Julia Stephens

Julia Stephens's picture
Assistant Professor
Office: 
HGS 2679
Phone: 
203-432-3933
Field(s) of interest: 
Modern South Asia, Islam, British Empire, diaspora, law, gender and colonialism


Julia Stephens is historian of modern South Asia. Her research focuses on how law has shaped religion, family, and economy in colonial and post-colonial South Asia and in the wider Indian diaspora. She teaches courses on modern South Asia, Islam, gender and colonialism.

Stephens is currently working on a book manuscript tentatively entitled Governing Islam: Law and Secularism in Colonial South Asia. The book moves between official archives of colonial law and wider spheres of public debates, bringing into conversation vernacular pamphlets and newspapers, Urdu fatwas, colonial legal cases, and legislative deliberations. Drawing on this wide-ranging legal archive, Governing Islam explores how colonial law constructed a new religious/secular binary that was both deeply influential, and vibrantly contested inside and outside colonial courts.

Alongside her book manuscript, Stephens is working on a new project on inheritance and diasporic Indian families. The British developed an elaborate bureaucracy for managing the estates of Indian merchants, pilgrims, seamen, and laborers who died abroad. These estates ranged from princely fortunes to a few treasured personal effects, including letters, jewelry, or a pocketful of receipts for small debts owed by fellow travelers. Relatives in India and abroad struggled to navigate complex international bureaucracies in order to track down information about long-lost relatives and the property they left behind. This archive provides a window into the intersecting histories of diasporic families and the formation of state bureaucracies for managing global flows of labor and capital.

Stephens holds as an AB (2005) in Social Studies from Harvard College, an MPhil in Oriental Studies (2007) from Trinity College, Cambridge, and a PhD (2013) in History from Harvard University. Her research has been funded by the Mellon Foundation, the Jacob K. Javits Fellowship, the Centre for History and Economics, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and the Harvard South Asia Initiative.

Recent Publications

  • “An Uncertain Inheritance: The Imperial Travels of Legal Migrants, from British India to Ottoman Iraq,” Law and History Review 32.4 (November 2014).
  • “The Politics of Muslim Rage: Secular Law and Religious Sentiments in Late-Colonial India,” History Workshop Journal (Spring 2014): 45-64.
  • “The Phantom Wahhabi: Liberalism and the Muslim Fanatic in Mid-Victorian India,” Modern Asian Studies 47.1(January 2013): 22-52.