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Matthew H. Baxter

Assistant Professor of Political Science, Ashoka University

Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley

Matthew Baxter received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley’s political science department in 2013.  Prior to his graduate work, Matthew grew up in Syracuse, New York, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Oberlin College (1999) with courses focused on philosophy, law & society, and religion, and taught and studied as a Shansi Fellow (2000-2002) based at The American College in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. Following his graduate work, Matthew served as a postdoctoral fellow at Rutgers University’s Center for Cultural Analysis under the theme “Totality” (2014-2015) and at Harvard University’s Mahindra Humanities Center under the theme “Everyday Violence” (2015-2016). He joined the faculty at Ashoka University in July 2018 after spending time as a visiting scholar at Cornell University’s South Asia Program (2016-2018) while retaining an affiliation at the Mahindra Humanities Center.  From 2012-2014, and again in 2019, he was the Associate Editor for South Asia at the international relations journal Asian Survey where he organized the special issue “Water, Politics, and Asia.”  Matthew has been an Associated Researcher (Tamil Studies) at the Institut Français de Pondichéry since 2019.

Matthew works on, with, in and through South Asia as a comparative political theorist, particularly committed to Tamil-speaking South India, Non-Brahmin politics, and the world-wide travel of critical imaginaries.  An early expression of these interests can be found in “The Silence of the South and the Absence of Political Philosophy” (2005) while more recent articulations of his work include “Bhutams of Marx and the Movement of Self-Respecters” (2016), “The Jewish Gandhi Question, or, Ich and Swa: Martin Buber and the Five-Minute Mahatma” (2017), and “Two Concepts of Conversion at Meenakshipuram: Seeing through Ambedkar’s Buddhism and Being Seen in EVR’s Islam” (2019).  His dissertation—For SubContinental Political Theory: On the Non-Brahmin Self-Respect Critique of Gandhian Self-Rule—was made possible by a number of grants, including multiple Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowships (2003-2006) involving the study of Tamil and some Hindi-Urdu, an American Institute for Indian Studies Fellowship (2006-2007) that provided an opportunity to translate materials associated with the Non-Brahmin Cuya-Mariyātai Iyakkam (Self-Respect Movement), and a Fulbright-Hays DDRA fellowship (2009) for a project then titled simply “Periyar, Ambedkar, and Gandhi: A Study in Comparative Political Theory.”  Broadly, his approach to political theory—and its comparative framings—joins field work, archival research, and textual translation.

Having previously taught in India and with a personal investment in liberal arts education, Matthew can imagine few places to be at this moment more exciting than Ashoka University.  His previous courses taught at Ashoka University include “Democracy in America & India: Political Experiences, Theoretical Articulations,” “Political Things, Religious Things,” “Outcaste across Continent and Subcontinent,” “What in the World is a Revolution?,” “The Politics of Intimacy: Desire, Proximity, and History,” and “What Does It Mean to Gather? Collective Action, Public Assembly, and Mass Movement.”  During the Spring 2020 semester, Matthew is teaching courses titled “Respect, Hierarchy, & Equality” and “Reception: Travel & Theory.”

  • “‘Self-Respect’ and Intimacy in Tamil-speaking South India: As a 1930s Non-Brahmin Project and as a 2010s LGBTQ Project,” Association for Asian Studies in Asia Conference, Bangkok, Thailand, 1-4 July 2019.
  • “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, 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 the 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,” 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 Interwar Years: How Tamil Translation is not Prefatory to, but in Fact a Practice of, Political Theory,” 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’s 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 Seminar Series, The Einaudi Center for International Studies, Cornell University, 22 March 2017.
  • “The Jew as Pariah or Brahmin: A Hidden Tradition” (by invitation), Government Department’s 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 Annual 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’s Speaker Series, The Graduate Center at the 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 ConferenceSeattle, 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 Seminar Series, 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), 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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