Zehra Mehdi

Zehra Mehdi


The ‘work of Religion’: Trauma, Mourning and Political Resistance in the lives of Muslims in ‘Old Lucknow’

Research Interest


M.Phil., Religion, Columbia University, 2019
M.A., Religion, Columbia University, 2018
M.Phil., Psychoanalysis and Clinical Thinking, Ambedkar University, Delhi, 2014
M.A., Clinical Psychology (Specialization: Psychoanalysis), Delhi University, 2008
B.A., Psychology (Honrs.), Delhi University, 2006


I am a PhD candidate in South Asian Religions, working at the intersections of religion, political violence, and psychoanalysis. My dissertation is a thick psychoanalytic ethnographic account of how Muslims as religious minorities in India facing state oppression, use religion to express themselves both emotionally and politically. Focusing on the lives of Muslims in north India (old Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh), my research studies the ways in which persecuted religious minorities draw upon religion as a psychic reserve to articulate their trauma, mourn their losses and forge political resistance against the state. In the face of   exemplary violence-- lynching, pogroms, incarceration, police brutality, hate speech, online auctions—rendered banal, ‘Work of religion,’ I submit, is the process by which Muslims effectively/meaningfully use religion to make sense of their victimization, and transform their personal suffering into collective resistance against their oppression. In attending to the psychological aspects of Muslim subjectivity, their expressions of grieving and practices of resistance, my dissertation offers a new framework for thinking about religion in the lives of persecuted minorities. In studying their lives, documenting their struggles, and acknowledging their resistance, I aspire to narrate a story of the humanity of a minority amidst precarious times.

I am a practicing psychoanalytic therapist and have a special interest in working with religious, caste, sexual minorities. I have given talks on political trauma, ethnocentrism, and prejudice in the clinic, grieving during COVID denial, pathological optimism, possibilities of mourning, limits of trauma theory, and social suffering.

The Psychoanalytic Research Grant (2022-2023) offered by the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA) supports the completion of my fieldwork in India, and dissertation writing.  

Recent Publications

Mehdi, Z, (2022) Why do Secularists see Hinduism as ‘Cultural’ and Islam as ‘Religious’? The Wire. https://thewire.in/rights/why-do-secularists-see-hinduism-as-cultural-and-islam-as-religious

Mehdi, Z. (2021). Remembering Violence, and Possibilities of Mourning: Psychoanalytic Role of Partition Literature; Writings of Sa’adat Hasan Manto. In V. J. Camden (Ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Psychoanalysis and Literature (pp 109-127). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mehdi, Z. (2021). Sanjeev Jain and Alok Sarin “The Psychological Impact of the Partition of India” (2018). Journal of Social Change, 51 (2), 260-263.