Cassie Adcock

Cassie Adcock

Associate Professor of History and South Asian Studies
PhD, University of Chicago
BA, Bard College
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    Cassie Adcock is a historian of modern South Asia with a focus on religion and politics in modern India.

    Professor Adcock is particularly interested in how ways of talking about religion and the secular shape modern political culture. Even in Europe and North America, each country has its own take on secularism. By exploring India’s distinctive controversies over religion and politics, her research helps us understand how India is secular, differently. Her work contributes to the field of comparative secularisms among scholars of religion, anthropology, law, political science, and history.

    Adcock's first book, The Limits of Tolerance (2013), addresses the fraught politics of religious conversion in India. Today, many Indians argue that to interpret religious freedom to include conversion is “Western,” biased toward so-called “proselytizing religions,” and unsuited to the religious culture of the subcontinent. This perspective on religious freedom is rooted in the Gandhian tradition, and is taken by many in India to be the necessary foundation of secularism in India. Adcock's book traces the history of this secularist ideal. It shows that by highlighting the problem of religious conflict between Indian Muslims and Hindus during the 1920s, this secularist ideal worked to suppress discussion of caste conflict and inequality.

    In her current book project, Cattle Wealth and Cow Protection: Dharma, Development and the Secular State in India, 1881-1969, Adcock turns her attention from conversion to cow protection, which denotes the sentiments, practices and politics purportedly inspired by Hindu concern for the "sacred cow." She begins with a puzzle. The first Prime Minister of the Republic of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, is known as a staunch secularist who aimed to separate the state from religion and to focus on economic development. How then can we explain the fact that under Nehru, state schemes for agricultural development incorporated cow-protectionist institutions -- gaushalas or cattle shelters -- that supposedly catered to Hindu religious feelings above all considerations of economy? This project is bringing her work into conversation with agricultural and environmental history, food and animal studies.

    Selected Publications


    The Limits of Tolerance: Indian Secularism and the Politics of Religious Freedom. Oxford University Press, 2013.


    "Cow Protection and Minority Rights in India: Reassessing Religious Freedom," Special Issue: "Ghosts from the Past? Assessing Recent Developments in Religious Freedom in South Asia," Asian Affairs 19, 49, no. 2 (June 2018): 340-354.

    "Violence, Passion, and the Law: A Brief History of Section 295A and its Antecedents." Journal of the American Academy of Religion (2016).

    “Debating Conversion, Silencing Caste: The Limited Scope of Religious Freedom." Special Issue, "Politics of Religious Freedom," Journal of Law and Religion 29, no. 3 (October 2014): 363-377.

    "The problem of translation: A view from India." The Immanent Frame (blog) (2012).

    “Brave Converts in the Arya Samaj: the Case of Dharm Pal”, in Anshu Malhotra and Farina Mir, eds., Punjab Reconsidered: History, Culture and Practice (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012), 261-286.

    “Sacred Cows and Secular History: Cow Protection Debates in Colonial North India.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 30, no. 2 (2010): 297-311.

    Book Reviews

    Review of Hackett, Rosalind I. J. ed., Proselytization Revisited: Rights Talk, Free Markets and Culture Wars. London: Equinox Publishing Ltd., 2008. Religion 40 (2010): 70-72.

    Mitra Sharafi. Law and Identity in Colonial South Asia: Parsi Legal Culture, 1772-1947. The American Historical Review 2015 120 (5): 1875-1876. 


    Kluge Fellowship, Library of Congress (Spring 2016)

    NEH-American Institute of Indian Studies Senior Research Fellowship (Fall 2015)

    Summer Faculty Research Grant, Washington University in St. Louis (Summer 2015)

    Arts & Sciences 2014 Summer Research Seed Grant, Washington University in Saint Louis (Summer 2014)

    Fulbright Scholar Award, Fulbright-Nehru Grant, United States-India Educational Foundation (2010-2011)

    Harper Dissertation Fellowship, University of Chicago (2003-2004)

    Fulbright-Hayes Doctoral Dissertation Research Assistance Fellowship (2002)


    Recent Courses

    Modern South Asia

    Environment and Empire

    Secular and Religious: A Global History

    Religion and Politics in South Asia: Writing Intensive Seminar

    Gurus, Saints and Scientists: Religion in Modern South Asia

    Advanced Seminar: Religion and the Secular: Struggles over Modernity