Brinkley Messick

Brinkley Messick

Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies



Professor of Anthropology
Director, Middle East Institute
Faculty profile


Brinkley Messick is Professor of Anthropology and of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies at Columbia University. He was the Chair of the Department of Anthropology from 2004-2011; was a founding co-Director of the Center for Palestine Studies (2010-15); and currently is the Director of the Middle East Institute. In 2009, he received the Outstanding Senior Scholar Award from the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association. 

He has conducted research in Yemen and Morocco supported by the Social Science Research Council, Fulbright and the Guggenheim Foundation, and he teaches courses on the anthropology of law, the analysis of written culture, and the theory and practice of Islamic law. He is the author of The Calligraphic State (California, 1993), which won the Albert Hourani Award from the Middle East Studies Association, and has been translated into Turkish. He also is the co-editor of Islamic Legal Interpretation (Harvard, 1996), and his Sharīʿa Scripts: An Historical Anthropology is forthcoming from Columbia University Press. 


Shari'a Scripts: A Historical Anthropology (2018)

Islamic Legal Interpretation, co-editor (1996)

The Calligraphic State (1993)
Awarded the Albert Hourani Prize of the Middle Eastern Studies Association

Scholarly articles include:

“Islamic Texts: The Anthropologist as Reader,” in L. Buskens and A. van Sandwijk, eds., Islamic Studies in the Twenty-first Century (2016)

“Interpreting Tears: A Marriage Case from Imamic Yemen,” in Asifa Qureishi and Frank E. Vogel, eds., The Islamic Marriage Contract (2008)

“Evidence: From Memory to Archive,” Islamic Law & Society (2002)

"Indexing the Self: Expression and Intent in Islamic Legal Acts," 
Islamic Law & Society (2001)

“Written Identities: Legal Subjects in an Islamic State,”
History of Religions (1998)  

“Genealogies of Reading and the Scholarly Cultures of Islam,”
in S. Humphreys, ed., Cultures of Scholarship (1997)

“Textual Properties: Writing and Wealth in a Yemeni Shari a Case,” Anthropology Quarterly (1995)