I am a Joint Ph.D. Candidate in Social Work & Political Science at the University of Michigan, where I am studying the divergent implications of religious institutions for long-run development and democratic performance. My research is motivated by four broad questions. How do institutional configurations resolve the collective action problem, specifically, the configuration of decentralized, centralized, and ruler-dependent religious institutions in the medieval period? What are the long-run implications of divergent institutional coordination for development and democratic performance? Do institutional legacies adapt to overcome collective action failures in conditions of pervasive underdevelopment, conflict, and violence? What makes some institutional legacies scale up over time but not others?
I take a political economy approach to answering these questions vis-a-vis historical and contemporary economic and political norms, behaviors, and development and democratic outcomes using large-n studies. My Ph.D. dissertation examines the legacies of historical religious institutions. I argue that differences in the market dependency and coordination mechanisms anchored by religious institutions durably affect development and democratic outcomes in opposing ways today. The decentralized religious institution, dependent on the market, incentivized market participation, reflected in the higher village-level marketplaces and participation in an increasingly industrializing economy today. It also undertook 'religious entrepreneurship' to coordinate local collective action, which constitutes civic engagement today that increases accountability in constituency services, such as public goods provision, via higher electoral competition. In contrast, the religious institution that served the imperial courts and bureaucracy did not have a legacy of coordinating collective action locally, and hence, neither enables civic engagement nor affects democratic performance. Instead, it competes with centralized democratic institutions to conserve the application of its scriptural expertise in policy and legislation.
I test the economic and political implications of this theoretical framework for the previously unexamined medieval Muslim religious institutions of Madrasa Dar-ul-Uloom and Sufi Khanaqah in rural India. My research methodology involves the use of census-level administrative data from multiple sources and decades to develop large observational village-level datasets for Sufi Khanaqahs in India—allowing me to conduct rigorous statistical analysis and causal inference with multiple placebo tests and instrumental variable analysis—to illuminate the channels of persistence. In addition to quantitative methods, I employ multi-site and multi-method qualitative fieldwork, including archival research, participant observation, and in-depth interviews, to elaborate on the institutional differences in coordination mechanisms. For comparative analysis, I study the Sufis in Senegal, West Africa.
In addition to institutions, I study inter-group relations, religious violence, infant mortality, microfinance, and twitterverse, with a special focus on multi-ethnic societies experiencing democratic entrenchment or backsliding. Prior to graduate school, I worked on international and local development research projects across multiple states and communities in India, where I also received my previous education and training in social work.