Katherine Lemons

Katherine Lemons

Associate Professor

Ph.D University of California, Berkeley, 2010

My research is on Islamic family law adjudication in India, which is a subject that has implications for understanding Muslim gender and kin relations, secularism, minority politics, and legal pluralism. My first book, Divorcing Traditions: Islamic Marriage Law and the Making of Indian Secularism (Cornell University Press 2019), repositions our understanding of the relationship between religious and secular law in postcolonial contexts by analyzing divorce and marital disputes in four non-state Islamic institutions in Delhi. The book’s central argument is that Muslim divorce is a key site for understanding Indian secularism because the contested legal status of divorce marks a crisis of the secular distinction between religion and law.

I am currently working on two research projects. The first, Traveling for Justice, builds on my research on Islamic law in India but takes up the question of how Islamic legal knowledge travels transnationally. The project looks both at why marginalized individuals in India choose to approach one of its oldest and most renowned legal institutions—the Imarat-e-Sharia—and why Islamic jurists living outside of India travel to the same institution for training to become judges (qazis). Traveling for Justice will provide an analysis of Islamic legal practice in non-Muslim majority states and an investigation into authority more broadly: how, the project asks, is religious legal authority established adjacent to, and without threatening, different secular states? A second project, Adjacent to the State, is an ethnographic and archival study of why Muslims approach Ontario’s sharia courts (hereafter dar ul-qazas) with disputes and how the Islamic judges (qazis) in these courts adjudicate them.

Education and Research Interests

Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley 2010

Cultural anthropology; anthropology of law; rhetoric and law; anthropology of religion; feminist anthropology; kinship, gender, and sexuality; Islam; South Asia


Michelle Z. Rosaldo Prize from the Association for Feminist Anthropology, American Anthropological Association. Honorable Mention.

Critical Anthropology Book Prize from the Association for Political and Legal Anthropology. Honourable Mention.

South Asian Muslim Studies Association Book Award. Honourable Mention.

Representative Publications:


2019. Divorcing Traditions: Islamic Law and the Making of Indian Secularism. Cornell University Press.


On Law

2018. "Sharia Courts and Muslim Personal Law in India: Intersecting Legal Regimes." Law and Society Review. 52(3): 603-629.

2017 “Paying for Kinship: Muslim Divorce and the Privatization of Insecurity.” History of the Present: A Journal of Critical History 7 (2):197-218.

2016 “The Politics of Livability: Tutoring Kinship in a new Delhi Women’s Arbitration Center.” Political and Legal Anthropology Review 39(2): 244-260.

2013 “When Marriage Breaks Down, How Do Contracts Matter? Marriage Contracts and Divorce in Contemporary North India.” In Shalini Grover, Ravinder Kaur, and Rajni Palriwala (eds.) Marriage in Globalizing Contexts: Exploring Change and Continuity in South Asia. Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 371-388.

On Secularism

2019. “Secularism: India.” Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures (EWIC). General Editor, Souad Joseph. Leiden: Brill.

On Contemporary Discourses about Islam

2016 “Rules of Law: Sharia Panic and The US Constitution in the House of Representatives.” In Jaafar Aksikas and Sean Andrews (eds.) Cultural Studies and the ‘Juridical Turn’. Routledge. Co-Authored with Joshua Chambers-Letson. (reprint)

2014 “Rules of Law: Sharia Panic and The US Constitution in the House of Representatives.” Cultural Studies 28 (5-6): 1048-1077. Co-Authored with Joshua Chambers-Letson

On Anthropological Method

2017 “The Ethics and Politics of NGO Anthropology.” Cultures of Doing Good: NGOs and Anthropologists. Amanda Lashaw, Christian Vannier, and Steven Sampson, eds. University of Alabama Press: 194-211.

On Contemporary Discourses about Islam

2014 “Rules of Law: Sharia Panic and The US Constitution in the House of Representatives.” Cultural Studies 28 (5-6): 1048-1077. Co-Authored with Joshua Chambers-Letson

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