan over the ownership and control of their property. However, this ostensible property dispute spiraled into a much larger debate over religion and religious identity. Through a dazzling analysis of novel historical and textual archives, Professor Purohit demonstrates that the Aga Khan case of 1866 indelibly transformed the nature and boundaries of Isma’ili religious identity in South Asia, often in ways that remain highly relevant even today. In our conversation, we discussed the major themes and arguments of the book. We also talked about the broader theoretical and conceptual interventions of this book in the fields of Religion, Islamic Studies, and South Asian Studies.