A Renaissance Interrupted?: Personhood, “Sodomy” and the Public in Twelfth-Century Christian and Islamic Proto-Civil Legality


Chancellor Day Hall NCDH 202 (tentative), 3644 rue Peel, Montreal, QC, H3A 1W9, CA

The Paul-André Crépeau Centre for Private and Comparative Law continues its 2016-2018 Civil Law Workshops series, “Le public en droit privé”, with a talk by Vanja Hamzić (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London).


The eventful twelfth century was, in many ways, a veritable paradox. On the one hand, it saw a sudden surge in academic works and universities in Western and Southern Europe that sought to bridge the worlds previously thought entirely incommensurable and usher in an age of scholasticism that would eventually lead to the fourteenth- to seventeenth-century Renaissance. For this reason, it has been a staple of mediaevalist scholarship to describe those thorough-going changes as the ‘renaissance of the twelfth century’. On the other hand, the same century also reads as a striking catalogue of most violent acts and disasters: from the rise of inquisition and merciless Christian infighting, over the first expulsions of Jews and the intensification of the Reconquista on Muslim Spain to the blood and gore of the Second, Third and German Crusades. Might it not be more appropriate, then, to characterise this period as an age of profound crisis, in which the true contours of a ‘persecuting society’ were drawn?

This talk seeks to make a modest contribution to that debate, by guiding the audience’s attention to a tell-tale public aspect of high mediaeval life—that of sexual and gender diversity—and by expanding the view over the twelfth century so as to include the affairs in the Great Seljuk Empire (1037–1194), a vast Turko-Persianate Sunnī Muslim state that originated in Anatolia, but quickly came to rule over much of the then Islamicate world.

The talk considers, in particular, an unlikely rise of neo-Roman European civil law and Seljuk proto-civil legality and its formidable effect on two paradigmatic twelfth-century intellectual debates on the public, legal and theological standing of ‘sodomy’ (peccatum sodomiticum, liwāṭ): one in amongst prominent Benedictines and the other between the leading Ḥanafī scholars. It is argued that these debates, led in the distinct spirit of concordia discors (discordant harmony) or ikhtilāf (permissible scholarly disagreement), are indispensable for our understanding of legal and social aspects of sexual and gender diversity in the twelfth century and, in turn, the way in which certain rapturous pluralities were continued and ruptured—concomitantly.

The speaker

Dr Vanja Hamzić is a Senior Lecturer in Legal History and Legal Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, an Academic Fellow of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple and a former Member of the School of Social Science in the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. His main body of work interrogates historical and present-day formations of gender and sexual diversity in various Islamicate societies of South Asia, Southeast Asia and West Africa. His published books include Control and Sexuality: The Revival of Zinā Laws in Muslim Contexts (2010; with Ziba Mir-Hosseini) and Sexual and Gender Diversity in the Muslim World: History, Law and Vernacular Knowledge (2016).

Civil Law Workshops

In order to promote fundamental research in private law, the Paul-André Crépeau Centre for Private and Comparative Law initiated the “Civil Law Workshops” series, bringing together jurists from Québec and beyond to work on related research topics. With their cross-disciplinary focus, the “Civil Law Workshops” contribute to enriching and stimulating fundamental research in private law.

The 2016-2018 series of Civil Law Workshops presented by the Paul-André Crépeau Centre for Private and Comparative Law explore “Le public en droit privé”.

The workshops are presented with financial assistance from Justice Canada’s Support Fund for Access to Justice in Both Official Languages.

Registration is not required. Each workshop has been accredited for 1.5 hour of continuing legal education by the Barreau du Québec and the Chambre des notaires du Québec.


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