My scholarly interests primarily concern the ethnical, political, and religious dimensions of majority-minority relations in India, and its socio-psychological conditions and effects. As a scholar of religion, I am particularly interested in how religion is conceptualised at the level of public, civic debate and its relation to politics, as well as the capacity of these ideological formulations to contribute or counteract the shaping of liberal-democratic values. The formulations of Islam in minority or migration settings, in India and beyond, provide excellent case studies to illuminate these issues, especially in relation to globalising trends of identity mobilisation, privatisation, and international anti-Muslim ideology. Another interest regards theory and method in the scientific study of religion along with the intellectual legacy and development of the discipline.
My doctoral study, The Politics of Islam, Non-Violence, and Peace (2019) regards the religious and ideological thought of the contemporary ‘ālim (a Muslim scholar learned in religion), public thinker, and author Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, born 1925 in Uttar Pradesh, India. Khan’s presentation of Islam, non-violence, and peace makes up the research object of the study. His ideas are analysed in comparison to other thematically related ideas and positions in the modern debate on the meaning of Islam, especially in India but also internationally. His works of the last two decades complemented by interviews and field studies between 2013 and 2016 make up the immediate primary source material. The analysis is pursued with reference to contextual factors. By using current social scientific concepts – the actual knowledge situation regarding contemporary Islam and the religious and political Islamic debate – the study analyses how Khan’s ideas on Islam, non-violence, and peace are formulated in relation to two kinds of interrelated contexts. On one hand, religious and ideological debate regarding the meaning of Islam and on the other hand, the context of global and Indian social and political issues, which together constitute the problem-setting frame and background for the debate.
The use of non-violent means by restricting political and social conflict of any kind is at the heart of his position. Khan’s developments and achievements, as an ‘ālim and intellectual, also include the defence of a position for Islam in relation to issues such as pluralism, democracy, and the natural sciences. As a public spokesperson, Khan has made a clear case for non-violent solutions and approaches to inter-communal fighting in India. His is a position against the ideas of both state-building and violence in Islam, considering such ideas and practices to be gross misinterpretations of the Quran and the Sunna of the Prophet Muhammad. Affirming and celebrating the properties of a plural and secular India, Khan thinks that Indian Muslims have a rightful and protected position within the Indian nation and the democratic state. Muslim interests are, in fact, better served by the democratic and constitutional state of India than by Pakistan, Khan contends, with the latter’s repressive and authoritarian tendencies. An outspoken and active debater, Khan has engaged in public dialogues with representatives of other world religions, but also leaders of powerful Hindu nationalist right-wing movements in order to create trust and mutual affinities. Such instances should be regarded as manifestations of what Khan perceives to be essential and ultimate Islamic virtues: patience, collaboration, peacebuilding, and friendly respectful behaviour in order to overcome adversity by developing friendship. Such behaviour is in itself a powerful medium of what Khan perceives to be the one overriding purpose of Islam – to engage more people about the true meaning of Islam.
Khan stands in a tradition of peace-building in Islam and in that sense, he is not unique as an Islamic thinker. However, Khan’s very identity and clear ideological positions in such a tradition is both highly relevant and important in relation to the global challenge and mission to encourage and support peaceable, democratic, and plurality-affirming societies and cultures. He develops important religious and ideological arguments with regard to such contemporary debates and a detailed and systematic non-violent presentation of Islam that regards a number of contentious issues in Islamic reasoning, philosophy, and law.
The study shows the important influence of ideological and political conditions and frameworks on the development of Khan’s ideology. First, the rising political significance and eventual establishment of the Hindu Right with its accompanying anti-Muslim rhetoric and campaigns of political mobilisation. Second, the market liberalisations that have been shaping and re-shaping the foundations of the Indian economy since at least the early 1990s. Third, the omnipresent broad forces of globalisation are regarded as key to understanding and explaining the meaning and range of Khan’s thought and argument.
I have been teaching Religious studies at Umeå University since 2009. At the introduction and undergraduate level, I have particularly been teaching the scientific study of Islam and Muslims, i.e. the anthropology, history, and sociology of Islam, which is also my own main field of study, especially Islam in India. Apart from this specialisation, I also teach Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as the general sociology of religion, highlighting religion as a social phenomenon. At the bachelor and advanced levels, I teach religion from the largely opposite perspectives of either fundamentalism and violence or non-violence, civil resistance, and peace-building. Increasingly, along with thesis supervision I also teach research methods and theory in the scientific study of religion.
Study visits and conferences
Except field work in India between 2013 and 2016, I have stayed in Jerusalem at the Swedish Theology Institute during the spring semester 2012 and a study trip with students to Jerusalem and Palestine in the fall, 2012. I have participated in international doctoral courses on the scientific study of religion and Islam in Norway, 2013 and Italy. Furthermore, I worked at the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul in the spring 2019 and also took Arabic there in 2018. In addition to these international study visits, I have presented papers on my research at the IAPR conference in Istanbul, 2015, the MESA conference in Boston, 2016, and the Strong Religion and Mainstream Culture conference at Umeå University, 2017.