In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section South Asian Political Thought

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Basic Texts
  • Anthologies
  • Biographies and Autobiographies
  • Individual Author Contributions
  • Constitutions
  • Journals

Political Science South Asian Political Thought
Vidhu Verma
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0349


Although initially conceptualized as linked to a geographical region that includes much of India, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, South Asian political thought as a rich and distinct field of study is relatively new. In the last two decades, earlier portrayals of Asian societies have been seen as missing essential aspects of their political life. So far this field has focused on the contributions of individuals, events, and circumstances of colonial history from the 17th century as social reform movements began to respond to the challenge posed by the colonial intrusion. However, new ways have arisen to study this region. moving away from the confines of traditional Eurocentric understanding of South Asia. These approaches also introduce mass actors as agents of social and political change. Subsequently, the history of South Asian political ideas has emerged as different from other systems of thought and gained a foothold in colleges and universities across the world. As a result, South Asian studies are now established as a vibrant and complex interdisciplinary field devoted to studying people’s history, culture, and politics in these regions. Although there are dangers of using such a classification to understand a diverse area, core political thinkers of this region have emerged with time who share specific themes, arguments, and political practices. Although widely used, there is a consensus that the term ‘South Asia’ officially emerged in the wake of the territorial assumptions of area studies. It is also a result of institutional responses to the imperatives of the Cold War in the 1950s. In studies of the making of South Asian intellectual history, the circuitous networks of texts, letters, essays, party archives, official reports, vernacular print cultures, journals, and songs have been found to have enormous cross-influence between the ‘colony’ and ‘metropole.’ However, the number of publications on the notion of South Asia is reasonably limited. Thus there is a need to delve into a comprehensive range of sources scattered in many books, articles, and primary sources dealing with anthropology, sociology, philosophy, politics, biography, and literature.

General Overviews

The following literature provides a general overview of South Asian Political Thought: Primary sources that include Basic Texts, speeches, and Constitutions; Anthologies; Biographies and Autobiographies; and Individual Author Contributions, containing essays on particular but reasonably wide-ranging themes. Works such as Bose and Jalal 2004 show spatial networks in this area are evident even though the region shares the ambivalent role of British colonization in countries like India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Burma. For Chatterjee 2012, the ideological foundations of the empire have to be revealed to understand the need for a civilizing mission in the colonies. After the British rule ended, the independent states of India and Pakistan were created as shown in Talbot 2016 and Hasan 1994. Ahmed 1987 and Hasan 1994 look at the religious turn in the political and cultural landscape that impacted the development of the national identity of Bangladesh that was a part of Pakistan. Aung-Thwin and Aung-Thwin 2012 is rich in scholarly detail of the history of Myanmar. By the end of the 18th century, existing trade networks expanded the financial and commercial interests in Burma through migration. The administrative and military organs governing this province recruited many civil servants and soldiers from present-day India and Nepal. The Burmese language and Theravada Buddhism slowly became markers of a distinctive nationalism in Burma that separated it from the more extensive territory occupied by the British. Despite being a malleable frontier for the region, this territory would later become that of the present state of Myanmar. Ceylon was a crown colony since 1802 that shared its rulers with Fiji and New Zealand rather than the presidencies of Madras and Bombay. As an island economy, Sri Lanka developed regional connectivity through its seaport Colombo to southeast Asian countries. From its role as a pioneer of South Asian regionalism, it has increasingly turned toward engagement with East Asia that could benefit its economy and political standing in this region. Tambiah 1986 examines the contemporary conflict between the ethnic groups after independence. In Bose 2009, the waves of globalization in the early 21st century present reasons for reflection on the depiction of South Asian political thought in the western tradition. In King 1999, these cultural contacts emphasize the distinctive elements of the philosophies of this region and the work delves into why they did not make inroads into the dominant Western tradition of political thought.

  • Ahmed, Ishtiaq. The Concept of the Islamic State: An Analysis of the Ideological Controversy in Pakistan. London: Frances Pinter, 1987.

    Links nationalism as an ideology and political doctrine to the construction of a cohesive state with sovereignty. Deeper links with society have to be cultivated for the people to have emotional links with the state.

  • Aung-Thwin, Maitrii, and Michael Aung-Thwin. A History of Myanmar since Ancient Times: Traditions and Transformations. London: Reaktion Books, 2012.

    This book traces Myanmar’s rich traditions and transformations from the splendors of its precolonial kingdoms to its encounters with British colonialism.

  • Bose, S. A. A Hundred Horizons: The Indian Ocean in the Age of Global Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.

    This volume provides a rethinking of debates on nationalism by integrating the questions of religious universalism, cosmopolitanism, and sovereignty in the context of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The main objective is to shift focus away from the discussions that privilege land and territory to the ideas of transoceanic nationalism. European domination of the subcontinent forced the breakdown of a well-integrated interregional arena of cultural and economic interaction.

  • Bose, S., and A. Jalal. Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy. New York: Routledge, 2004.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203712535

    In this comprehensive study of over three centuries of history of the subcontinent, the authors offer a historical understanding of politics, cultures, and economies that shaped the people of this region. They also examine the structure and ideology of the British rule; the meaning of resistance; and the refashioning of political processes related to caste, class, community, and gender.

  • Chatterjee, Partha. The Black Hole of Empire. History of a Global Practice of Power. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400842605

    Challenges the assumption that colonialism bestowed institutions of modernity in India. The author documents the darkest sides of colonialism founded on the back of slavery and genocide.

  • Esposito, John L., John O. Voll, and Osman Bakar. Asian Islam in the 21st Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    This volume is a collection of essays that focuses solely on religion and the politics of Asian Islam in regional and global politics. It surveys the strategic importance of Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Central Asia, as well as their ethnic tensions.

  • Hasan Zaheer. The Separation of East Pakistan: The Rise and Realisation of Bengali Muslim Nationalism. Karachi, Pakistan and New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

    The study provides a penetrating insight into the economic dimensions of the differences between East and West Pakistan. It also examines the cleavage and the conflict that led to the formation of Bangladesh.

  • King, Richard. Indian Philosophy: An Introduction to Hindu and Buddhist Thought. Washington: Georgetown University Press, 1999.

    King examines the leading schools of Indian philosophy and their doctrines and approaches with particular reference to the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. The special focus is on individual thinkers like Bhartrhari, Nagarjuna, and Asanga.

  • Talbot, Ian. A History of Modern South Asia: Politics, States, Diasporas. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016.

    The volume is a new history that considers the Indian subcontinent in regional rather than in solely national-territorial terms. It examines the interplay between colonial inheritances and socioeconomic environments in the search for a national identity. It discusses the successive bouts of authoritarian rule that have reinforced centrifugal ethnic, linguistic, and regional forces in Pakistan, and impacted India and Bangladesh.

  • Tambiah, Stanley J. Sri Lanka: Ethnic Fratricide and the Dismantling of Democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.

    A historical study of the riots of 1983 focuses on the violent conflict between the majority Sinhalese Buddhists and the minority Tamils. The author demonstrates several reasons for the crisis, particularly the societal stresses in the struggle for power that marginalized many social groups.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.