Evgenia Kermeli, Bilkent University; Harvard Law School

Legal Pluralism in a Pre-Modern Empire: Muslim and Non-Muslim Litigants in Ottoman Courts

Thu, 04/22/2010
4:30 PM, Scheide Caldwell House, Room 103
Event Category: 
Co-sponsored Event
By Invitation Only

Professor Kermeli writes: "The millet system has been for many decades the predominant theoretical scheme used to explain the relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in the Ottoman Empire.  According to the millet theory, the Orthodox, Armenian and Jewish millet leaders had the right to adjudicate on family law issues.  However, scholars working either on Muslim or non Muslim records cannot explain the phenomenon of non-Muslims resorting to Muslim courts, even for their family law suits.  They argued that the millets had either parochial leadership or a very weak communal organization.  Jennings even questioned the existence of the millet courts.  My work on non-Muslim and Muslim court records shows the Ottoman litigant as a court animal, free to choose the forum of their liking in pursuit of 'their' justice.  This legal behavior is best explained if we use the concept of legal pluralism, instead of the millet theory.  The legal pluralism that Ottoman subjects enjoyed could not be understood outside pre-modern Ottoman Empire settings.  I will discuss how the Ottoman Empire allowed legal pluralism to occur and the mechanisms of recognizing norm production." 

Evgenia Kermeli received her B.A. in History and Archaeology from the University of Athens in 1989 and her Ph.D. in Middle Eastern Studies from Manchester University in 1997.  Prior to joining the History Department, at Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey, she taught at the universities of Liverpool and Manchester.  She is co-editor of Islamic Law: Theory and Practice (1997, paperback 2001), and she has published articles on Ottoman Law and Ottoman History.  She is interested in Muslim and non-Muslim Ottoman subjects and she is currently working on two book projects:  "Legal Pluralism in the Ottoman Empire" and "Land System of Monastic Waqfs."  She is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Islamic Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School.

This event is cosponsored by Department of History and Program in Law and Public Affairs.