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Anthropology of Islamic Law


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Arabic, Persian and Turkish Languages and Cultures, the Research Master Area Studies: Asia and the Middle East, specialisation Middle Eastern Studies, the MA Islamic Studies, or the MA Islamic Theology. Please, contact the student advisor, Nicole A.N.M. van Os or Prof.dr. L.P.H.M. Buskens, if you are interested in taking this course, but NOT a student of the one of the above-mentioned MA programmes.


Many Muslims refer to al-Sharia as an important guideline for their lives. This seminar focuses on the various ways in which Muslims construct ideas about God’s Will, voice these ideas, and act in the domains concerned. Attention to the intricate relations between what people say they should do according to the Sharia, what they pretend to do, and what they actually do, is at the center of an anthropological perspective. Anthropologists strife to present their findings in the form of ethnographic reports, detailed descriptions of what happened structured by the use of analytic concepts and linked to theoretical concerns.

Since the eighties the use of an anthropological perspective has become increasingly widespread in studies of Islamic law, both in studies of contemporary and historical societies. This seminar envisages to give and overview of these recent developments in scholarship by studying important monographs, both centered on famous authors, and central issues, such as the concept of culture, the complex relationships between texts and practices, gender, local customs, and politics, civil society, and the public sphere. Both historical and contemporary studies are subject of analysis.

The seminar begins with a critical overview of important concepts, theories and methods, such as Islamic law, an introduction to anthropology, its theories and methods. Reflection on the history of the rise of the anthropological approach to Islamic law, especially its colonial roots, is understood to vital to an academic perspective.

Course objectives

  • A sound overview of important studies on Islamic law from an anthropological perspective and its main issues.

  • An introduction to anthropological theories and methods relevant for the subject.

  • A critical reflection on the history of the anthropological approach to Islamic law by analyzing its social context.


This course if (provisionally) scheduled on Tuesdays, 15-17 h.

Mode of instruction

Seminar, attendance and participation in the discussions is compulsory.


  • Attendance at all seminar meetings and active participation in the discussions.

  • Weekly reading notes to be handed at the beginning of the meeting.

  • Oral presentation, with handout, of assigned general readings.

  • Oral presentation, with handout, of a particular monograph.

  • Paper about a monograph on the anthropological study of Islamic law and its place in the oeuvre of the author and in the field. The paper should contain about 6000 words and should be presented in a printed form, with 1.5 interline.

Assessment method

  • Attendance and active participation 20 %;

  • Oral presentations with handout 20 %;

  • Final paper 60 %.


Will be used.

Reading list

A full program together with a list of readings will be available at the beginning of the course. Some of the readings will be made available as xeroxes.

All students are required to study the following two books:

  • Monaghan, John & Just, Peter; 2000, Social and Cultural Anthropology. A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press

  • Rabinow, Paul; 2007 (orig. 1977), Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, Thirtieth Anniversary Edition with a new preface by the author


Registration for this course is compulsory. uSis

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply

Contact information

Prof.dr. L.P.H.M. Buskens