In her formidable and fiercely well-argued new book Merchants of Virtue: Hindus, Muslims, and Untouchables in Eighteenth-Century South Asia (U California Press, 2022), Divya Cherian shows with meticulous detail and in lyrical prose, the processes and practices that contributed to the emergence and hardening of an exclusivist Hindu identity set in opposition to a notion of Untouchability that also subsumed Muslims. Set in eighteenth century Marwar in the Rathor Kingdom, this book sketches an intimate portrait of the micro-politics and the everyday life of the aspirations, fissures, and resistances that went into the stipulation of caste distinctions in early modern South Asia. At the heart of this book is a narrative equally fascinating and frictious of how a state driven campaign to cultivate “virtuous” Hindu merchants or Mahajans contributed to the demarcation of epistemological, legal, and spatial boundaries between upper caste Hindus and untouchables, including Muslims.Merchants of Virtue combines the best forms of social, legal, political, and conceptual history, and its invasive examination of the interface between religion, state, and society will be of much interest to scholars of religion, South Asia, and Islam. Available also as an Indian edition, this book will also make for an excellent text to teach in both undergraduate and graduate seminars.
SherAli Tareen is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Franklin and Marshall College. His research focuses on Muslim intellectual traditions and debates in early modern and modern South Asia. His book Defending Muhammad in Modernity (University of Notre Dame Press, 2020) received the American Institute of Pakistan Studies 2020 Book Prize and was selected as a finalist for the 2021 American Academy of Religion Book Award. His second book is called Perilous Intimacies: Debating Hindu-Muslim Friendship after Empire (Columbia University Press, 2023). His other academic publications are available here. He can be reached at [email protected]
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