For the 11th Annual International Workshop of the Department of Middle East Studies at Ben Gurion University
[Sponsored by The Helene Soref Foundation]
Courts of Law and Legal Cultures in Past and Present Muslim Societies:
A Socio-legal Perspective
Coordinators: Iris Agmon and Ido Shahar
In recent decades Muslim courts of law (mainly, but not exclusively, shari‘a courts) and their surviving archives have attracted much scholarly attention. Scholars have employed court records extensively as a source for historical evidence, shedding light on various aspects of Muslim societies. Yet in addition to being a prism through which a wide range of social topics may be viewed, these records are also products of intriguing social institutions worthy of study in their own merit, namely courts of law. The historical evolution of these institutions, their legal cultures and traditions, the procedures and practices maintained in them – are themselves of significant interest.
Our workshop will, therefore, explore contemporary and historical courts of law in Muslim societies from this socio-legal perspective. We will explore courts of law as prominent socio-legal institutions in Muslim societies; as a prism through which the wider economic, social and cultural contexts can be explored; and as formative social arenas, which contribute to the construction of these very contexts. Our goal is to bring together scholars from different disciplines (e.g. history, law, sociology, anthropology) studying diverse courts of law and legal cultures, in order to encourage a comparative and inter-disciplinary debates on these topics.
Themes and questions that the workshop will investigate may include:
Courts of law and social processes: What roles do courts play in the legal field and in society at large? How do they affect processes of social change and how are they affected by them? What functions do courts serve for various members and groups in society? How are court routines understood by members of the society? How are they employed by them? To what extent do courts of law constitute unique social arenas?
Courts and modernity: In what ways do modernization processes change courts of law, judicial systems, and legal cultures? How do modernization processes in the legal arena contribute to changing the society at large? Do modern and pre-modern courts constitute substantially different socio-legal arenas?
Legal pluralism: what are the interrelationships between distinct courts of law – shari‘a, civil, customary, and others – which operate within a single society, at a particular time period? How do multi-court systems affect socio-political hierarchies and power relations in their respective societies?
Legal cultures: how are legal cultures, as developed in particular courts of law, related to other social and cultural spheres? When comparing the legal cultures of different courts, what points of difference and similarity can be found?
Continuity and change in courts of law: What are the mechanisms of change, reproduction and legitimization operating in specific courts? How are the dynamics of change in courts and in society at large related to each other?
Administrative hierarchies and state control: How do local courts relate to broader legal systems? What functions do courts serve as state institutions? How are lower-ranking courts depicted by the central administrations, and how are they perceived by their own personnel?
Islamic jurisprudence and legal practice: what are the relations between normative literature and practical solutions to legal problems carved in particular courts? To what extent do recent studies on court routines, judges at work, and interrelations between judges and muftis problematize the accepted wisdom that Muslim law is jurist law?
The state of the art: what are the major concepts, themes and trends in the field of socio-legal studies? What are the implications of recent developments in this field for future agendas of research on courts and legal cultures in Muslim societies?
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The workshop will be held in the spring semester of the coming academic year (March-June, 2005). It will convene once every three weeks, on Tuesday afternoon, between 4.00 and 7.00 PM (tentative schedule: March 1, March 22, April 12, May 3, May 24, 2005). Two papers will be discussed on each meeting. Following this series of meetings, a two-day workshop will take place (Monday and Tuesday, June 6-7, 2005). All participants will be expected to submit in advance a working paper to be distributed among the other participants. This will enable us to dedicate the meetings to discussions on original papers rather than to lengthy presentations. Participants from abroad will be supplied with all papers presented prior to their own, so as to enable their fullest involvement in the ongoing discussion. We intend to publish selected papers from the workshop in a collection of essays on courts of law in Muslim societies.
Those interested in participating in the workshop are asked to send a one-page proposal in English by October 31, 2004. The proposal should briefly state the topic, and outline how the paper contributes to the aims of the workshop. Participants from abroad will be offered round trip airfare and lodging.
Proposals should be addressed by e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail to: Dr. Iris Agmon, Department of Middle East Studies, Ben Gurion University, P. O. Box 563 Beer-Sheva, Israel.
Beer Sheva 84105
fax 972-8-6472.952 Email: email@example.com
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