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Towards a religious internationalism? The Indian Khilafat Movement in interwar Europe

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In the history of anticolonial internationalism, pan-Islamism occupies a vexed position. Its history prior to the First World War, particularly in India, suggested it could be a friend to nascent anticolonial movements and a vehicle for a critique of European imperialism; after the War, it was vocally supported by India’s most famous anticolonial leader and thinker, M. K. Gandhi, and mobilized Indian support in tandem with the Non-Cooperation Movement, the first all-India nationalist mobilisation in British India. And yet, its most high-profile demonstration – the Indian Khilafat Movement (1919-24) – was a project that sought to defend the integrity of the Ottoman Empire and Caliphate in the post-War settlement, a goal seemingly out of step with the spirit of nationalist self-determination that pervaded discussions about the future of empires in this moment. The Khilafat Movement appears to sit uneasily, too, with socialist and Communist projects of anticolonial internationalism in this period. This paper revisits the immediate post-War period to ask whether the Indian Khilafat Movement was really so much as odds with the spirit of the 1920s as this account would suggest. It asks in particular whether the movement, bound up in the preservation of a centuries’ old empire, could be perceived as pursuing a form of anticolonial, religious internationalism in this moment – one that transcended anxiety about the future of the Ottoman Empire and Caliphate and drove at broader issues of world-remaking in the aftermath of war.

This talk is part of the Centre of South Asian Studies Seminars series.

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