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In her fascinating and remarkable new book Faithful Fighters: Identity and Power in the British Indian Army (Stanford University Press, 2019), Kate Imy explores the negotiation of religious identity, military service, and imperial power in the context of twentieth century British India. How were preconceived British imperial notions of religion and loyalty to the state attached to indigenous South Asian communities frustrated by the way Sikh, Muslim, Hindu, and Nepali Gurkha (Hindu and Buddhist) soldiers engaged the state and performed their political and religious identities as part of the British Indian army.
Faithful Fighters is a powerful and brilliant meditation on the impossibility of modern colonial power to canonize religion and religious identity. The six chapters of this book examine a range of archives, themes, theaters, and actors including tensions surrounding the valorization of Sikh loyalty and controversies shadowing the Kirpān (sword), the cooptation of pan-Islamic sentiments for British imperialism, suspicions and sexual desires invested in the figure of the Pathan, Nepali Gurkhas, caste hierarchies, and rituals of purification, debates of food and religion in the military, projects of nationalism through military academies, and masculinity, fascism, and Hindu nationalism.
This thoroughly researched and multidisciplinary book will attract and interest scholars from a range of fields including South Asian history, Religious Studies, Islamic Studies, Military History, and Cultural Studies. Beautifully written, and populated with enticing narratives and images, it will also be a delight to teach in a variety of classes.
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 academic publications are available here. He can be reached at email@example.com. Listener feedback is most welcome.
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