Aditi Rajeev

PhD Candidate

Department of Political Science

University of Chicago

About Me

I am a PhD candidate in the University of Chicago’s Department of Political Science. My research interests include religion and politics, comparative colonialism, post-colonial politics, and comparative political theory.


My dissertation centers on the politics of conversion through an analysis of the processes of Catholic conversion in early modern Portuguese Goa. Specifically, I focus on the relationship between violent colonial conversion programs, indigenous uptake of religion, and new political visions that emerge through the process of conversion.


My research has been supported by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs at Georgetown University, and the University of Chicago's Department of Political Science, Division of the Social Sciences, Committee on Southern Asian Studies, and Center for Latin American Studies.

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Faith in Conquest: Colonialism and Christianity in Portuguese Goa

Committee: Lisa Wedeen (Co-Chair), Jennifer Pitts (Co-Chair), Dan Slater


My dissertation develops an understanding of ardent submission to coercive authority through a historical-ethnographic study of the missionary encounter in colonial Goa—the religious and political capital of the Portuguese Empire in Asia. After its conquest in 1510, Goa was subject to a sweeping Christianizing effort that was brutal in its means and totalizing in its aims. While many colonized people fulfilled the arduous demands of the conversion program, some expressed religious zeal far in excess of what was mandated. On account of their demonstrated surrender to a faith imposed upon them, however, they were also often treated with suspicion and even grossly persecuted—punished by colonial authorities and ostracized by fellow indigenes.


The dissertation asks: Why were some Goans moved to convert to Catholicism with manifest ardor, even when it was disadvantageous to be so demonstrably passionate? And what do processes of Catholic conversion under Portuguese colonial rule tell us about how conversion and religious fervor relate to practices of political domination more generally? Relevant existing approaches have failed to grapple with manifestations of passionate religious devotion in the context of forced conversion.


My project deals with this puzzle by examining the emergence of a self-conscious religious identity that could not be managed by the colonial power that gave birth to it. The act of conversion did not simply fail to constrain colonial subjects—it provided them with spiritual, affective, and intellectual resources for cultivating themselves as virtuous individuals. Christianity offered converts an analytical and expressive vocabulary that, paradoxically, through modes of embraced submission, ended up empowering subjects politically, offering novel challenges to colonial rule. 

Works in Progress

Converts and Evangelists: Liminal Reformers in Portuguese Goa

(Revised and Resubmitted to The Journal of Politics) 

This paper uses the case of conversion to Christianity in Portuguese Goa to explore how colonial subjects negotiated their relationship to imposed European ideas. A number of ardent converts did not simply comply with the strictures of the colonial evangelical mandate, nor adapt European concepts to their local context; instead they professed a radical break with their previous cultural and religious communities. In embracing Christianity, however, these Goans productively re-assessed their imposed identity as inferior imperial subjects. Not only did they demand inclusion as equal Christian subjects, they also repudiated the very terms of Catholic membership and the practices of Catholic empire. I argue that the state of being on the margins of a new community produces the conditions for a unique kind of critique: it enables those conscripted into ideological frameworks to rethink the standards of judgment in that community and question the underlying authority of its dominant discourse.

Contesting Deities: How Interpretations of Hinduism Impact Secular Liberal Democracy in India

Since 1967, seven out of twenty-nine states in India have enacted laws criminalizing religious conversion, and several others are attempting to introduce similar laws. These pieces of legislation (styled “Freedom of Religion Acts”) purport to protect minority rights by restricting conversion from a “native” religion, implying Hinduism, through “force” and “allurement”—tactics attributed primarily to Christian evangelists. Similar bills introduced into Parliament at the time of independence were rejected, and India emerged from Partition as a secular liberal democracy guaranteeing freedom of conscience as a fundamental right to every citizen. Why, then, are anti-conversion laws, particularly those targeting Christians, gaining popularity in India in the present moment? Existing scholarly accounts primarily focus on the prevalence of apostasy legislation in Islamic countries. By contrast, India provides the case of a secular democracy where notions of fixity and essence in religious identity are becoming increasingly salient to a nationalist identity. I argue that an inclusive, fluid, and tolerant conception of Hinduism was at the heart of the project of independent India; Indian decision-makers conceived of Hinduism as a polytheistic religion that was inherently inclusive and thus particularly conducive to a secular democratic state. Straying from this vision of an egalitarian politics, however, Hindu nationalist groups emergent in mainstream politics propose a fundamental reinterpretation of Hinduism. This nationalist identity imagines Hinduism as monolithic, exclusionary, racialized, and opposed to foreign influences—particularly a past of Western colonialism. Thus, I show how transformations in the political significance of Hinduism now threaten India’s originary project of democratic consolidation.



I am trained to teach introductory courses in political theory, comparative politics, and qualitative methods as well as more specialized courses in religion and politics, postcolonial politics, nationalism and globalization, and interpretive and historiographic methods. Below are two course descriptions for undergraduate classes at the University of Chicago, the first of which I designed, and the second of which I taught. 

Religion and Power in the Colony and Post-Colony

Colonialism was commonly thought of and represented by European powers as a divine mandate—a mode of rule that sought not to oppress but to rescue colonized people from themselves. While we could view these claims with the skepticism of hindsight as singularly oppressive projects, the intertwining of religion (as practice and discourse) and politics at the colonial frontier was, in fact, far more complex. By examining their different structures and legacies, we can understand how imperial rule and religious encounters have shaped socio-political life in post-colonial societies across Asia, Africa and the Americas. More importantly, a consideration of these histories helps us acquire a critical understanding of the very category of religion as received in the Western tradition.

This course introduces students to a broad scope of scholarship on religion and empire from across the disciplines of politics, anthropology, religious studies, history and postcolonial studies. Students will gain insight into the interplay between religion and other critical concepts such as colonialism, race, gender, modernity, resistance, and violence—an interplay as relevant today as during the colonial era.


Power, Identity, Resistance – I

This course examines the foundational questions and concepts of economic, social and political sciences by reading canonical texts from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and Marcel Mauss. We focus on how power is exercised in modern societies, how processes of resistance emerge, and how our identity, as modern individuals, is shaped by the intricate relations of social, economic and political forces. Concentrating on the emergence of modern societies characterized by complex social interdependence and the rise of market economies, topics of discussion include the nature of modern civil society, the social roots of inequality, the role of private property, the logic of the division of labor, the prevalence of exploitation in economic relationships, the development of capitalism, colonization, and the possibility of social cohesion through different forms of exchange.

Through exposure to major historical theories in the social sciences, this class helps students think through contemporary social, political, and economic problems, enhance argumentative skills, and develop more broadly a capacity for critical thinking.



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Jawaharlal Nehru University Archives,

New Delhi

Historical Archives of Goa



Archivio Storico de Propaganda Fide


Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu



Arquivo Nacional Torre do Tombo


Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino



Curriculum Vitae


University of Chicago (Chicago, IL)

PhD in Political Science (expected June 2019)

Master of Arts in Political Science (March 2015)

Master of Arts in International Relations - with Honors and second-year specialization (June 2012)

Narsee Monjee College of Commerce & Economics (Mumbai, India)

Bachelor in Management Studies - First Class with Distinction (June 2008)

Awards and Grants

Social Sciences Division Dissertation Completion Fellowship, 
University of Chicago (2019–2020)

Religious Freedom Research Project Doctoral Fellowship, Georgetown University (2018)
Committee on Southern Asian Studies Dissertation Writing Fellowship, University of Chicago (2018)
APSA Travel Grant (2018)
NPSA Graduate Student Travel Award (2017)
Grodzins Prize Lectureship in Political Science, University of Chicago (declined) (2017)
Committee on Southern Asian Studies Dissertation Research Fellowship, University of Chicago (2017 – 2018)
Orin Williams Fund Dissertation Research Grant, University of Chicago (2017)
Committee on Southern Asian Studies Dissertation Research Fellowship, University of Chicago (2016)
Bienen Summer Research Award, University of Chicago (2016)
CLAS Tinker Field Research Grant, University of Chicago (2014)
University of Chicago Social Sciences Fellowship (2012 – 2017)
University of Chicago Merit Fellowship (2011 – 2012)

Teaching Experience

Instructor: Power, Identity, Resistance I (Social Sciences Core) (Fall 2015)

Teaching Assistant: Data Analysis (Prof. Michael Dawson) (Fall 2015)

Teaching Assistant: Power, Identity and Resistance Sequences (Social Sciences Core) (Fall 2014 – Winter 2015)

Recent Conference and Workshop Presentations

Conversion & Universalism: An Alternative to a Politics of Difference

American Political Science Association  (2019)

Hindu Reform Movements and the Origins of Religious Nationalism in India

Social Science History Association (scheduled 2019)

Perpetual Suspects: Colonial and Post-Colonial Distrust of Christian Converts in India
Social Science History Association (2018)


Contesting Deities: How Interpretations of Hinduism Impact Secular Liberal Democracy in India
American Political Science Association  (2018)


The Politics of Catholic Conversion and Colonialism
Midwestern Political Science Association (2018)


The Politics of Catholic Conversion and Colonialism
University of Chicago, Theory and Practice in South Asia Workshop (2018)


The Politics of Catholic Conversion and Colonialism

Northeastern Political Science Association (2017)


The Politics of Forced Conversion
University of Chicago, Comparative Politics Workshop (2017)

Other Academic Activities

Research Assistant: Prof. Dan Slater (2016)

Research Assistant: Prof. Lisa Wedeen (2015)

Coordinator: Comparative Politics Workshop, University of Chicago (2013 – 2014)

Discussant: Comparative Politics Workshop, University of Chicago (2015)

Discussant: Comparative Politics Workshop, University of Chicago (2013)

Discussant: Comparative Politics Workshop, University of Chicago (2011)

Methodological Training

Institute for Qualitative and Multi-method Research (2017)


Native: Hindi, Marathi

Fluent: Spanish, Portuguese

Reading: Italian

Elementary: Japanese


Lisa Wedeen

Jennifer Pitts

Dan Slater



Department of Political Science

5828 South University Avenue

Chicago, IL 60637