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:


Forthcoming. Divorcing Traditions: Islamic Marriage Law and the Making of Indian Secularism. Cornell University Press. (March 2019)


On Indian 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

Forthcoming. “Secularism: India.” in Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures (EWIC), 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.