Sectarian imaginaries: The micropolitics of sectarianism and state-making in Northern Pakistan

Document Type



Institute for Educational Development, Karachi


The Gilgit region of Northern Pakistan has recently witnessed intense Shia—Sunni hostility after decades of communal harmony. This article uses the arena of secular education as a micropolitical site for examining this transformation, and for exploring how sectarian discord is experienced and reproduced in lived practice. Drawing upon three episodes of everyday sectarian tension, the article argues that a ‘sectarian imaginary’ — a normalized mode of seeing and interacting with the sectarian other through feelings of suspicion and resentment — has come to structure inter-sect relations in Gilgit. Instead of naturalizing such sentiments of sectarian paranoia and ill will, however, it is argued that structures of feeling must be understood in relation to structures of rule. Hence, the article situates the sectarian imaginary in the wider political-religious context of state-making in Northern Pakistan, to enable a deeper examination of the cultural politics of sectarianism in the region.


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University.

Publication (Name of Journal)

Current Sociology