Expectations of justice and political power in the Islamicate world (ca. 600-1500 CE)
Leiden University, October 27-29, 2021
Speakers: Sean Anthony, Nasrin Askari (Keynote), Mustafa Banister, Enki Baptiste, Linda Darling, Sébastien Garnier, Hanna-Lena Hagemann, Najam Haider, Angela Isoldi, Büşra Kaya, Noëmie Lucas, Taryn Marashi, Christian Mauder, Aseel Najib, Marta Novo, Amir Or, Rana Osman, Marina Rustow, Deborah Tor.
In the Islamicate world, as elsewhere, requests for just rule surface constantly as notions of justice are debated and contested. Exemplary rule can be sought in direct and open ways, through entreaties and demands, but also subversively through irony, flattery and satire. Expectations of justice can be pursued through reform or revolution, or via secession, utopianism and millenarianism. This conference, organised in the framework of the ERC-funded Embedding Conquest: Naturalising Muslim rule in the Islamic empire (600-1000) project, examines how such expectations of justice shaped political discourse and behaviour in the early and medieval caliphate (ca. 600-1500 CE).
Participants will present case studies discussing how just rule was defined and what actions and reactions it precipitated in specific historical, geographical and cultural contexts (local, regional and imperial). How was just rule or, conversely, the abuse of political power understood and defined? What solutions were at hand to redress unjust rule or to institute just rule? How was the call for just rule theorised, and what values (scriptural, moral, customary) were invoked? What concrete actions followed from them? Case studies may discuss single instances initiated by individuals (petitions, speeches, literary works) or groups (utopian settlements, revolts) or long-term initiatives (organised, large-scale, revolutionary movements, institutions and structures to implement just rule). Discussion is not limited to Muslim debates and initiatives but can include any group or individual in the Islamicate world.
The following themes are expected to occur as conference panels and applicants are invited to indicate if one of these fits their topic especially well. Papers that do not fall clearly under one of these themes will still be considered as additional panels might be introduced based on submissions.
I Expectations of justice as revolutionary action
When do ideas about just rule coalesce into political movements aiming to reconfigure society, including the composition of its political leadership? How are ideas about a just ruler connected to conceptions of a just society more broadly? And how is this realised through actions aimed at societal change? In other words should society change towards a just society, leading to just rule, or rely upon a just ruler to lead and build a just society? Can a society become just without a (just) ruler?
II Getting rid of unjust rulers
The idea that justice will prevail when an unjust ruler is removed from power raises interesting questions. When is it permitted to remove a ruler by force or even kill him/her? How is a ruler “made” or presented as unjust in order to allow his/her removal? What characteristics should the just ruler have in order to implement just rule and thereby create a just society? Is it enough to remove the unjust ruler or does an alternative ruler need to be installed?
III Calling on rulers to be just
Courtiers, competitors for power, but also humble citizens can step forward to show rulers exemplary behaviour by telling stories, relaying anecdotes or writing treatises, such as mirrors for princes. Sometimes this is done at the instigation of the ruler, as an invitation to offer some slight suggestions for improvement. Whether brought forward from within the governing circle or from outside, criticism can, in fact, become fiercer through the use of satire.
IV Transparency and anti-corruption
Rule is embodied in more than the ruler alone. When the system that underpins political rule and governance is perceived to be unjust, how should it be repaired? When is unjust rule in fact considered to inhere in the system rather than in the ruler at the top, and why does this happen? Who is responsible and capable for cleaning up or checking on the system to keep it just? How are officials and civil servants who serve political rule kept just? And what constitutes justice in the ruling apparatus for those involved in it and those ruled by it, i.e. by the officials themselves and by the subjects governed by it?
V Alternative systems of justice
When the political order does not offer the kind of just treatment that is expected, can people turn to alternative channels such as mediation, petitioning, patronage? How are such alternative justice offerings created and maintained? Do they exist in competition with the state or in co-operation with it? How is justice guaranteed and upheld in these alternative structures?
The papers are to be published in a collected volume.