From Law as Grammar to Law as Natural Science: Reforming Modern Islamic Jurisprudence


Thursday, November 29, 2012, 4:30pm to 6:00pm


CMES, 38 Kirkland Street, Room 102, Cambridge, MA 02138

A Middle East Beyond Borders graduate workshop with

Aria Nakissa
JD HLS, PhD Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies
Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Brandeis University 

Paper Abstract: Focusing on Egypt, this article examines how the “modernization” of traditional religious learning has worked to transform the character of Islamic Law. Using Foucault, I argue that changes in educational structure and pedagogy have produced a shift in “episteme”. Pre-modern religious learning was dominated by an episteme centered on language. Accordingly, legal training was viewed as akin to mastering a grammar and did not aspire to “progress” or “innovation”. Modern educational reforms have succeeded in inaugurating a new episteme modeled on the natural sciences. This has worked to convert Sharī’ah scholarship into a research-oriented endeavor directed at producing “discoveries” and novel perspectives. Islamic legal methodology and doctrine have been deeply altered as a result. In chronicling these developments I draw on archival research combined with two years of ethnographic fieldwork inside of al-Azhar and the Dār al-‘Ulūm, Egypt’s leading centers of religious learning.

This interdisciplinary graduate student workshop welcomes Harvard students, faculty, and affiliates from all disciplines and at all stages of scholarship. Please email Bethany to RSVP and request a copy of the paper. As always, please read the article thoroughly before the session and come prepared to give substantive feedback.

Contact: Bethany Kibler
Sponsors: Mahindra Humanities Center, the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program, and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University