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.