Whatever their political leanings, it is difficult for intellectuals today to talk about relations among social actors outside the language of liberalism. In other words, social differences are generally spoken of in terms of interests, which of course only have meaning if they can be represented institutionally, most conveniently in the arena of the liberal state. Such a state is therefore frequently, if silently, presupposed in discussions of social relations that might exist well beyond its ambit in time, as well as in space.

How is it possible to speak about social relations in a place like India without falling into the language of interest and representation? Do there exist alternative genealogies of thinking about such relations in Indian history?

In this paper Dr Devji explores one possible alternative to the liberal language of social relations: that associated with the rise of a new kind of Muslim politics in colonial India. In particular, he looks at the work of the poet and philosopher Muhammad Iqbal, who, he contends, tried to think through the language of interest and representation on the unevenly liberal terrain of the colonial state.


Faisal Devji


Faisal Devji is Professor of Indian History and Director of the Asian Studies Centre at St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford. He has held faculty positions at the New School in New York, Yale University and the University of Chicago, from where he also received his PhD in Intellectual History. He is a Fellow at New York University’s Institute of Public Knowledge and Yves Otramane Chair at the Graduate Institute in Geneva. Recent publications include Islam After LiberalismThe Impossible Indian: Gandhi and the Temptation of Violence, and Muslim Zion: Pakistan as a Political Idea.