Modern Asian Studies

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Modern Asian Studies (2009), 43:591-618 Cambridge University Press
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

Research Article

‘Dealing with Difference: Religious Education and the Challenge of Democracy in Pakistan’


a1 Department of Politics, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG UK, Tel. 0207-898-4742, Email:
Article author query
nelson mj [Google Scholar]


When is a modern religious education also a modern democratic education? Drawing on research conducted in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (2003–2005), this question is addressed with reference to the views of those who draw upon the resources of local maktabs and madrasas to provide their children with religious and, more specifically, Islamic instruction. Within this group—a group that, I argue, constitutes a clear majority in Pakistan—concerns about religious and sectarian diversity are given special attention. Most parents, stressing the importance of religious unity, conformity, and consensus, believe it's better to ignore these differences ‘for the sake of the nation.’ For those with an interest in combining the terms of Islam, Islamic education, and democracy, however, I argue that these differences cannot be ignored; instead, they must be acknowledged and engaged.