• Julia Stephens
  • Julia Stephens
  • Associate Professor of History
  • Degree: Ph.D., Harvard University
  • Additional Degree(s): M.Phil., Trinity College, Cambridge B.A., Harvard College
  • Rutgers : At Rutgers since 2016
  • Specialty: Colonial and Post-Colonial South Asia: Legal History
  • Office: 114 Van Dyck Hall
  • Phone: 848-932-8261


{Photo credit: Roy Groething}


My research focuses on how law has shaped religion, family, and economy in colonial and post-colonial South Asia and in the wider Indian diaspora. My first book, entitled Governing Islam: Law, Empire, and Secularism in South Asia, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2018. The book moves between official archives of colonial law and wider spheres of public debates, bringing into conversation vernacular pamphlets and newspapers, Urdu fatwas, colonial legal cases, and legislative deliberations. Drawing on these wide-ranging legal archives, Governing Islam explores how colonial law constructed a new religious/secular binary that was deeply influential, and vibrantly contested inside and outside colonial courts.

I am currently working on a project on inheritance and diasporic Indian families, tentatively entitled Worldly Afterlives: Death and Diaspora in the Indian Ocean. The project traces the lives of Indian migrants—sailors, petty moneylenders, female merchants, and even circus performers—by looking at the assets they left behind after their deaths. These estates ranged from mercantile fortunes to a few treasured personal effects, including letters, jewelry, or a pocketful of receipts for small debts owed by fellow travelers. Relatives in India and abroad struggled to navigate complex international bureaucracies in order to track down information about long-lost relatives and the property they left behind. This archive provides a window into the intersecting histories of diasporic families and the formation of state bureaucracies for managing global flows of labor and capital. In the coming years this research will take me to India, South Africa, Zanzibar, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.

My teaching includes surveys on modern South Asia and political Islam, and more specialized seminars on Islamic law, postcolonial and subaltern theory, and diasporic family histories. Before coming to Rutgers, I taught at Yale, Cambridge, and Harvard.


  • Governing Islam: Law, Empire, and Secularism in South Asia (Cambridge University, Press, 2018). South Asia Edition, 2019.
  • “A Bureaucracy of Rejection: Petitioning and the Impoverished Paternalism of the British-Indian Raj.” Modern Asian Studies 53, no. 1 (January 2019): 177-202.
  • “The Past and Future of the Muslim Post-Colonial Moment: Islamic Economy and Social Justice in South Asia.” In The Postcolonial Moment in South and Southeast Asia, edited by Gyan Prakash, Nikhil Menon, and Michael Laffan. London: Bloomsbury, 2018.
  • “An Uncertain Inheritance: The Imperial Travels of Legal Migrants, from British India to Ottoman Iraq,” Law and History Review 32.4 (November 2014).
  • “The Politics of Muslim Rage: Secular Law and Religious Sentiments in Late-Colonial India,” History Workshop Journal (Spring 2014): 45-64.
  • “The Phantom Wahhabi: Liberalism and the Muslim Fanatic in Mid-Victorian India,” Modern Asian Studies 47.1(January 2013): 22-52.


  • Award for Distinguished Contribution to Undergraduate Education, School of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers University (2019)
  • InterAsia Research Fellowship, Social Science Research Council (2016-2017)
  • Kempf Memorial Fund, MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies, Yale University (2015-2016)
  • Mellon Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre for History and Economics, Cambridge University (2013-2014)
  • Sidney R. Knafel Completion Fellowship, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University (2012-2013)
  • Jacob K. Javits Fellowship, U.S. Department of Education (2008-2012)