ANR Programme 2009-2012
|A Joint Programme on Justice and Governance in India and South Asia
(Hosted by Centre for Himalayan Studies)
Related: Law in the Islamic World, Rabat, Jan.21-22, 2011
From the anthropology of Islamic law to the anthropology of law in the Islamic world: reflections on the
possibilities for an anthropology of the law in Islamic and “partly” Islamic societies.
Full programme in pdf >>> Download (236 K)
This workshop seeks to break with the premise of the cultural exceptionality of notions of the legal in societies which are “Islamic”, or partly so. There is a tendency in legal scholarship about societies which are Islamic, or partly so, to seek out that aspect of the law which is Islamic, and focus on it all too exclusively. To determine, however, to what extent a particular aspect of the law is Islamic, whether orthodox or heterodox, and to what extent a certain aspect of the law should be explained by a particular historical development in Islamic law, is to risk imposing a pre-conceived structure on legal phenomena and activities instead of seeking to ascertain how they operate. Thus, research can fail to describe the phenomena which it sets out to document, and, in particular, the ways in which people understand and show their understanding of a given situation, relate to a context and the constraints it imposes, and behave in a manner more or less fitting to that particular spatial and temporal context. Even in contexts where an Islamic genealogy can be identified (such as for family law in various countries), to assume that this means that “Islamic law” is at stake does not shed light on what people do in a particular legal context when dealing with family matters. These issues can only be dealt with by describing people’s practices outside of a pre-ordained interpretative context. Furthermore, what is to be said of domains in which a relationship with Islam cannot even be established genealogically?
The purpose of this workshop is to study legal practices in environments where Islam is of dominant or minor influence, rather than to study Islamic cultural practices through the prism of the law. In fact, Islamic cultural practices are only one of the many contextual components, always particular and never uniform, in which legal practices occur. To assume that this cultural component is primordial runs the risk of neglecting the other potential components, against all of which the members of a legal environment contextualize themselves in a practical way in their actions. It must be asked if the study of the law in Islamic or partly Islamic contexts can be justified on grounds other than to substantiate claims of cultural difference.