Alfred Stepan (1936–2017)

Date01 December 2017
Published date01 December 2017
Subject MatterObituary
Alfred Stepan (1936–2017)
In the passing away of Alfred C. Stepan, a member of the advisory board of Studies in Indian Politics,
we have lost a scholar of comparative politics who would always alert us to the weakness of arguments
about Indian exceptionalism. During his long and distinguished career of teaching and research, he held
positions at various universities including Yale, Oxford, Columbia and the Central European University.
Al Stepan’s rich corpus of work on a diverse array of subjects such as the role of the military in
politics, democratic transition and consolidation, federalism and nation building as well as religion,
politics and democracy draws greatly from his own experiences from across the world. In his interview
to Munck and Snyder (2007, pp. 392–455), he tells us that his experience as a journalist with The
Economist as well as his participation in the Marine Corps sharpened his research acumen and skills.
Though he wrote about India only during the latter phase of his career, India was among the six
countries that interested him ‘politically and aesthetically’ (ibid. 397). India was for Stepan an exemplar
for a central idea in his work: in countries with deep diversity, state-building was more appropriate
than nation-building and the territorial boundaries of state did not have to coincide with the cultural
boundaries of a nation.
In his book Crafting State-Nations: India and other Multinational Democracies (Stepan et al. 2011)
co-authored with Juan Linz and Yogendra Yadav, they ask how countries with deep diversity managed to
reconcile democracy with diversity. Their study underlined the importance of state-nations whose
success was based on their ability to constantly adapt to the demands of diversity.
His engagement with India also gave him a chance to look more closely at the literature on federalism.
In an influential article, ‘Federalism and Democracy: Beyond the U.S. Model’ (Stepan, 1999) he demon-
strated that besides the American ‘coming-together’ model, the ‘holding-together’ and ‘putting-together’
models of federalism offered alternative possibilities.
The Indian experience among others also contributed to his thesis on ‘twin tolerations’ (Stepan, 2000).
This thesis moves away from the Western model of secularism and posits a ‘religiously friendly’ model
of religion-state-society relations which not only creates greater space for interfaith accommodation but
is also more demos-enabling.
Stepan’s studies moved India from an outlier in comparative politics to an integral case for making
sense of the practice of democracy in the contemporary world. Al Stepan will be greatly missed.
Munck, Gerardo L., & Snyder, Richard. (2008). Passion, craft, and method in comparative politics. Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press.
Stepan, Alfred. (1999). Federalism and democracy: Beyond the U.S. model. Journal of Democracy, 10(4), 19–34.
———. (2000). Religion, democracy, and the ‘twin tolerations’. Journal of Democracy, 11(4), 37–58.
Studies in Indian Politics
5(2) 300–301
© 2017 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2321023017739373

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