CECI n'est pas EXECUTE Michel Boivin

Michel Boivin

Senior Research Fellow
Institutional affiliation(s): CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research)

Professional contact information



Michel Boivin was trained in Modern History and Islamic Studies at Louis Lumière-Lyon 2, Jean Moulin-Lyon 3 and Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle universities. After his dissertation, which focused on the reform discourse elaborated by Sultân Muhammad Aghâ Khân (1877-1957), he turned to an approach built around historical anthropology, obtaining an HDR (Habilitation à Diriger des Recherches—Habilitation to Direct Advanced Research) in ethnology from the Université Paris-X Nanterre. He analyzed the consequences of the adherence of a caste conglomerate, known as the Khojas, to Isma’ili Shi’ism. Exiled from Persia, the Imâm of the Isma’ili Shi’a settled in Sindh in the middle of the 19th century. He used an array of strategies to gain control of the Khoja caste. This confrontation was also between two religious cultures: the Shi’a culture of Persia and the Hindu culture of India. The social body formed by the caste implemented resistance strategies, but ultimately, given the upheavals occurring in the Indian sub-continent at the time, their caste identity became limited to a few rituals, and for the most part the Khojas became Isma’ili Shi’as under the authority of the Imâm, and are progressively divesting themselves of their Khoja identity.


Since then, Michel Boivin has been pursuing several lines of research, most having to do with the notion of Sufism. This reflection has been enriched by long-term fieldwork conducted in the holy town of Sehwan Sharif, where the sanctuary of La`l Shahbâz Qalandar (d. 1274) is located. From 2008 to 2011, he was coordinator of an interdisciplinary and international research group working on the interaction between the development of the pilgrimage (ziyarat) and the construction of urban space. As part of this program, his own research was on the process of normalization of the Qalandariyya in a regional context, and the role of the urban elite in the multi-denominational management of the sanctuary. In 2011, this program lead him to move towards India, Maharashtra and Gujarat, where many Hindu Sehwanis settled after 1947. His interviews with the Thakurs, the priests of Udero Lal, which were a dominant group in Sehwan, enabled him to reconstruct the role of this priestly caste in the local society.


Furthermore, Michel Boivin was able to observe how resilient Sufi practices were among the Hindu Sindhis of India. Through the notion of Hindu Sufism, this resilience has been analyzed in compositions and publications of Sufi poetry in Sindhi, but also in the flexibility of rituals which are continuously adapted to suit the context. Michel Boivin has also questioned the notion of Sufism through other angles of approach. He first worked on several Sufi traditions, with particular attention paid to evaluating of the importance of the samâ` tradition and the role of various categories of musicians in the cult. He has conducted other work on Sufi, or Sufi-connected, mausoleums, in which class relationships were negotiated through the distribution of ritual roles (Pir Pithoro, Jhok Sharif). The implementation of an anthropological approach has led him to analyze Sufi phenomena as a relationship between classes and as a cultural idiom.


Michel Boivin is currently working on the construction of knowledge in colonial Sindh in relation to the emergence of an intelligentsia. This process was built upon an objectification of Sufism begun by the British, and which was then continued into a new phase in which the new Sindhi elite, an intelligentsia, appropriated that heritage. This appropriation has, however, been marked by the transformation of the heritage of the tasawuf into a sufiyani saqafat, that is to say the passage from Sufism to a Sufi culture. Sufism then constituted the matrix of an idiom used by the Sufis, but also by other devotional traditions, both Muslim and Hindu. Michel Boivin has also worked on the communities-territories interaction in the megalopolis of Karachi, and more recently on the emergence of a cult surrounding the figure of Benazir Bhutto.



Research groups


Co-coordinator with Julien Levesque of the research group on Vernacular Cultures and New Muslim Elites in Colonial and Postcolonial South Asia

Co-coordinateur with Pierre Lachaier of the research group on Gujarati and Sindhi Studies: Societies, Languages and Cultures, EFEO (École française d’Extrême-Orient—French School of Asian Studies)



Coordinator of the team on Histoire et soufisme dans la vallée de l'Indus

Member of the team on Territoires du religieux en Asie du Sud : échelles, circulations, réseaux



International research projects

Sindhi-English Dictionary, with Deccan College, Pune (India).

The ethnolinguist Parso Gidwani, who was a Reader at Deccan College, spent about twenty years preparing this dictionary with the help of a few collaborators. His unexpected death in 2004 cut the project short before he was able to finish it. The idea is to carry on his work with a team of Sindhi specialists so that it can be published in the Deccan College series. This dictionary should fill a genuine gap in Sindhi studies, and thereby become a classic, just like the Steingass for Persian or the Platts for Urdu.


Rahe Najat (Path of Salvation). Religious and Social Dynamics in the Trade Networks of the Colonial and Post-colonial Western Indic World, with Florida International University (FIU), Miami (USA)

This project is coordinated in collaboration with FIU Professor Iqbal Akhtar. It is focused on the socio-religious evolution of the trading guilds originating in Sindh and Gujarat, that went on to settle during the 19th century in the western portion of the Indian Ocean, primarily in the Arabian Peninsula and eastern Africa. The aim is to analyze the impact of displacement on the religious identities and social organizations of these groups.


Khairpur 1783-1955: History, Culture and Society in a Former Princely State of Pakistan, with Shah Abdul Latif University, Khairpur (Pakistan)

This project is coordinated in collaboration with Shah Abdul Latif University Professors Ayaz Gul (Department of Sindhi Language and Literature) and Mastoor Fatime Bukhari (Department of Archeology and Anthropology). The first objective of the project is to inventory, classify and analyze the cultural artifacts produced within the territory of the Princely State of Khairpur when it was at its apogee, around 1820. The lines of inquiry pursued during this initial phase will be centered on the organization and functioning of the State proper, especially with regard to the patronage of Shi’a events in Khairpur and Kot Diji. Furthermore, two other sites that are representative of the cultural production of the State will be investigated: the Sufi sanctuary of Sachal Sarmast in Daraza and the Udasi complex in Sadh Bela.




Sindh (Pakistan)
Gujarat and Maharashtra (India)
Sindhi diaspora in Europe and North America




Historical anthropology
Colonial and post-colonial periods
Elites, intelligentsia
Knowledge systems



Research-related responsibilities

Board member of section 38 of the CNRS National Committee (2013- )

Member of the IISMM steering committee

External Ph.D. Examiner, Department of General History, University of Karachi and University of Punjab

Director of the Centre for Social Sciences in Karachi (CSSK)



Editorial responsibilities

Member of the editorial board of Sindhological Studies (University of Sindh)

Member of the editorial board of Pakistaniaat: Journal of Pakistan Studies (University of North Texas)

Member of the editorial board of Journal d’Histoire du Soufisme

Member of the editorial board of Bulletin Critique des Annales Islamologiques

Member of the editorial board of New Horizons (Greenwhich University, Karachi)

Editor-in-chief of the Centre for Social Sciences in Karachi Series, Oxford University Press Pakistan






Publications since 2010

Books and edited collections

Le Pakistan et l’islam. Anthropologie d’une république islamique, Paris, Téraèdre, 2015

Historical Dictionary of the Sufi Culture of Sindh in Pakistan and in India, Karachi, Oxford University Press, 2015

Histoire de l'Inde, PUF, 2015 (1st ed. 1996, 2nd ed. 2001, 3rd ed. 2005, 4th ed. 2011) Que sais-Je ? series [Bulgarian translation, 2002; Romanian translation, 2003; Polish translation, 2011; Turkish and Arabic translations forthcoming].

Les âghâ khâns et les Khojah : Islam chiite et dynamiques sociales dans le sous-continent indien (1843-1954), Paris, Karthala, 2013.

Le soufisme antinomien dans le sous-continent indien. La`l Shahbâz Qalandar et sa tradition, XIIIe-XXe siècles, Paris, Editions du Cerf, 2012.

Artefacts of Devotion. A Sufi Repertoire of the Qalandariyya in Sehwan Sharif (South Pakistan), Preface by Carl Ernst, Karachi, Oxford University Press, 2011.

& Matt Cook (eds.), Interpreting the Sindhi World: Essays on Society and History, Karachi, Oxford University Press, 2010.


Articles in peer-reviewed journals

“La force symbolique du soufisme: l’exemple de la sébile (kishtî),” Journal d’Histoire du Soufisme, No. 6, 2015, pp. 77-84.

“The Isma‘ili – Isna ‘Ashari Divide Among the Khojas: Exploring Forgotten Judicial Data from Karachi,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Volume 24 / Issue 03 / July 2014, pp. 381-396.

“Murshid Mulan Shah (1883-1962): A Sufi Itinerary from Sehwan Sharif in Pakistan to Haridwar in India,” Oriente Moderno, “Faith and Practice in South Asian Sufism,” XCII, 2, 2012, pp. 289-310.

“Devotional Literature and Sufism in the Light of Nabi Baloch’s Contribution,” Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society, Vol. IX, No. 4, 2011, pp. 13-23.

“Karachi: rivalités ethniques, affrontements sectaires et compétitions politiques,” in Béatrice Giblin, Les conflits dans le mode. Approche géopolitique, Armand Colin, collection U, 2011, pp. 59-67.

“Le qalandar et le shâh: les savoirs fakirs et leur impact sur la société du Sud Pakistan,” Archives des Sciences Sociales des Religions, No. 154, 2011, pp. 101-120.

“Karachi « mère des immigrés »: business, violence et politique identitaire,” Hérodote, No. 139, 4th trimester 2010, pp. 123-142.

with Rémy Delage, “Benazir Bhutto en odeur de sainteté: Naissance d’un lieu de culte au Pakistan,” Archives des Sciences Sociales des Religions, 151, 2010, pp. 189-211.

with Matt Cook, “Introduction,” in M. Boivin & Matt Cook (eds.), Interpreting the Sindhi World: Essays on History and Society, Karachi, Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. IX-XX.

“Le Pakistan à l’épreuve de ses nationalismes: G. M. Syed et l’échec du mouvement indépendantiste du Sind,” Outre Terre, No. 24, 2010, pp. 315-324.


Book chapters

“The New Elite and the Issue of Sufism: A Journey from Vedanta to Theosophy in Colonial Sindh,” in Dr. Muhammad Ali Shaikh (compiled by), Sindh Through the Century II. Proceedings of the Second International Seminar Held in Karachi in March 2014 by Sindh Madressatul Islam University, Karachi, Karachi, SMI University Press, 2015, pp. 215-231.

“Les Khojah et la construction de la communauté ismaélienne dans la période contemporaine : Invention de la tradition et communauté imaginée,” in Nicole Khouri & Joanna Pereira Leite (eds.), Khojas Ismaïli. Du Mozambique à la globalisation, Paris, L’Harmattan, pp. 317-337.

“The Saint as Ancestor in Some Sufi and Ismaili Communities of the Sindhi Area,” in C. Mayeur-Jaouen & A. Papas (eds.), Family Portraits with Saints. Hagiography, Sanctity, and Family in the Muslim World, Berlin, Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 2014, pp. 327-341.

“Music and Remembrance as Meditation: Samâ` in the Indus Valley,” in Halvor Eifring (ed.), Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Cultural Histories, London, Bloomsbury, 2013, pp. 214-224.

“Compétition religieuse et culture partagée dans les lieux saints complexes d'Asie du sud,” in Isabelle Depret & Guillaume Dye (eds.), Partage du sacré : transferts, cultes mixtes, rivalités interconfessionnelles, Brussels, Editions EME, 2012, pp. 149-165.

“Islam, Secularism and the State: France as Case Study,” in Moonis Ahmar (ed.), Perceptions of Islam and Muslims in Europe, Area Study Centre for Europe, University of Karachi, 2012, pp. 33-43.

“L’islam, l’Etat et les ulémas dans la république islamique du Pakistan. Un bras de fer de plus d’un demi-siècle,” in Christophe Jaffrelot & Aminah Mohammad-Arif, Politique et religions en Asie du sud. Le sécularisme dans tous ses états ? Paris, Editions de l’EHESS, 2012, pp. 69-92.

“The Sufi Centre of Jhok Sharif in Pakistan (Sindh): Questioning the Ziyarat as a Social Process,” in C. Bennett & Ch. Ramsey (eds.), South Asian Sufis: Devotion, Deviation and Destiny, Delhi, Continuum Books, 2012, pp. 95-109.

“Sufism, Hinduism and Social Organization in Sindh: The Forgotten Tradition of Pithoro Pir,” in M. Boivin & Matt Cook (eds.), Interpreting the Sindhi World: Essays on Society and History, Karachi, Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 117-132.

“Horsemen as Saviours: Iconography in Hindu Communities of 20th Century Sindh,” in Saima Zaidi (ed.), Mazaar, Bazaar: Design and Visual Culture in Pakistan, Karachi/Amsterdam, Oxford University Press/Prince Klaus Foundation, 2010, pp. 16-21.



Activities aimed at publicizing research

“Jalâlî, fakir pakistanais,” Religions et Histoire, HS No. 3, 2010, p. 62.

Editorial, MIFS Newsletter, No. 4, April 2010.

Editorial, MIFS Newsletter, No. 5, October 2010.

Preface of Hidayat Hussein, Ce soir oppressant n’en finit pas de finir… Le Pakistan vu par ses poètes, Paris, Editions Bénévent, 2011, pp. 9-14.

Editorial with Rémy Delage, MIFS Newsletter, No. 6, July 2011.

“Eclipse of a Giant. A Tribute to N. B. Baloch (1917-2011),” 2011, http://sindh.hypotheses.org/

“A Tribute to Dr. Charu Gidwani (1970-2013),” http://sindh.hypotheses.org/

“Interview of Michel Boivin,” Jahanzeb Hussein, Newsline (Karachi), July 2013, pp. 52-54.

“1556: Akbar devient empereur. L’Asie s’éveille à l’unicité divine,” Le Monde des Religions, Special Issue No. 24, Les 20 dates clés de l’islam, June 2015, pp. 68-71.



Last update: 18 August, 2015


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