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The 30 Top Thinkers Under 30: The 'Model of Intellectual Humility' Who Wants to Develop New Political Theories

For the month of April we're profiling the individuals who made our inaugural list of the 30 top thinkers under 30, the young men and women we predict will have a serious impact on the social, political, and economic issues we cover every day here at Pacific Standard.
The University of Toronto campus, where Tejas Parasher completed his undergraduate studies. (Photo: SimonP/Wikimedia Commons)

The University of Toronto campus, where Tejas Parasher completed his undergraduate studies. (Photo: SimonP/Wikimedia Commons)

Tejas Parasher, 23, Political Science

“Tejas Parasher is the most talented undergraduate I have had the privilege of teaching in my 20 years at the University of Toronto,” says professor Melissa Williams, an award-winning political philosopher with a Harvard Ph.D. “Only once before have I had a student who, in my judgment, was so clearly destined for an academic career.”

Williams’ exclamatory recommendation for Parasher, combined with his spectacular performance at UT, got him into the University of Chicago’s political science Ph.D. program at the age of 22. There, he researches the history of international law and economic development. One of his projects is a study of how global governance emerged as an idea in British liberal thought. He’s also conducting an exploration of modern debates around postcolonialism and state sovereignty.

(Photo: Tejas Parasher)


Parasher has a deep love of political theory and intellectual history, as well as what he describes as “a desire to understand why our current international system is so profoundly unequal—and how we might move forward.”

Growing up in 1990s New Delhi, Parasher wanted to be a professional cricket player. “Suffice it to say those plans didn’t amount to much,” he jokes.

The academic world is better off for that, though. “He has the rare capacity to perceive the linkages between empirical, theoretical, and normative questions,” Williams says of Parasher. “Given his knowledge of South Asia, his language skills, his capacity for potent critique, and his eye for original insight, I expect him to become an important contributor to the emerging field of comparative political theory.”

Parasher’s work has had real-world impact too: In 2012, he did research for the Mosaic Institute, a Canadian think tank, about how people of different Sri Lankan ethnicities are getting along in Toronto, a city with one of the world’s biggest Sri Lankan diasporas. He suspected that Sri Lanka’s long-running civil war would be having an effect in North America too, and he was right. “The community has often been quite polarized,” he says. “My research engaged members from both Tamil and Sinhalese communities and sought to identify common points of concern.” As a result, he helped organize open discussions to talk through and propose solutions for the groups’ contentious issues.

Parasher wishes he could have met Bhimrao Ambedkar, who drafted India’s 1950 Constitution: “I find him one of the most fascinating intellectual figures of the 20th century. He was simultaneously deeply pessimistic about the capacity of Indian independence to implement any actual social change, and had an almost romantic idealism about the possibilities of decolonization.”

For his own part, Parasher says, “I would like my scholarship to reverberate with a wide audience, with a particular interest in those working in international law, human rights, and the ethics of development.” By the time he retires, he hopes to have produced scholarship that emphasizes just how important colonialism was in shaping our international system.

He also wants to have been able to critique old political theories and develop new ones. To do so, he knows, “it is important to have a strong grasp of canonical thinkers and everything that has been written about them. It’s important to be able to step back and ask, ‘How is my scholarship on a topic or on a thinker different from everything that has been written about them before?’”

Analyzing theories is one of Parasher’s key skills. When he wrote his final piece for Williams’ demanding upper-level seminar, she says, “The paper was not only extraordinarily well-written, well-researched, and well-argued, but was more insightful and more original than any work I have yet read that seeks to criticize theories of global justice through a postcolonial lens. I have never awarded an essay as high a mark.”

Parasher has almost a dozen honors to his name, including the University of Chicago’s Social Sciences Division Fellowship and the Bank of Montreal’s national scholarship, granted to only 11 students across Canada.

All of this might make lesser scholars resentful but it’s in Parasher’s nature to have a solution to that too. “Tejas is a model of intellectual humility,” Williams says. “He is genteel, engaging, and above all genuinely thoughtful. He never sought or stole the limelight.”

See our complete 2014 list of the 30 top thinkers under 30 here.