Arsalan Khan is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he joined in 2023. Prior to this he taught at Union College in Schenectady, NY. His research is situated at the intersection of Islam, ritual, gender, and ethics, themes that he explores in the context of Pakistan and the broader South Asia region. His forthcoming book manuscript The Promise of Piety: Islam and the Politics of Moral Order in Pakistan (Cornell University Press 2024) examines how Pakistani Tablighis, practitioners of the transnational Islamic piety movement the Tablighi Jamaat, aspire to create a transcendental Islamic community through a distinct form of face-to-face preaching (dawat). The Tablighi Jamaat is one of the most popular Islamic movements in the world with millions of adherents and has a massive presence in urban Pakistan as evidenced by the mega-mosque complexes associated with the movement that have sprung up in every major urban center. Tablighis understand their distinct form of preaching to be the sacred means for spreading Islamic virtues and drawing Muslims together into a transcendental Islamic community. This commitment to their own form of preaching leads Tablighis to reject the political activism of many other Islamic movements in Pakistan. Dr. Khan’s research explores the interpersonal forms of ethics that define the movement and examines how this ethics is materialized in the rituals and everyday life of the congregation. He shows that a distinct hierarchical conception of pious relationality created in congregational life becomes the ground upon which Tablighis transform domestic and public life in Pakistan and shapes a distinct vision of Islamic moral order. This understanding of Islamic moral order challenges both liberal secular as well as Islamist conceptions of sovereignty and furnishes a space to think afresh about the relationship between religion, secularism, and modernity.
This excellent book investigates the relationship between personal piety, civic responsibilities, and Islamist movements and widens our understanding of how Muslim subjectivities and Muslim masculinities are formed in the social and historical moment that we share.
The Promise of Piety shows how the pietistic emphasis is not that of individual piety and cultivation of selves but a collective piety issuing out of the careful management and regulation of relations. This highly original insight is put forward to help us understand the Tablighis' supposed quietism in the face of fractious politics in Pakistan, and to encourage us to re-think the importance of hierarchy within anthropology and social theory more generally.
The Promise of Piety is a superb intervention into the study of Islam, and religion more broadly. In this pathbreaking book, Arsalan Khan astutely demonstrates how an ethics of hierarchy as a particular form of semiotic mediation is central to the aspirations of Pakistani Tablighis, convincingly laying out a fruitful new direction for the anthropology of Islam.
Dr. Khan’s next book project Islam, Citizenship and Moral Responsibility in Karachi’s Climate Crisis explores how moral claims to citizenship and belonging emerge in the politics of climate justice in Pakistan. This work will examine how diverse social classes and groups create moral claims to citizenship and belonging by drawing on democratic, legal, and Islamic values. He will examine how moral claims to are manifest in public performances and realized through the creation of solidarities across class, caste and ethnicity and how city and provincial officials and bureaucrats respond to such claims. The project aims to understand the constitution of democratic and religious citizenship in Pakistan in the context of the climate emergency.
Dr. Khan’s work has been published in variety of journals including Anthropological Quarterly, Cultural Anthropology, History and Anthropology, Social Analysis, Asian Affairs, and the Immanent Frame.
At the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Dr. Khan will be teaching a range of classes in his areas of expertise including Political Anthropology, Economic Anthropology, Anthropology of Islam, Anthropology of Religion, Race, Religion and the Nation-State, and Environmental Anthropology.
M.A., Ph.D., University of Virginia
Secretary of Society for the Anthropology of Religion, 2020 - 2022.
Forthcoming The Promise of Piety: Islam and the Politics of Moral Order in Pakistan, Cornell University Press (January 2024).
Forthcoming "The Perils of Naturalization." Comment on Anastasia Piliavsky’s Hierarchy as Democratic Value in India: An Informal Essay, Current Anthropology.
2022 Pious Publicity, Moral Ambivalence, and the Structure of Religious Continuity in an Islamic Piety Movement in Pakistan. History and Anthropology (currently online).
2022 Contested Sovereignty: Islamic Piety and Blasphemy Politics in Pakistan. Asian Affairs 53 (2): 1 -19
2021 The Sovereign Power of the Mob: Blasphemy Accusations as Democratic Politics in Pakistan. In Majoritarian and Populist Politics in South Asia, eds. Radhika Govindarajan, Mubbashir Rizvi, Bhoomika Joshi. Fieldsites: Theorizing the Contemporary, Cultural Anthropology (with Sarah Eleazar).
2019 Piety, Publicity and the Paradox of Islamization, The Immanent Frame.
2018 Pious Masculinity, Ethical Reflexivity, and Moral Order in an Islamic Piety Movement in Pakistan. Anthropological Quarterly 91(1): 53 - 78.
2018 Preface: Toward a Political Anthropology of Hierarchy. In Hierarchy and Value: Comparative Perspective on Moral Order, Jason Hickel and Naomi Haynes, eds. Berghahn Books (with Jason Hickel).
2018 Doing Politics with Saba Mahmood. Anthrodendum
2016 Islam and Pious Sociality: The Ethics of Hierarchy in the Tablighi Jamaat in Pakistan. Social Analysis 60 (4): 96 – 113.
2016 Review of Kabul Carnival: Gender Politics in Postwar Afghanistan by Julie Billaud. American Ethnologist 43(4): 783 -784.
2012 The Culture of Capitalism and the Crisis of Critique. Anthropological Quarterly 85(1): 231–254 (with Jason Hickel).