Although originally trained to do anthropological fieldwork in Indonesia, the civil war in that country necessitated my diversion to work in North Africa. As I began to study the forms of social organization in a small city of Morocco and the surrounding countryside I became particularly interested in the ways in which people arranged their relationships with one another and how much the cultural system was grounded in the essential negotiability of the concepts through which networks of interdependence were fabricated. Because I was especially intrigued to see how these ties were enacted in specific situations of choice and conflict I started to work in the local Islamic courts. These twinned interests-—in the creation of cultural categories and their expression in the domain of law—-have been defining interests throughout my work in North Africa, as well as in comparative work in several other Islamic countries.After finishing my dissertation and several years of postdoctoral work I decided to return to Chicago to take a law degree. I felt that many of the analytic concepts employed in the law would be vital to my understanding of my own comparative studies. I also had long been interested in American socio-legal problems, and developed these interests particularly in the fields of family law and the rights of indigenous peoples. Through a summer internship with the Native American Rights Fund and occasional work on a variety of Indian cases I was able to bring my scholarly and practical interests to bear in a particular domain of American law.Tacking back and forth between studies of Middle Eastern culture and comparative legal studies has strengthened my approach to each. In a new book entitled Law as Culture I argue for a deeply cultural approach to the study of any legal system; in a book to be called Drawn From Memory I follow the intellectual lives of four Arabs to see how their creative ideas play out in the context of their own social and legal environment. In a set of essays, tentatively entitled Re-Presenting Islam, I will look at such interrelated issues as how democratization connects with ideas of the person in the Middle East, why many scientists become fundamentalists, how even the most religious deal with elements of doubt about sacred text, and how different orientations towards corruption and democracy affect the shaping of a system of limited powers.The year at the Wilson Center will, therefore, be one in which I will predominantly be wearing my Middle East hat. In future years I expect to return to various aspects of American society and law, including projects on the religion of presidents, the implementation of moral propositions in American law, and the creation of new concepts of the family in the face of changing social patterns.


B.A. (1963) Brandeis University; M. A. (1965) University of Chicago, Anthropology;
Ph.D. (1968) University of Chicago, Anthropology; J. D. (1974) University of Chicago, Law


Anthropology,North Africa


  • Associate Professor of Anthropology and Adjunct Associate Professor of Law, Duke University, 1974-77
  • Member, The Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ, 1970-71
  • Ordinary Member of Commons and Visiting Fellow, Wolfson College, Oxford, 2002-07
  • Visiting Professor, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel, 2000
  • Visiting Fellow, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University, 1998-99
  • Visiting Professor of Law: Georgetown University Law Center, 1994
  • University of Pennsylvania Law School, 1985
  • Northwestern University School of Law, 1982-84


North Africa; anthropology; political culture; law and culture; law and indigenous peoples

Project Summary

Studies of democratization in the Arab world rarely consider the cultural factors that contribute to governance. Concepts of self and time, reciprocity and the moral equivalence of social units are crucial to the ways a government of limited powers may be formed. By focusing on the encounter with Western forms of colonial governance, the social meaning of corruption, and the struggle over codes of personal status this study will suggest how power is limited in Arab cultures and how a comparative understanding of this process can contribute to studies of the cultural foundations of democracy more generally.

Major Publications

  • Bargaining for Reality: The Construction of Social Relations in a Muslim Community (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984, 2nd printing 1988)
  • The Justice of Islam: Comparative Perspectives on Islamic Law and Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)
  • The Culture of Islam: Changing Aspects of Contemporary Muslim Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002)