Decentered Despots: Law and the Making of the Religious Subject in the Colonial State

Hanisah Sani, University of Michigan

Indirect rule singularly accounted for the massive expansion of British administration across Asia and Africa from the late 19th century. However, this took a sharp turn several decades later as the colonial administration grew more intrusive and heavy-handed over state matters. Most significantly, the colonial state intensified the management and surveillance of religion on the native states and debated over who qualified as a religious subject. Current explanations attribute this to exogenous developments including the fear of a growing pan-Islamic and anti-colonial movement across the colonies. This paper argues that surveillance on religion intensified in the early 20th century because of endogenous stresses to the system of indirect rule characteristic of the principle and agent problem. Using administrative reports, newspaper archives, and personal correspondences, this paper examines the less considered paradox of indirect rule and how even as it accounted for imperial expansion in the late 19th century, it radically transformed the constitution of the native state by decentering the native despot from his seat of traditional authority to eventually unravel indirect rule from within.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 61. Religion and State Formation