Brinkley Messick

PROGRAM | PEOPLE

Brinkley Messick is Professor of Anthropology and of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies at Columbia University. He was the Chair of the Department of Anthropology from 2004-2011; was a founding co-Director of the Center for Palestine Studies (2010-15); and currently is the Director of the Middle East Institute. In 2009, he received the Outstanding Senior Scholar Award from the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association. 

He has conducted research in Yemen and Morocco supported by the Social Science Research Council, Fulbright and the Guggenheim Foundation, and he teaches courses on the anthropology of law, the analysis of written culture, and the theory and practice of Islamic law. He is the author of The Calligraphic State (California, 1993), which won the Albert Hourani Award from the Middle East Studies Association, and has been translated into Turkish. He also is the co-editor of Islamic Legal Interpretation (Harvard, 1996), and his Sharīʿa Scripts: An Historical Anthropology is forthcoming from Columbia University Press. 

Title: Sharīʿa, Property, Nakba

This paper offers an overview and a comparative evaluation of the existing scholarship on sharīʿa courts, doctrine and technical categories for land, etc. in historical and present day Palestine. I attempt to rethink questions around a series of historical ruptures and contestations that date from the late Ottoman period, and I reflect on the fragmented contemporary existences of four distinct court institutions–in East Jerusalem, the Occupied West Bank, Gaza and Israel. I am especially interested in the backdrop of property relations in connection with the apparently marginal role of courts devoted to personal status matters—marginal, except if one factors in the domestic and intimate structures of gender and patriarchy. Finally, I ask whether and how the sharīʿa courts and related doctrine should figure in our understanding of the historical and continuing Nakba.

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