New Books in the Arts & Sciences

Celebrating Recent Work by Brinkley Messick

Wednesday, December 5, 2018  4:15pm The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room

Listen to the podcast here.

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 Anthropolog

    Columbia University


By Semester