Ethnic Conflict & Civic Life

Hindus and Muslims in India

Winner of the 2003 Gregory Luebbert Prize, awarded by the American Political Science Association

Named a “Notable Book” in 2002 by the Kiriyama Prize

What kinds of civic ties between different ethnic communities can contain, or even prevent, ethnic violence? This book draws on new research on Hindu-Muslim conflict in India to address this important question. Ashutosh Varshney examines three pairs of Indian cities—one city in each pair with a history of communal violence, the other with a history of relative communal harmony—to discern why violence between Hindus and Muslims occurs in some situations but not others. His findings will be of strong interest to scholars, politicians, and policymakers of South Asia, but the implications of his study have theoretical and practical relevance for a broad range of multiethnic societies in other areas of the world as well.

The book focuses on the networks of civic engagement that bring Hindu and Muslim urban communities together. Strong associational forms of civic engagement, such as integrated business organizations, trade unions, political parties, and professional associations, are able to control outbreaks of ethnic violence, Varshney shows. Vigorous and communally integrated associational life can serve as an agent of peace by restraining those, including powerful politicians, who would polarize Hindus and Muslims along communal lines.

Reviews & endorsements

“Varshney’s rich findings about what types of civil society organizations and activities help contain religious conflict—and which do not—open up a whole new agenda for theorists and activists alike.”
—Alfred Stepan, author of Arguing Comparative Politics

“A landmark synthesis. Varshney’s comparison of communal violence and tranquility in urban India is lucid, theoretically self-conscious, original, and empirically convincing. It should launch a veritable flotilla of comparable studies of civil life in its admirable wake.”
—James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science and Anthropology, Yale University

“Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life is an outstanding work of social science, one of the most important studies of ethnic violence to appear in many years. Through systematic, comparative analysis, Varshney develops a compelling explanation of why Hindu-Muslim violence has occurred in some Indian cities and not in others. This book will decisively shape future scholarly research on this subject and deserves to have an important impact on public policy concerning ethnic conflict.”
—Samuel P. Huntington, author of The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order

“South Asia scholars and social scientists will have to read Varshney, they will cite him, and they will learn from him.”
—Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, University of Chicago

“Ethnic and Civic Life is bound to become a classic, since it provides the most comprehensive data on communal riots in India and is a fascinating attempt at disaggregating the national scenarios by comparing local situations. The clarity of Varshney’s exposition needs to be emphasized, too: He manages to make social theory without any jargon.”
—Christopher Jaffrelot, apsanet.org

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