SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Dr Matthew J Nelson

BA (Bowdoin), PhD (Columbia)
  • Overview
  • Teaching
  • Research
  • Expertise
  • Publications


Matthew Nelson
Department of Politics and International Studies

Reader in Politics

Centre on Conflict, Rights and Justice

Founding Member

SOAS South Asia Institute

Academic Staff

Centre for the Study of Pakistan

Academic Staff

London Middle East Institute (LMEI)



Vice Chair

Dr Matthew J Nelson
Email address:
+44 (0)20 7898 4742
SOAS University of London
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG
Russell Square: College Buildings
Office No:
Academic Support Hours:
Tuesdays, 3 - 5.00 PM


Matthew Nelson (PhD Columbia) is a Reader in Politics at SOAS. His research focuses on the comparative and international politics of South Asia, with an emphasis on non-elite politics, comparative political thought, the politics of Islamic institutions, and democracy. Before coming to SOAS Dr Nelson taught at UC Santa Cruz, Bates College, and Yale University.

Dr Nelson has spent several years conducting archival, ethnographic, and survey-based research in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India. His first book was titled In the Shadow of Shari‘ah: Islam, Islamic Law, and Democracy in Pakistan (Columbia, 2011); his current research focuses on comparative constitutional politics and the politics of sectarian and doctrinal diversity in Islamic law and education.

Dr Nelson is a founding member of the Centre for Comparative Political Thought and the Centre for the International Politics of Conflict, Rights, and Justice at SOAS. In 2009-2010 Dr Nelson was the Wolfensohn Family Member at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton; in 2011 he was a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (WWICS) in Washington, D.C.; in 2014-15 he was a Fellow at the Zentrum für Interdisziplinäre Forschung (ZiF) in Bielefeld (Germany).

Dr Nelson has also served as an elected board member for the American Institute of Pakistan Studies (AIPS), the South Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS), and the Religion and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association (APSA).

Dr Nelson has completed several consultancies for The Brookings Institution, the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR), The Asia Foundation, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the British Foreign Office (FCO), the British Department for International Development (DFID), and others.


Programmes Convened
Modules Taught
PhD Students supervised
  • Guy Robert Eyre, Understanding everyday North Africans' ideas about halal and haram lifestyles: an ethnographic study of grassroots Muslim educational and Quranic reading circles (tajwid) in Algeria and Morocco.
  • Maria Rashid , Disciplining narratives of pain: Militarism, Mourning and the Pakistan Military
  • Mehdi Beyad, A Claim to Space: The Discourse of Arab-Iranian Rivalry as Geopolitical Imaginary in Ba’thist Iraq and Pahlavi Iran
  • Sameen Ali, Politicisation of the Bureaucracy and Political Access in Pakistan (working title)
Other students supervised:
  • Tobias Berger 'Global Norms and Local Courts: Translating the Rule of Law in Rural Bangladesh' (Professor Thomas Risse, Free University, Berlin) 2014
  • Tahrat Shahid (Professor Elizabeth Frazer, Oxford) 2015
  • Maha Aziz (Professor John Sidel, LSE) 2012
  • Mahvish Shami (Dr. Jean-Paul Faguet, LSE) 2011


South Asia (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and India); Islamic institutions (law, education); comparative political thought; comparative constitutionalism; politics and religion (Political Islam), non-elite politics; democracy.


For help in contacting SOAS academics and advice on services to business and the community, please contact SOAS Enterprise on +44(0)20 7898 4837 or email
For all press and media enquiries please call +44 (0)20 7898 4135 or email

Available for
  • Briefings
  • Special Study Programmes
  • Short Term Consultancy
Regional Expertise
  • South Asia
Country Expertise
  • Pakistan
  • Urdu


Authored Books

Nelson, Matthew J. (2011) In the Shadow of Shari‘ah:  Islam, Islamic Law, and Democracy in Pakistan. New York: Columbia University Press.


Nelson, Matthew J. (2019) 'Constitutional Migration and the Meaning of Religious Freedom: From Ireland and India to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan'. Journal of Asian Studies. [Forthcoming]

Nelson, Matthew J. and Shah, Dian A. H. (2018) 'Operationalizing and regulating religious freedom: apostasy and administrative 'reasonableness' in Malaysia and beyond'. International Journal of Constitutional Law. [Forthcoming]

Schonthal, B. and Moustafa, T and Nelson, Matthew J. and Shankar, S. (2015) 'Is the Rule of Law an Antidote for Religious Tension? The Promise and Peril of Judicializing Religious Freedom'. American Behavioral Scientist, (60) 8, pp 966-986.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2014) 'Social, Religious, and Political Change in Pakistan: A Grassroots Perspective'. Seminar, (664), pp 20-23.

Milam, William B. and Nelson, Matthew J. (2013) 'Pakistan's Populist Foreign Policy'. Survival: Global politics and strategy, (55) 1, pp 121-134.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2011) '“Faith” and “Development” in Secular and Religious Schools'. Comparative Education Review, (55) 1, pp 115-117, 129-131.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2011) 'Embracing the Ummah: Student Politics beyond State Power in Pakistan'. Modern Asian Studies, (45) 3, pp 565-596.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2010) 'Pakistan in 2009: Tackling the Taliban?'. Asian Survey, (50) 1, pp 112-126.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2010) 'Persistent Legal Pluralism and the Challenge of Universal Human Rights'. Oxford Journal of Human Rights Practice, (2) 3, pp 401-407.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2009) 'Pakistan in 2008: Moving Beyond Musharraf'. Asian Survey, (49) 1, pp 16-27.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2009) 'Dealing with Difference: Religious Education and the Challenge of Democracy in Pakistan'. Modern Asian Studies, (43) 2, pp 591-618.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2008) 'Religious Education in Non-Religious Schools: A Comparative Study of Pakistan and Bangladesh'. Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, (46) 3, pp 271-295.

Nelson, Matthew (2007) 'Who Speaks for Islam?: 'Authenticity' and the Interpretation of Islamic Law in America's War on Terror'. Australian Journal of International Affairs, (61) 2, pp 247-66.

Nelson, Matthew (2006) 'Muslims, Markets, and the Meaning of 'A Good Education' in Pakistan'. Asian Survey, (46) 5, pp 699-720.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2006) 'Madrasas and the Modern State'. RUSI Newsbrief, (26) 7, pp 74-76.

Book Chapters

Nelson, Matthew J. (2018) 'The Constitutional Politics of “Indian” Religious Freedom in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan'. In: Barkey, K. and Kaviraj, S. and Vatsal, N., (eds.), Negotiating Democracy and Religious Pluralism in India, Pakistan, and Turkey. New York: Cambridge University Press. [Forthcoming]

Nelson, Matthew J. and Shah, D.A.H. (2018) 'Regulating Religion through Administrative Law: Religious Conversion in Malaysia Beyond Fundamental Rights'. In: Neo, J. and Jamal, A. and Goh, D., (eds.), Regulating Religion in Asia. New York: Cambridge University Press. [Forthcoming]

Nelson, Matthew J. (2017) 'Islamic Law in an Islamic State: What Role for Parliament?'. In: Bali, A. and Lerner, H., (eds.), Constitution-Writing, Religion and Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp 235-264.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2017) 'Pakistan'. In: Hamid, Shadi and McCants, William, (eds.), Rethinking Political Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, pp 164-178.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2016) 'Islamist Parties and Their Proxies in Pakistan: Working With - and Against - the State'. In: Hamid, S. and McCants, W., (eds.), Rethinking Political Islam. New York: Oxford University Press. [Forthcoming]

Nelson, Matthew J. (2014) ''Ilm and the Individual: Islamic Education and the Production of Political Ideas in Pakistan'. In: Jeffrey, R. and Sen, R., (eds.), Being Muslim in South Asia: Diversity and Daily Life. Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp 161-180.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2013) 'Supporting Subversion? International Organisations and “Freedom of Conscience” in Islamic States'. In: Annicchino, P., (ed.), The Protection and Promotion of Freedom of Religion in Foreign Policy. Florence: European University Institute, pp 42-46.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2012) 'Inheritance Unbound: The Politics of Personal Law Reform in Pakistan and India'. In: Khilnani, S. and Raghavan, V. and Thiravengadam, A., (eds.), Comparative Constitutional Traditions in South Asia. Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp 219-246.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2011) 'Pakistan 2006-2011'. Countries at the Crossroads. New York: Freedom House, pp 463-486.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2010) 'Dealing with Difference: Religious Education and the Challenge of Democracy in Pakistan'. In: Merry, M.S. and Milligan, J.A., (eds.), Citizenship, Education, and Identity in Muslim Communities. London: Palgrave, pp 103-123.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2010) 'Muslims, Markets, and the Meaning of "A Good Education" in Pakistan'. In: Abbas, Tahir, (ed.), Islam and Education. Vol. 2. London: Routledge.

Monographs and Working Papers

Nelson, Matthew J. and Oldmixon, Seth (2017) Bangladesh on the Brink: The New Social Geography of Political Violence. Washington D.C.: Resolve Network Research Report No.1: Bangladesh Research Series.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2016) Local Orders and International Engagement in South Asia, Local Orders Paper Series; Paper 2, May. Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution.

Nelson, Matthew (2016) Informal Agencies of Influence: The Interdependence of Social, Religious, and Political Trends in Pakistan. In: Mapping Pakistan’s Internal Dynamics.. Seattle: National Bureau of Asian Research.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2015) Islamist politics in South Asia after the Arab Spring: Parties and Their Proxies Working With—and Against—the State. Washington D.C.: The Brookings Institution; Rethinking Political Islam Series.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2015) Islamic Law in an Islamic Republic: What Role for Parliament?. Oxford: The Foundation for Law, Justice and Society; University of Oxford.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2009) Campus Conflict, Party Politics, and the Secular State in Bangladesh. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, British High Commission (Dhaka).

Nelson, Matthew J. (2009) Religion, Politics, and the Modern University in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Seattle: National Bureau of Asian Research.

Book Reviews

Nelson, Matthew J. (2011) 'Review of: Hilary Synnott, Transforming Pakistan: Ways Out of Instability (London: Routledge and the International Institute of Strategic Studies [IISS], 2009), 198 pp.'. South Asia Research, (31) 2, pp 183-185.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2011) 'Review of Irfan Ahmad, 'Islam and Democracy in India: The Transformation of Jamaat-e-Islami''. American Ethnologist, (38) 2, pp 405-406.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2009) 'Review of David Loyn, 'Butcher and Bolt: two hundred years of foreign engagement in Afghanistan''. The Middle East in London, (6) 1.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2008) 'Review of Vazira Fazila-Yaqoobali Zamindar, 'The Long Partition and the Making of Modern South Asia: Refugees, Boundaries, Histories''. Asian Affairs, (39) 2, pp 447-448.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2008) 'Review of Srirupa Roy, 'Beyond Belief: India and the Politics of Postcolonial Nationalism''. Asian Affairs, (39) 2, pp 287-288.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2007) 'Review of Tariq Rahman, 'Denizens of Alien Worlds: A Study of Education, Inequality, and Polarization in Pakistan''. South Asia Research, (27) 1.

Nelson, Matthew J. (2006) 'Review of Jan-Peter Hartung and Helmut Reifeld, 'Islamic Education, Diversity, and National Identity: Dini Madaris in India Post-9/11''. South Asia Research, (26) 3, pp 308-310.


This list was last generated on Sunday, 19th May 2019, 21:58 Europe/London.