Katherine Lemons

Assistant 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 current book project 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. One of the central implications of this research is that Indian secularism can only be understood in the context of legal pluralism and vice versa. In the book I argue that to capture the significance of legal pluralism in India requires both attending what law does in each forum, as well as to the collective effects of its varied registers, perhaps the most central of which is to help carry out the secular labor of separating religion and law.

I am developing two new research projects. The first is a study of a prominent Indian Islamic legal institution in the state of Bihar to which both poor litigants and foreign clerics travel. Traveling for Justice seeks to analyze itineraries to and from this institution both to learn what motivates people to approach it and to ask what their legal decisions demonstrate about contemporary Muslim minority politics. The second project is an ethnographic study of fatwas. A fatwa is an authoritative legal opinion written by a qualified Muslim jurist (mufti) in response to a specific question posed by an individual questioner. In my previous research the questions (istifta) usually concerned the validity of divorces. Several touched on religious practices. This project proposes a study of fatwas, attending not only to their content but to how they circulate. The research for this project will be multi-cited and will constitute an inquiry into what individuals do with fatwas they receive—both with the artifact and with the opinion. 

Representative Publications:

On Indian Law
Forthcoming. “Contractual Kinship: Familial Dispute Adjudication in a New Delhi Muslim Women’s Arbitration Center.” Political and Legal Anthropology Review. (Forthcoming Fall 2016)

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.

On Contemporary Discourses about Islam
2014. “Rules of Law: Sharia Panic and The US Constitution in the House of Representatives.” Cultural Studies. Co-Authored with Joshua Chambers-Letson.

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

On Anthropological Method
Forthcoming. “The Ethics and Politics of NGO Anthropology.” For Cultures of Doing Good: NGOs and Anthropologists. Amanda Lashaw, Steve Sampson, and Chris Vannier, eds. University of Alabama Press. (Forthcoming 2017)