Professor Faisal Devji

Featured Publication

Muslim Zion: Pakistan as a Political Idea (Harvard, 2013)

Muslim Zion: Pakistan as a Political Idea

Pakistan is both the embodiment of national ambitions fulfilled and, in the eyes of many, a failed state. Muslim Zion cuts to the core of the geopolitical paradoxes entangling Pakistan to argue that it has never been a nation state in the conventional sense. It is instead a distinct type of political geography, ungrounded in the historic connections of lands and peoples, whose context is provided by the settler states of the New World but whose closest ideological parallel is the state of Israel. A year before the 1948 establishment of Israel, Pakistan was founded on a philosophy that accords with Zionism in surprising ways. This book understands Zion as a political form rather than a holy land, one that rejects hereditary linkages between ethnicity and soil in favour of membership based on nothing but the idea of belonging. Like Israel, Pakistan came into being through the migration of a minority population, inhabiting a vast subcontinent, who abandoned old lands in which they feared persecution to settle in a new homeland. Just as Israel is the world's sole Jewish state, Pakistan is the only Muslim country to make religion the sole basis for its nationality. Revealing how Pakistan's troubled present continues to be shaped by its past, Muslim Zion is a penetrating critique of what comes of founding a country on an unresolved desire both to join and reject the world of modern nation-states.

The Impossible Indian: Gandhi and the Temptation of Violence (Harvard, 2012)

The Impossible Indian: Gandhi and the Temptation of Violence

While in his own time Gandhi was recognised by friends and enemies alike as a major political force, not only in India but the world at large, in our own day the Mahatma has been reduced to an idealist by his supporters as much as by his detractors. Whether this idealism is regarded as sincere or hypocritical, Gandhi has also become a resolutely Indian figure today, capable only of inspiring others in the most general way. Yet the Mahatma always considered his practices as being realistic and even mundane in the ease of their application, while at the same time holding them to possess universal potential. India for him was only the site of an experiment in non-violence. Given that Gandhi had become during his own lifetime one of the world's most famous and admired men, indeed one of the earliest figures who enjoyed such global celebrity, these grandiose impressions of his mission were not out of place. This book is about the Mahatma as a political thinker, one who recognised how the quotidian reality of modern life could be radicalised to produce the most extraordinary effects. In this sense he belongs with Lenin, Hitler and Mao as one of the great revolutionary figures of our times, though his politics was of course directed along paths other than state-building. Focussing on his unsentimental engagement with the hard facts of imperial domination, fascism and civil war, this study places Gandhi at the centre of modern history, exploring the new political reality he claimed to have discovered. This was a politics the Mahatma mobilised in practices that required as much sacrifice, and even death, as those propagated by his revolutionary peers, if for very different reasons. The Impossible Indian reveals Gandhi as the hard-hitting political thinker he was and confirms the contemporary relevance of his legacy to the world at large.

  • Indian and Pakistani intellectual history
  • Hindu and Muslim political thought
  • Globalization and violence

I am interested in the role of ideas in history, and in particular the development of political thought in modern South Asia. I have pursued these interests in my work on Gandhi's theory and practice of non-violence and on the re-making of Muslim politics from the late 19th century into the middle of the 20th. But I am also involved in thinking about the fragmentation and attempted reconstitution of such themes in the post-Cold War period of globalization, with Islamic forms of militancy providing my preferred site of study.

  • Changing Places: Religion and Minority in Pakistan

  • The turn to empire in Asia

  • Renouncing Peace

  • An elephant in the room

  • From Minority to Nation

  • Gender and the politics of space: the movement for women's reform, 1857-1900

  • Secular Islam

  • Gandhi’s Great War

  • India and World War I

  • The Problem of Muslim Universality

  • More

Current DPhil Students

  • Priya Atwal
  • Ria Kapoor
  • Alexander Nachman
  • Conor Meleady
  • Amar Sohal
  • Danish Khan
  • Vanya Bhargav
  • Agnibho Gangopadhyay
  • Shahnawaz Ali Raihan
  • Ayesha Mehta
  • Smriti Sawkar
  • Taha Mehmood
  • Deepali Kulkarni

I would be willing to hear from potential DPhil students regarding: Intellectual history, political thought, South Asia, Hinduism, Islam.

I currently teach:


  Indian special subject, "From Gandhi to Green Revolution"