I am a historically informed anthropologist working on Islam in urban South Asia. My research and teaching interests include historical and contemporary Islam and inter-faith relations in South Asia, the anthropology of religion, everyday life and post-colonial urbanism, and Bombay cinema.
A persistent line of inquiry in my academic work has been thinking about Islam in South Asia as not just a religious identity, but shorthand, as it were, for a whole complex of ethical orientations and remembered ways of being linked to the pre-colonial past. I have previously written about the “Muslimness” of Hindi Cinema, which I argue stands as a set of markers of opposition and ambiguity towards the post-colonial project of fashioning modern national subjectivities.
My current work focuses on the ritual practices, dream-lives, and shared social worlds that the Balmiki, Gujjar, Kasai and other native communities of Delhi have built around medieval ruins like the citadel of Firoz Shah Kotla, where people deposit photocopies of letters addressed to saintly jinn (superhuman spirits). In my book-project, tentatively titled The Sacred as History: Presencing the Past in the Medieval Ruins of Delhi, I focus on a broader idea of religion, shared across the confessional divides of Hindu and Muslim, an idea which encompasses ethical orientations toward self and world that are linked to pre-modern notion of justice, the valuation of dreams and visions as fundamentally truth-bearing, and an understanding of nature as being inherently miraculous and merciful. Along with my ethnographic work, I have also worked in several government archives, as well as working with 19th and 20th century religious, antiquarian and literary texts in Urdu that dwell on Delhi’s ruins.
I have experience teaching and have developed syllabi for courses in Film Studies, the Anthropology of Religion, Islam, modern South Asian History and classic Western thought.