Transformations of Tradition: Islamic Law in Colonial Modernity


ACLS Fellowship Program




This project is at once a historical examination of the fate of an indigenous field of knowledge upon its encounter with the commitments of colonial modernity, and a meditation on the limits of the category of tradition in understanding the development of Islamic law over the past 150 years. Drawing upon the writings of jurist-scholars writing in Cairo, Kazan, Lucknow, and Istanbul, the project tracks several central shifts in Islamic legal writing that throw into doubt the possibility of reading its later trajectory through the lens of a continuous tradition. Instead, this work argues that the colonial moment marks a significant rupture in how Muslim jurists understood history, authority, science, and religion, thereby upending the very ground upon which Islamic law had functioned before modern colonialism.