Wilson Center Experts
Matthew J. Nelson
After graduating from Omaha Central High School, I studied politics at Bowdoin (including a semester abroad in Sri Lanka). Since then, I have continued to spend significant amounts of time in South Asia, including several years in Pakistan. I have also worked for The Asia Foundation, the Asian Development Bank, and the British Foreign Office in Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Broadly speaking, my work focuses on the politics of Islamic institutions (Islamic courts, Islamic schools, etc.), drawing attention to the ways in which the political processes within these institutions lend themselves to various notions of ‘democracy.' I was trained in comparative politics, but, increasingly, my work has had a tendency to combine some of the more traditional concerns of comparative politics with a special emphasis on the challenge of comparative political thought. In addition to my travels in South Asia, I enjoy rowing, running, and the latest Hindi films.
Ph.D. (2002) Political Science, Columbia University; B.A. (1993) Bowdoin College
- Lecturer, Department of Politics, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, 2006-present
- Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Bates College, 2003-2005
- Visiting Lecturer, Department of Political Science, Yale University, 2002-2003
South Asia, Islam, comparative political thought
My project examines competing approaches to religious education, doctrinal diversity, and citizenship in Pakistan. The project begins with an assessment of local demands for religious education, both in the context of madrasas and in the context of public and private-sector schools, before turning to an account of divergent approaches to religious, sectarian, and doctrinal diversity "within" those schools. Drawing on several hundred interviews conducted throughout Pakistan (2003-2007), I examine the underpinnings of ‘a religious appreciation for religious diversity.' And, having done so, I assess some of the challenges that are likely to confront future efforts to institutionalize ‘diversity-friendly' reforms.
- "Inheritance Unbound: The Politics of Personal Law Reform in Pakistan and India" in Comparative Constitutional Traditions in South Asia, Sunil Khilnani, Vikram Raghavan, Arun Thiruvengadam, eds. (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2011).
- In the Shadow of Shari‘ah: Islam, Islamic Law, and Democracy in Pakistan (NY: Columbia University Press, 2010).
- "Dealing with Difference: Religious Education and the Challenge of Democracy in Pakistan," Modern Asian Studies 43:2 (2009), pp. 591-618.