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Celebrating Recent Work by Brinkley Messick

New Books in the Arts and Sciences

dateDecember 5, 2018 timeWednesday, 4:15pm EST location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University
  • Ifriqiyya Colloquium
  • The Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
  • Office of the Divisional Deans in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences
  • Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy
  • Department of Anthropology
  • Center for the Study of Muslim Societies
  • Free and open to the public
  • No registration necessary
  • First come, first seated
Cover of Shari'a Scripts: A Historical Anthropology by Brinkley Messick

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New Books in the Arts & Sciences:
Celebrating Recent Work by Brinkley Messick

Shari'a Scripts: A Historical Anthropology
By: Brinkley Messick

A case study in the textual architecture of the venerable legal and ethical tradition at the center of the Islamic experience, Sharīʿa Scripts is a work of historical anthropology focused on Yemen in the early twentieth century. There—while colonial regimes, late Ottoman reformers, and early nationalists wrought decisive changes to the legal status of the sharīʿa, significantly narrowing its sphere of relevance—the Zaydī school of jurisprudence, rooted in highland Yemen for a millennium, still held sway.

Brinkley Messick uses the richly varied writings of the Yemeni past to offer a uniquely comprehensive view of the sharīʿa as a localized and lived phenomenon. Sharīʿa Scripts reads a wide spectrum of sources in search of a new historical-anthropological perspective on Islamic textual relations. Messick analyzes the sharīʿa as a local system of texts, distinguishing between theoretical or doctrinal juridical texts (or the “library”) and those produced by the sharīʿa courts and notarial writers (termed the “archive”). Attending to textual form, he closely examines representative books of madrasa instruction; formal opinion-giving by muftis and imams; the structure of court judgments; and the drafting of contracts. Messick’s intensive readings of texts are supplemented by retrospective ethnography and oral history based on extensive field research. Further, the book ventures a major methodological contribution by confronting anthropology’s longstanding reliance upon the observational and the colloquial. Presenting a new understanding of Islamic legal history, Sharīʿa Scripts is a groundbreaking examination of the interpretative range and historical insights offered by the anthropologist as reader.

  • Author Brinkley M. Messick Professor, Anthropology and The Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies Columbia University
  • Speaker Mashal Saif Assistant Professor of Religion Clemson University
  • Speaker Islam Dayeh Edward W. Said Fellow The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
  • Speaker Guy Burak Librarian for Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies New York University
  • Speaker Gil Anidjar Professor in the Departments of Religion, the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS), and the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society (ICLS) Columbia University
  • Speaker Intisar A. Rabb Professor of Law Harvard Law School
  • Speaker Mahmood Mamdani Herbert Lehman Professor of Government MESAAS, International Affairs, and Anthropology Columbia University