Funding Agency(ies):
Axis 4. of the Social Sciences Department /

Anthropology of Law in the African and Asian Muslim Worlds

The study of law and legal institutions has been largely neglected, in the Muslim world, except precisely what refers to Islam. This applies on all levels: legal training, development of the law, law personnel, law professions, the police and legal management of criminality, legal decision-making, application of judgments, the carrying out of sentences, the system of incarceration, parallel justices, judicial pleas, the impact of external assistance on reforms, etc. It creates a number of biases and stereotypes on law and justice in Muslim worlds, which are exacerbated by the claims of different political actors, like Islamist movements asking for the application of “Islamic Sharia” and governments aligning themselves on these slogans.
It is inconceivable, however, to be interested in these societies without trying to understand the issues which the law not only reflects, but also organizes and constitutes in itself, just like one cannot study the law of these countries without taking into account the range of practices which surround its development, its administration, its application and its real-life experience.
The ANDROMAQUE program wants to conduct an anthropological study of the law in societies wholly or partly Muslim. It seeks first to question the relationship between law and Islam, while re-specifying the answer that was given to it. It starts from a series of observations on the established legal anthropology, but also on the lack of attention given to the question of legal practices. To make up this deficit, it proposes to substitute for the anthropology of Muslim law a legal anthropology in the Muslim worlds (which includes situations where Islam is in the minority). It gives itself a precise objective, at the core of the law: ownership, the contract which relates to it and its transmission; it starts from a privileged point of observation, that of the conflict resolution bodies. Finally, it is methodologically combined with an ethnography of practices, a linguistic anthropology and a praxiological study of the reference rules.
The ANDROMAQUE Program pursues a double objective. On the one hand, it is a question of building and carrying out a praxiological anthropology of the law of property and its transfer, with the identification of the orientation, in context and action, of the people involved in the activities which are related to it. Also, it wants to show that Islam is only occasionally referred to and that the dynamics of the law are not subordinated to it overall.
The first objective aims at making substantial progress in the social sciences of the law. It consists in laying the bases of an anthropology of law anchored in the description of its practices, to show how the law is accomplished in an active relationship with rules worked out by their users and to treat the question of the law starting from the practices, the language and the texts; and also to show the inextricably dependent character of economic and legal factors towards which the people involved orient themselves, i.e., to refute the idea of an anthropology of law separated from economic considerations (and conversely).
The second objective consists of evaluating the place of the reference to the authority of Islamic law. The reference to the authority of Islam is probably occasional and, when it appears, is part of the banality and routine of carrying out legal activities. Can we agree then to the absence of Islamic authority from legal rules? We would rather re-specify the question: instead of wondering what is the Islamic authority of legal rules, one will try to describe, in context and action, the modes of use and reference to legal rules and the production, always situated and specific, of its authority. And eventually (only at the end of the analysis), what it can have which is specifically Islamic.

Official web page of the ANDROMAQUE project


  • CJB Centre Jacques Berque, CJB
  • Institut français de Pondichéry, IFP

Staff ( IFP & External )

DENIS É., Associated researcher