Matthew Baxter

Matthew Baxter's picture

Job Candidates

Wendy Brown (chair), Pradeep Chhibber, Lawrence Cohen, George Hart
Political Theory
Comparative Politics
South Asia
Academic Subfields: 
Political Theory & Philosophy
Personal Statement: 


I work on, with, in, and through South Asia as a comparative political theorist, particularly committed to Tamil-speaking South India and Non-Brahmin politics.  I completed my Ph.D. in 2013 with a dissertation titled For SubContinental Political Theory: On the Non-Brahmin Self-Respect Critique of Gandhian Self-Rule.  I am currently an Associate at Harvard University's Mahindra Humanities Center and a Visiting Scholar at Cornell University's South Asia Program.

I graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Oberlin College in 1999 with a double major in Philosophy and Law & Society and a minor in Religion.  From 2000–2002, I lived, taught, and studied as a Shansi Fellow in Tamil Nadu, India.  My Master’s essay (2004) discussed “the operation in the world of something like a comparative political theory,” while my first presentation, “The Ins and Outs of Political Theory: On Comparing Tamil and Greek Sources” (2005), and my first publication, "The Silence of the South and the Absence of Political Philosophy" (2005), were early efforts to imagine the relationship between Tamil in the world and the world in Tamil as political theory; more recent efforts include "Bhutams of Marx and the Movement of Self-Respecters" and "The Jewish Gandhi Question, or, Ich and Swa: Martin Buber and the Five Minute Mahatma."  My fieldwork in South India has ranged from ethnography around the region of Meenakshipuram in 2005, home of the influential mass conversions of 1981, to assisting with pre- and post-poll electoral surveys in 2011, the first election in Tamil Nadu to feature ballots with a third-gender option.  My dissertation research was made possible through generous support, including multiple Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowships (2003–2006) that allowed me to study Tamil and Hindi-Urdu, an American Institute for Indian Studies fellowship (2006–2007) where I began translating materials associated with the Non-Brahmin Cuya-Mariyātai Iyakkam (Self-Respect Movement), and a Fulbright-Hays DDRA fellowship (2009) to conduct archival research in India for a project then titled simply “Periyar, Ambedkar, and Gandhi: A Study in Comparative Political Theory.”   I have served as the Associate Editor for South Asia at the bimonthly journal Asian Survey (2012-2014) where I organized the special issue "Water, Politics, and Asia," as a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Center for Cultural Analysis, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey (2014-2015) under the seminar theme "Totality," and as a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Mahindra Humanities Center, Harvard University (2015-2016) under the seminar theme "Everyday Violence."


“Perception in Mass Conversion and the Cultivation of Critical Reason: Meenakshipuram, Ambedkar, and EVR,” Doing Ambedkarism Today: Issues of Caste, Gender, and Community, Center for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, India, 19-22 February 2018.

“‘Self-Respect’ as Dravidian Nationalism or Non-Brahmin Internationalism?  EVR, Gandhi, and Translation in Interwar Subcontinental Political Theory,”  Dravidianism, Nationalism, Federalism: Critical Assessment of 100 Years of Dravidian Movement, Indian International Center, New Delhi, India, 3-4 January 2018.

"The Mass Conversion to Islam at Meenakshipuram and the Everyday Violence of Caste in South India: Competing Frames of Freedom" (by invitation), Andrew W. Mellon Seminar on Violence and Non-Violence: Closing Conference, Mahindra Humanities Center, Harvard University, 19-20 October 2017.

“On Non-Brahmin vs. Gandhian Renderings of Self-Respect during the 1920s: Tamil Translation as Political Theory” (by invitation), The Life of Tamil Literature in Translation: Histories and Controversies, South Asia Institute, University of Texas, Austin, 15-16 September 2017.

“On the Origins of Dravidian Populism: Jews, Aryans, Pariahs, Brahmins,” The American Political Science Association, San Francisco, CA, 31 August – 3 September 2017.

“Two Concepts of Conversion at Meenakshipuram: Seeing through Ambedkar’s Buddhism & Being Seen in EVR’s Islam,” Dr. B. R. Ambedkar International Conference 2017: Quest for Equity - Reclaiming Social Justice, Revisiting Ambedkar, Bangalore, India, 21-23 July 2017.

“Two Concepts of Conversion at Meenakshipuram: Seeing through Ambedkar’s Buddhism & Being Seen in EVR’s Islam,” Re-Imagining Religion, Caste, and Social Justice in South Asia: The Third International Conference on the Unfinished Legacy of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Brandeis University, 28-30 April 2017.

“The Jew as Pariah or Brahmin: On the Rise of Dravidian Populism and the Limits of Transnational Anti-Elite Figures” (by invitation), History Department Speaker Series, Colorado College, 11 April 2017.

“Seeing vs. Being Seen: Conversion Beyond Ambedkar, Islam Among Non-Brahmins, and the Village of Meenakshipuram” (by invitation), South Asia Program, The Einaudi Center for International Studies, Cornell University, 22 March 2017.

“The Jew as Pariah or Brahmin: A Hidden Tradition” (by invitation), Cornell Political Theory Workshop, Cornell University, 10 November 2016.

“Non-Brahmin Political Theory and the Global Politics of Decaying Relationships: On the 1911 Assassination of Robert William d’Escourt Ashe & the 1981 Conversion at Meenakshipuram,” 45th Annual Conference on South Asia, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 20-23 October 2016.

“Local Traction/Global Attraction: The Role of Nirvāṇa as Nudism in Non-Brahmin Political Theory,” Traveling Theorists/Theories Workshop, Center of Comparative Political Thought, SOAS, London, 1 July 2016.

"Bare Life: Nirvāṇa, Mixed Marriage, and the Secular in Non-Brahmin Political Theory" (by invitation), The Committee for the Study of Religion, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, 30 March 2016. 

“Loving after Gandhi: Mixing through Matrimony as Non-Brahmin Critique,” The American Political Science Association, San Francisco, 3-5 September, 2015. 

"Home Life vs. Home Rule: The Embrace of the Secular in Non-Brahmin Political Theory" (by invitation), South Asian Studies Program, Rutgers University, 24 October 2014. 

“Self-Rule vs. Self-Respect: Gandhi, Non-Brahmins, and the Limits of Mariyātai in 1927,” Western Political Science Association Conference, Seattle, 17-19 April 2014.

“The Jewish Gandhi Question” (by invitation), inaugural panel of the exhibit Global India: Kerala, Israel, Berkeley, Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 21 November 2013.

"The Pariah as Jew: The Hidden Tradition of Subcontinental Political Theory” (by invitation), Theory’s Landscapes: Movements, Memories, and Moments (a conference on comparative political theory), University of Wisconsin, Madison, 10 May 2013.

“The Role of the Jew in the Non-Brahmin Political Theory of Self-Respect,” Seventh Tamil Chair Conference, University of California, Berkeley, 29 April - 1 May 2011.

“Self-Respect in Erode: E.V. Ramasami and the London Missionary Society,” The 39th Annual Conference on South Asia, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 14-17 October 2010.

“Self-Respect in Erode in the World: E.V. Ramasami and the London Missionary Society,”Yale-Edinburgh Group on the History of the Missionary Movement and World Christianity, University of Edinburgh, 1-3 July 2010.

“Periyar’s Non-Brahmin Political Thought and the Communist Manifesto,” Ulakat Tamil Cemmoḻi Mānādu [World Classical Tamil Conference], Coimbatore, India, 23-27 June 2010.

“Non-Brahmin Political Thought and the Communist Manifesto: Reception and Projection” (by invitation), South Asia Program, The Einaudi Center for International Studies, Cornell University, 23 November 2009.

Discussant, “Workshop on Methodology and Tamil Studies for Post-Graduate Students,” French Institute of Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu, India, 12-13 August 2009.

“Conversion, Marx, and the Dravidian South,” Rethinking Religion in India Conference, New Delhi, India, 10-13 January 2009.

“Periyar, Rationality, and Liberation in the Dravidian South,” The American Political Science Association Conference, Chicago, 30 August - 2 September 2007.

“Goblins against the Fortress: Conversion in Periyar” (by invitation), delivered at The University of Madras, Tamil Nadu, India, 20 July 2007.

“Loss in Recovery: The Figure of the Third World Woman in a Practice, a Theory, and a Dialogue,” The National Association for Ethnic Studies Conference, San Francisco, 30 March - 1 April 2006.

“Subaltern Studies as Philosophy and History,” The American Philosophical Association (Pacific Division), San Francisco, 22-27 March 2005.

“The Ins and Outs of Political Theory: On Comparing Tamil and Greek Sources,” South Asia Conference, University of California, Berkeley, 11-12 February 2005.


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