A Respect for Difference: The Shi'a Ismaili Khojas of Mumbai

Strohl, David J., Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Khare, Ravindra, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Metcalf, Peter, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Bashkow, Ira, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Sachedina, Abdulaziz

This dissertation explores how ideas about cultural and religious difference motivate members of the Shi'a Ismaili Khojas community in Mumbai to erect social boundaries around their community and reach out to others through volunteer service. As a minority within India's Muslim minority, difference has been a particularly fraught issue for Ismailis throughout their history. Consequently, they have maintained strict boundary lines around religious institutions in their community, such as sharply restricting attendance at religious functions to Ismailis only. These strictures reflect a desire on the part of practitioners to create a space for shared devotion to their living Imam, the Aga Khan, as well as a belief that outsiders will likely not understand their esoteric religious tradition. As an act of devotion to their living Imam, Ismailis offer "service" (seva) by volunteering in schools, hospitals, and other civil-society organizations sponsored by the Aga Khan. In the process of serving others, volunteers develop dispositions like concern and care for those who are different in terms of class, religion, gender, and ethnicity. This dissertation responds to scholarly portrayals of othering and boundary making as processes marked by antagonism and aversion towards others by demonstrating that ideas about human differences help produce moral dispositions such as care, concern, and empathy.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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