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.

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. 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.

In 2016, Michel Boivin began a new research project which contributes to the understanding of the Islam/Hinduism encounter in South Asia. This project is centered on the study of a sacred figure, Jhulelal, who is venerated by Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims of Sindhi backgrounds, in Pakistan and India. Initially conceived as a collaborative project carried out with Pakistani and Indian members, this project has already given rise to an international conference and a photo exhibit, both organized at the EHESS. As part of this project, Michel Boivin focuses on a place of worship shared by Muslims and Hindus, Udero Lal, located approximately fifty kilometers from Hyderabad in Sindh (Pakistan). He also studies how Sindhi Hindus have invested this cult in the context of independent India.

More generally speaking, Michel Boivin is works 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.


Fieldwork locations


Sindh (Pakistan)

Gujarat and Maharashtra (India)

Sindhi diaspora in Europe and North America


Key words






Historical Anthropology

Colonial and postcolonial periods

Elites, intelligentsia

Knowledge systems


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


Coordination of international research projects

The Udero Lal Research Project

The Udero Lal Research Project or ULRP is an international a multidisciplinary project funded by CNRS. It focus on the sacred figure of Udero Lal, better known as Jhulelal, who is worshipped by Muslism, Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan, India, and in the Sindhi diaspora. The project aims at analyzing the multiple ways through which Jhulelal's tradition is expressed through literature, rituals, and also media and architecture, across the borders of the present Nation-States. The project aims at contributing to the issue of Sindhiyyat or Sindhi identity. before and after partition A number of lectures has already been given by the project members, as well as fieldworks have been implemented. For the last trimester of 2016, several events are planned, such as an exhibition and a workshop. See also https://uderolalresearchproject.wordpress.com/

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)

The project is coordinated with Professor Iqbal Akhtar of FIU. It focuses on the socio-religious evolution of trading guilds from Sindh and Gujarat that established themselves in the western part of the Indian Ocean during the 19th century, primarily in the Arabian Peninsula and Western Africa. The aim is to analyze the impact of this transplantation on the religious identities and forms of social organization of these groups.


Participation in international projects


AUTORITAS | Modes d’autorité et conduites esthétiques de l’Asie du Sud à l’Insulinde

DELI | Dictionnaire Encyclopédique des Littératures de l’Inde


Research-related responsibilities


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

Member of the IISMM steering committee

External PhD 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




Histoire et anthropologie des sociétés musulmanes dans l'Asie du sud contemporaine, EHESS Science of Religions and Society Master’s program

Politique et autorité dans le soufisme d’Asie méridionale et centrale, EHESS South and East Asia: Terrains, Texts and Social Sciences Master’s program

Culture matérielle et pratiques dévotionnelles dans les sociétés chiites [with Annabelle Collinet (Musée du Louvre) and Sepideh Parsapajouh (CNRS)] - Sciences des religions et société Master's program, EHESS


Publications since 2010

Books and edited collections

2017 | Discovering Sindh’s Past. Selections from the Journal of the Sind Hstorical Society, 1934–1948, Edited by Michel Boivin, Matthew Cook and Julien Levesque, Karachi, Oxford University Press

2016 | Devotional Islam in Contemporary South Asia Shrines, Journeys and Wanderers, Edited by Michel Boivin, Remy Delage, Routledge

2015 | 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].

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

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

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

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

Articles in peer-reviewed journals

2015 | “A Note on the Khudawadi: A Vanishing Scrit of Sindh”, Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society, Vol. LXIII, n°4, October-November 2015, pp. 7-20.

2015 | « La force symbolique du soufisme: l’exemple de la sébile (kishtî) », Journal d’Histoire du Soufisme, n°6, pp. 77-84.

2014 | “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.

2012 | “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, pp. 289-310.

2011 | "Devotional Literature and Sufism in the light of Nabi Baloch’s contribution", Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society, Vol. IX, n°4, pp. 13-23.

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

2011 |  « Le qalandar et le shâh: les savoirs fakirs et leur impact sur la société du Sud Pakistan», Archives des Sciences Sociales des Religions, n°154, pp. 101-120, 2011.

2010 |  « Karachi « mère des immigrés »: business, violence et politique identitaire», Hérodote, n°139, 4e trimestre 2010, pp. 123-142.

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

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

2010 | “Le Pakistan à l’épreuve de ses nationalismes: G. M. Syed et l’échec du mouvement indépendantiste du Sind“, Outre Terre, n°24, pp. 315-324.

Book chapters

2018 | « Khwaja Khiẓr et le Sindhu (Indus) : archéologie d’une figure sacrée du Sindh à identités multiples », in Sur les chemins d’Onagre. Histoire et archéologie orientales. Hommage à Monik Kervran, édité par Claire Hardy-Guilbert, Hélène Renel, Axelle Rougeulle et Eric Vallet, Oxford, Archaeopress Publishing Ltd , 2018, pp. 3-14.

2018 | with Bhavna Rajpal, "From Udero Lal in Sindh to Ulhasnagar in Maharashtra: Partition and Memories across Borders in the Tradition of Jhulelal",  in Churnjeet Main and Anne Murphy (eds), Partition and the Practice of Memory, New York, Palgrave McMillan, pp. 43-62.

2017 | « Sufism, Pilgrimage and Saint Worship in South Asia », in Dionigi Albera and John Eade (eds), New Pathways in Pilgrimage Studies. Global Perspectives, New York and London, Routledge, pp. 53-67.

2016 | “ Authority, Shrines and Spaces: Scrutinizing Devotional Islam from South Asia ”, in Michel Boivin and Rémy Delage (eds), Devotional Islam in Contemporary South Asia: Shrines, Journeys and Wanderers, New Delhi, Routledge, pp. 1-11.

2016 | « Migration et soufisme chez les hindous sindhîs de l’Inde- d’après l’exemple du darbar de Sain Rochaldas à Ulhasnagar (Maharashtra) », in Rémy Delage et Mathieu Claveyrolas (dir.), Territoires du religieux dans les mondes indiens. Parcourir, mettre en scène, franchir, Paris, Editions de l’EHESS, pp. 275-302.

2015 | «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, pp. 215-231.

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

2014 | “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, pp. 327-341.

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

2012 | « Compétition religieuse et culture partagée dans les lieux saints complexes d'Asie du sud » in Isabelle Depret et Guillaume Dye (dir.), Partage du sacré : transferts, cultes mixtes, rivalités interconfessionnelles, Bruxelles, Editions EME, pp. 149-165.

2012 | « 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, pp. 33-43.

2012 | “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 et Aminah Mohammad-Arif, Politique et religions en Asie du sud. Le sécularisme dans tous ses états ? Paris, Editions de l’EHESS,  pp. 69-92.

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

2010 | “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, pp. 117-132.

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


Research publicization


2017 | "Tracing the roots of Sufi culture. Interview with Michel Boivin", Syed Hamad, Ali, Gulf News, December 13, 2017

2015 | “1556: Akbar devient empereur. L’Asie s’éveille à l’unicité divine”, Le Monde des Religions, Hors-Série n°24, Les 20 dates clés de l’islam, juin 2015, pp. 68-71

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

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

2011 | « Eclipse of a giant. A tribute to N. B. Baloch (1917-2011)”, http://sindh.hypotheses.org/

2011 | Editorial avec Rémy Delage, MIFS Newsletter, n°6, July 2011.

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

2010 | Editorial, MIFS Newsletter, n°5, October 2010.

2010 | Editorial, MIFS Newsletter, n°4, April 2010.

2010 | “Jalâlî, fakir pakistanais”, Religions et Histoire, HS n°3, p. 62.


Last update: 18 December 2018


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