Despite a highly centralized government, why do conflicts between the state religious and federal civil courts become politicized and even turn violent in some states more than in others? Further, why do these conflicts mobilize for radically different outcomes i.e. federal constitutional reform on the one hand, and strengthening the autonomy of state law on the other? Through a comparative analysis of jurisdictional conflicts on the state syariah and federal civil courts across four states in the Federation of Malaysia that is Perak, Selangor, Kelantan and Johor, my dissertation addresses these puzzles. Current literatures focus on ethnic demographics or party politics, leaving out the role religious elites play in jurisdictional conflicts. I argue that the uneven development of state formation in the colonial period conditioned the strength of religious elites variably in these states to account for why jurisdictional conflicts become more politically salient in some states than in others. Colonial state formation entailed two connected but uneven processes. The first process was the introduction of modern state administration, which divided state activity into two distinct domains: extractive and regulative, with different barriers to entry. The variation between these two domains, that is entry by qualification in the regulative domain and entry by ascription in the extractive domain eventually rendered the regulative domain a much more dynamic space for social change to transform the structure of the ruling class and the state. The second process was the formation of a religious bureaucracy within the colonial state administration. The formation of a religious bureaucracy increased the demand for religious experts to fill up positions in state administration and raised the profile of religious elites. It also encouraged pathways of entry for new religious elites from outside of the state. Taken together, colonial administration divided the ruling class into two state functions and erected a religious bureaucracy with lower barriers to entry. This transformed the composition of collective rule on each state but how and to what extent depended on the interaction between type of colonial administration and composition of ruling class in the native state. Based on these findings, my dissertation analyzes two interacting mechanisms of elite competition and state formation: (i) type of rule and; (ii) composition of ruling class. I show how these mechanisms interact with one another to produce four models of elite dynamics that correspond to each state. They are: substituting in Selangor, accommodating in Perak, complementing in Johore, and competing in Kelantan. My dissertation shows that jurisdictional conflicts become politicized and even turn violent where local elites are either substituting for or competing with one another, as in Selangor and Kelantan respectively. I show how conflicts surrounding religious conversions resulted in the push for federal constitutional reform in Selangor on the one hand, and the clamor to further strengthen state religious institutions and the autonomy of state religious elites in Kelantan on the other.