Matthew Erie, PIIRS

Shari'a, Autonomy, and Freedom: The View from China

Wed, 09/24/2014
438 Roberton Hall
Event Category: 
Graduate Students
Policy Students

Please join us on Wednesday, September 24, for a seminar with Matthew Erie, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies. 

LEGS, or "Law-Engaged Graduate Students," meets during the academic year to discuss a work in progress by one of our Graduate Associates. Academic papers, dissertation proposals, and dissertation chapters have been presented at these meetings, to an audience of fellow graduate students.

Abstract:  Since mass riots in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in July 2009, a number of terrorist attacks allegedly committed by the East Turkestan Islamic Republic have ripped through the People’s Republic of China (PRC), leading to the deaths of hundreds of people. Subsequently, PRC authorities have initiated a crackdown on terrorism, resulting in restrictions on Islamic prayer, dress, and associated practices. Based on nineteen months of fieldwork in Northwest China from 2009 to 2012, this talk examines how over-inclusive counter-terrorism policies and inter-ethnic hysteria have affected not Uyghurs (Turkic Muslims) but Hui (Chinese Muslims). Chinese Muslims are frequently viewed as “good Muslims” compared to the “bad Muslims,” the Uyghurs. Ethnographic data suggests such characterizations fail to consider the tension Hui navigate as both slaves of God and cultural subjects of socialist China. While the PRC’s ethnic policies differentiate between the two, Hui have also been affected by the specter of Islamic radicalism after 2009. I argue that Hui exercise a notion of autonomy, which I define as the capacity to follow one’s law, which differs from that of the state. Specifically, the state controls ethnic minority regions through “ethnic autonomy,” a system of self-rule that was adapted from the Soviets in the 1950s. Through such mundane examples as property law, legal education, and marriage law, I show how Hui negotiate autonomy through the everyday. The case of Hui provides a window through which to rethink the relationship between shariʿa (Islamic law) and secular law.

Dr. Matthew Erie’s research, writings, and teaching engage law and anthropology in the study of non-Western laws, namely, Chinese law and Islamic law. A central argument underlying Matthew’s writings is that the study of Islamic law and Chinese law can shed new light on comparative law and the anthropology of law.   Beginning in 2004, Matthew has lived and worked in China for several years. He has engaged Chinese law in various capacities, including as a law student at a Chinese law school, as a lawyer in an international law firm in Beijing, as a volunteer in a Swiss-based NGO in Beijing, and as an ethnographer. Subsequently, he worked as a real estate lawyer in New York City. In 2009, he conducted 19 months of fieldwork in northwest China on the contemporary practice of shari'a by Chinese Muslims. He is currently writing a book called The Prophet and the Party: Shari'a, Islam, and Autonomy in China, under contract with Cambridge University Press. Matthew is currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies at Princeton University, a Global Assistant Professor of Law at New York University, a Visiting Scholar at the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University, and a Truman Security Fellow of the Truman National Security Project. Additionally, he is a member of the New York Bar, the American Anthropological Association, and the Law and Society Association.   Matthew completed his JD at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, his LLM at Tsinghua University and his Ph.D. in anthropology at Cornell University.