Brinkley M. Messick

Brinkley M. Messick

Research Interests

Research Concentrations

Islamic Texts, Calligraphic State


Middle East, Northern Africa; Yemen


Writing and reading, considered as cultural and historical phenomena, have figured centrally in Brinkley Messick’s research on Islamic societies in both Arabia and North Africa. This work considers the production and circulation, inscription and subsequent interpretation of Arabic texts such as regional histories, law books, and court records. Messick has sought to understand the relation of writing and authority, events such as the advent of print technology, hybrid contemporary practices of reading, and local histories of record keeping and archiving. Much of this work dovetails with Messick's general interests in legal anthropology and legal history, and with his specific interests in Islamic law. 

His two current projects are on shari'a litigation, focusing on doctrine and court records and questions of truth and method, and evidence and interpretation; and on the agrarian shari'a, concerning the relations of landed property, trade, state and family.


Princeton University, PhD in Anthropology, 1978
Princeton University, MA in Anthropology and Near East Studies, 1974
University of Pennsylvania, BA in Economics, 1969

2018. Shari'a Scripts: A Historical Anthropology. New York: Columbia University Press. 

2016. “Islamic Texts: The Anthropologist as Reader.” In Islamic Studies in the Twenty-First Century, edited by L. Buskens and A. van Sandwijk, 29-46. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

2008. “Interpreting Tears: A Marriage Case from Imamic Yemen.” In The Islamic Marriage Contract, edited by Asifa Qureishi and Frank E. Vogel, 156-179. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

2002. “Evidence: From Memory to Archive.” Islamic Law & Society 9, no. 2: 1-40.

2001. "Indexing the Self: Expression and Intent in Islamic Legal Acts." Islamic Law & Society 8, no. 2: 151-78.

1996. Coeditor with Muhammad Khalid Masud and David S. Powers. Islamic Legal Interpretation: Muftis and Their Fatwas. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

1992. The Calligraphic State: Textual Domination and History in a Muslim Society. Berkeley: University of California Press.

1987. “Subordinate Discourse: Women, Weaving and Gender Relations in North Africa.” American Ethnologist 14, no. 2: 20-35. 

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Courses Taught