Individuals and Legal Institutions in the Medieval Mediterranean

March 07, 2016 • All Day • Perkins Library 217

While there is a vast literature on medieval Jewish and Islamic law, the histories of medieval Jewish and Muslim legal institutions received substantially less attention. A relative dearth of documentary sources and a privileged position given to prescriptive texts have led to a top-down approach that views courts predominantly from the perspective of the central political power and/or the legal tradition. This situation contrasts with the study of courts and the legal arena in Christian Europe where there has been a long tradition of studying legal institutions "from below," whether through the lens of dispute settlement, microhistory, or legal anthropology. This conference will attempt to bridge the gap between the study of legal culture and practice in medieval Europe and the Islamic world by bring together scholars of medieval Christian, Muslim, Jewish and secular legal institutions to think comparatively about the study of individuals and legal institutions "from below." In order to supply a comparative perspective, we will be joined by scholars who have tackled such questions in adjacent fields, from Late Antiquity to the Ottoman Empire. The talks will explore how individuals accessed legal institutions and maneuvered in the legal arena, how legal institutions catered to and were affected by litigants' participation, and to what extent viewing litigants as consumers is a fruitful model in Europe and across the Mediterranean.