Tag Archives: Religious Law

Kondo, “Islamic Law and Society in Iran”

In January, Routledge will release “Islamic Law and Society in Iran: A Social History of Tehran” by Nobuaki Kondo (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies). The publisher’s description follows:

This book explores the legal aspects of urban society in nineteenth-century Iran. It provides the social context in which political process occurred and examines how authorities applied law in society, how people utilized the law, and how the law regulated society. The legal system was primarily derived from Islamic la

In his thorough analysis, the author focuses on two themes: the shari‘a court and vaqf (endowments). The shari‘a court was the location, where law was applied, and the author shows that the majority of courts in the country did not engage in disputes, lawsuits, and litigation, but were instead involved primarily in popular transactions such as sales, loans, leases, gifts, and other commercial contracts. This is one of the main reasons that led to the development of close ties between religious clerics as legal professionals, on the one hand, and, on the other, merchants, traders, and shopkeepers in Iranian society during this time period. The second topic, the law of vaqf, is considered to be the strongest among the contracts of Islamic law and an essential part in the development of an Islamic city. Vaqf deeds constituted one of the most common and important types of transactions dealt with by any shari’a court in Iran. Using the alterations that occurred in the legal terms of very important vaqf deeds as an example, the author argues that this traditional legal system was itself not static but had the potential for change and modification.

The relationship between Islamic law and society is still an important issue in Iran under the Islamic Republic. Despite all the debates that began from the middle of the nineteenth century and which promoted legal reform, little was changed substantively in the area of the day-to-day practice of law in Iranian courts until the present day. This book provides an understanding of this legal system and its role in society, and offers a basis for assessing the motives and results of modern reforms as well as the modernist discourse.

“Jewish Law Annual Volume 21” (Lifshitz ed.)

In December, Routledge will release “Jewish Law Annual Volume 21” edited by Berachyahu Lifshitz (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem). The publisher’s description follows:

Volume 21 of The Jewish Law Annual adds to the growing list of articles on
Jewish law that have been published in volumes 1- 20 of this series, providing English-speaking readers with scholarly articles presenting jurisprudential, historical, textual and comparative analysis of issues in Jewish law.

Shavit, “Shari’a and Muslim Minorities”

This month, Oxford University Press will release “Shari’a and Muslim Minorities: The Wasati and Salafi Approaches to Fiqh al-Aqalliyyat al-Muslima” by Uriya Shavit (Tel Aviv University). The publisher’s description follows:

Based on a comparative analysis of several hundred religio-juristic treatises and fatwas (religious decisions), Shari’a and Muslim Minorities: The Wasati and Salafi Approaches to Fiqh al-Aqalliyyat al-Muslima offers the most systematic and comprehensive study to date of fiqh al aqalliyyat al-Muslima – the field in Islamic jurisprudence that treats issues that are unique to Muslims living in majority non-Muslim societies. The book argues that two main contesting approaches to fiqh al-aqalliyyat al-Muslima, the wasati and the salafi, have developed, in part dialectically. While both envision a future Islamizing of the West as a main justification for Muslim residence in the West, the wasati approach is pragmatic, facilitating, and integration-minded, whereas the salafi calls for strict application of religious norms and for introversion.

The volume examines diverse and highly-debated juristic issues, including the permissibility of naturalizing in non-Muslim states, participating in their electoral systems and serving in their militaries and police forces; the permissibility of taking mortgages and student loans; the permissibility of congratulating Christians on Christmas or receiving Christmas bonuses; and the permissibility of working in professions that involve breaching of religio-legal prohibitions (e.g. serving pork). Discussions highlight the diversity within contemporary Islamic jurisprudence and introduce new nuances to highly-charged concepts such as proselytizing, integration, and multiculturalism.

“Women’s Rights and Religious Law: Domestic and International Perspectives” (Banda & Joffe, eds.)

In January, Routledge will release “Women’s Rights and Religious Law: Domestic and International Perspectives” edited by Fareda Banda (SOAS, UK) and Lisa Fishbayn Joffe (Hadassah-Brandeis Institute of Brandeis University). The publisher’s description follows:

The three Abrahamic faiths have dominated religious conversations for millennia but the relations between state and religion are in a constant state of flux. This relationship may be configured in a number of ways. Religious norms may be enforced by the state as part of a regime of personal law or, conversely, religious norms may be formally relegated to the private sphere but can be brought into the legal realm through the private acts of individuals. Enhanced recognition of religious tribunals or religious doctrines by civil courts may create a hybrid of these two models.

One of the major issues in the reconciliation of changing civic ideals with religious tenets is gender equality, and this is an ongoing challenge in both domestic and international affairs. Examining this conflict within the context of a range of issues including marriage and divorce, violence against women and children, and women’s political participation, this collection brings together a discussion of the Abrahamic religions to examine the role of religion in the struggle for women’s equality around the world. The book encompasses both theory and practical examples of how law can be used to negotiate between claims for gender equality and the right to religion. It engages with international and regional human rights norms and also national considerations within countries.

Ahmed, “Religious Freedom under the Personal Law System”

In December, Oxford University Press will release “Religious Freedom Under the Personal Law System” by Farrah Ahmed (Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne). The publisher’s description follows:

The personal law system is hugely controversial and the subject of fierce debates. This book addresses a vital issue that has received inadequate attention in these debates: the impact of the personal law system on religious freedom. Drawing on scholarship on the legal reform of the personal law system, as well as philosophical literature on multiculturalism, autonomy, and religious freedom, this book persuasively argues that the personal law system harms religious freedom. Several reform proposals are considered, including modifications of the personal law system, a move towards a millet system, internal reform of individual personal laws, the introduction of a Uniform Civil Code, and a move towards religious alternative dispute resolution.

This book will be of significant interest to students and scholars of law, politics, and gender studies, as well as lawyers and policymakers across jurisdictions interested in multiculturalism, particularly contemporary debates on the legal accommodation of religious and cultural norms.


Ahdash, “Copyright in Islamic Law”

In October, The Islamic Texts Society released “Copyright in Islamic Law” by Mohamed Ahdash (Muslim College, London). The publisher’s description follows:

Copyright in Islamic Law is the first work in English to systematically address the ideas of intellectual property and copyright from an Islamic perspective. The author builds a framework from within Shari’a law to address the concepts of intellectual property and copyright. In so doing, he adopts the classical usul al-fiqh approach by firstly defining the key terms associated with the field, namely: right (haq), ownership (milkiyya), wealth (mal), and utility (manfa’a). Dr Ahdash then analyses how these terms are used in the Qur’an and in the Hadith before looking at how the secondary sources of qiyas (analogy), maslaha (public interest), ‘urf (custom) and al-qawa’id al-fiqhiyya (legal maxims) can be applied to copyright. The result of this study is a framework wherein the concept of copyright is defined and understood in an Islamic manner. This then gives a consistent approach from which specific rulings can be derived. Copyright in Islamic Law is a ground-breaking study not only within Shari’a law, but also by making a contribution to the on-going debates on copyright in general.

The Unwritten Laws of Greece

The Spectacle of Death

Ancient Greek cities were frequently at war with each other, and death took its toll. Male citizens must often have been battle-hardened veterans, accustomed to the spectacle of battlefield carnage. Families and near relatives, who took part in washing the corpses and readying them for burial, must also have become sickeningly familiar with the look of violent death. The Greek preoccupation with the honorable interment of the combat-dead may have stemmed from a desire to hold the horror of such spectacles at a certain remove.  It must surely have been hard to forget such sights as those that the First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon described in his Counter-Attack:

           The place was rotten with dead; green clumsy legs

          High-booted, sprawled and groveled along the saps

          And trunks, face downward, in the sucking mud,

          Wallowed like trodden sand-bags loosely filled;

          And naked sodden buttocks, mats of hair,

          Bulged, clotted heads slept in the plastering slime.

          And then the rain began, — the jolly old rain!

The Fifth Century: Sophocles

By the fifth century, the Greeks had come to conclude that an enemy’s battle-dead were entitled to respect and should not be mistreated. In Miasma (1983), an important work on Greek religion, the Oxford classicist Robert Parker summarized the outcome that had been reached by the fifth century:

The individual’s right to receive burial was, of course, supported by powerful social and supernatural sanctions. The ‘common law of the Greeks’ agreed with the ‘unwritten, unshakeable laws of the gods’ in insisting that even the body of an enemy should be given up after battle for burial.

The “Antigone”

The “unwritten, unshakeable laws of the gods” to which Parker alludes are those expounded in the great speech of Antigone, in the play of that name by the fifth century Athenian tragic poet Sophocles. (Sophocles’ Antigone is fashioned from the same body of mythic material as Euripides’ Suppliants.) Antigone, daughter of King Oedipus of Thebes and sister of his son Prince Polynices, wishes to bury her brother’s remains after he has died at the hands of their brother Eteocles, whom Polynices has himself killed in their battle at one of the seven gates of Thebes. While Creon, Eteocles’ successor as King of Thebes, gives honors to Eteocles’ remains, he refuses to allow Polynices to be buried. Antigone defies Creon’s orders and attempts to bury Polynices. Challenged by Creon as to whether she had disobeyed him, she replies:

          Of course I did. It wasn’t Zeus, not in the least,

          Who made this proclamation—not to me.

          Nor did that Justice, dwelling with the gods

          Beneath the earth, ordain such laws for men.

          Nor did I think your edict had such force

          That you, a mere mortal, could override the gods,

          The great, unwritten, unshakable traditions.

          They are alive, not just today or yesterday:

          They live forever, from the first of time,

          And no one knows when they first saw the light.

Antigone, ll. 499-508 (Robert Fagles trans.).

Bear in mind that Polynices was not merely a fallen enemy warrior but also (in Creon’s view) a rebel, a regicide and a fratricide, a leader in an invading foreign army and a pretender to the crown of Thebes. Refusing him burial might therefore arguably be seen as a permissible exception to the obligation to grant burial which, as Parker notes, was “never absolute,” and which allowed Greek cities to cast away the bodies of at least some criminals.  The city’s treatment of corpses, as Parker shows, was “one of the means by which men could hurt, humiliate, or honour one another, express contempt or respect;” hence, “the theme could be of central importance in great works of literature.”

In the Antigone, as Hegel famously argued (Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, Pt. II, sec. 2, c. 1), Sophocles revealed the very essence of tragedy, which arises when “the ethical substance” is “divided against itself,” or in other words when there is an irreconcilable collision between two valid and compelling norms: here, the right of the family to bury its dead as against the State’s prerogative to punish those who disloyally take up arms against it. Antigone argues: “Death longs for the same rites for all;” and Creon answers, “Never the same for the patriot and the traitor” (ll. 384-85).

As legal scholar Martha Nussbaum (following Hegel) has pointed out, both major protagonists in The Antigone have unduly narrow and unreflective moral views. Surely the claims of the city do not always count for more than those of the family; for what is a city but an association of families? On the other hand, is not Creon right to say that our country is our safety (l. 211)?  See The Costs of Tragedy: Some Moral Limits of Cost-Benefit Analysis (2000),

In the end, however, it is Antigone, not Creon, whose claim prevails in Sophocles’ drama: Creon’s treatment of Polynices’ brings pollution and plague to Thebes.   Nature itself rises up against the violation of the unwritten and unshakeable laws. The blind prophet Tiresias tells Creon that the birds of the sanctuary where he sits, which used to hover at his hands, began to scream madly and to rip each other apart with flashing talons. The fires over which the sacrifices were offered would not light; the birds, gorged with blood and fat, drop scraps of Polynices’ body on the altar. Prophecy becomes impossible; the city’s link to the gods is entirely severed. And the fault, Tiresias tells him, is Creon’s:

And it is you—

Your high resolve that sets this plague on Thebes.

The public altars and sacred hearths are fouled,

One and all, by the birds and dogs with carrion

Torn from the corpse, the doomstruck son of Oedipus!

And so the gods are deaf to our prayers, they spurn

The offerings in our hands, the flame of holy flesh.

No birds cry out an omen clear and true-

They’re gorged with the murdered victim’s blood and fat.

Take these things to heart, my son, I warn you. . .

Where’s the glory, killing the dead twice over?

Antigone ll. 1123-40.

Readers of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers may recall the last march of the Ents, an ancient race of tall, human-like trees, against the fortress of Saruman at Isengard, which they destroy. There too, nature itself rises up against the unholy forces that would violate it.

Oedipus the King

Sophocles also addresses the subject of the “unwritten” and “unshakeable” laws of the gods in a Chorus in Oedipus the King. (Rémi Brague suggest that Sophocles is writing here in response to the Sophists who had attacked the divine origin of those laws. See The Law of God: The Philosophical History of an Idea (English trans. 2007 (2005)). Although the context here is that of Oedipus’ violations – parricide and incest – not that of burial, the lines reinforce the action and speeches of the Antigone:

Great laws tower above us, reared on high

          Born for the brilliant vault of heaven—

          Olympian Sky their only father,

          Nothing mortal, no man gave them birth,

          Their memory deathless, never lost in sleep:

          Within them lives a mighty god, the god does not grow old. . .

          God, my champion, I will never let you go.

 Oedipus the King, ll. 957-971 (Robert Fagles trans.).

 What were these laws, variously called “unwritten laws,” “common laws” or laws “of the gods”?  Edith Hall of King’s College, London, finds that they “constituted simultaneously an expression of the most fundamental and ancient taboos, and a didactic charter of ‘decent’ behavior which was invested at times with a sanctity far greater than the strict observance of ritual. . . [T]hese laws seem to have enshrined such integral taboos as the killing of guest or host, family member or suppliant, incest, and the failure to bury the dead.” See Inventing the Barbarian: Greek Self-Definition through Tragedy (1989).

In grasping that the norm forbidding the non-burial of the dead was, for the Greeks, of the same magnitude as the prohibition on incest, we can understand Euripides’ Suppliants more deeply. The cause that drove King Theseus and Athens to war against Thebes touched a matter of the utmost sensitivity for the Athenian audiences that watch Euripides’ drama.

Divine law or human law?

The questions whether the laws in question were divine (without beginning or end) or human (customary), and whether they applied universally or only to the Greeks, were debated in fifth and fourth century Athens. In the Rhetoric (though not elsewhere), Aristotle drew this distinction, and in a passage that refers to the Antigone, see Rhetoric 1373b, places on one side the law that is proper to a particular city (which may or may not be written) and the universal law, which is according to nature (“kata phusin”).

We see signs of both views in The Suppliants, and perhaps they had not yet been fully distinguished. (Indeed, they are arguably not distinguishable when fully thought through.)  King Theseus describes the norm about burial as “the law of all Hellas” (Philip Vellacott trans.)), but he also speaks of it as “this ancient, divine ordinance.” Aethra, Theseus’ mother, at first characterizes them as “the gods’ law,” but later calls them “the established laws/Of all Hellas.” Other Euripidean dramas also leave the question in some doubt. In The Hecuba (l. 1247 (E.P. Coleridge trans.)), the Greek King Agamemnon says to the Thracian Polymester, “Perhaps among you it is a light thing to murder guests, but with us in Hellas it is a disgrace,” implying that the norms surrounding guest-friendship are characteristic of (a higher) Greek civilization, but are not universal. The latter view – if indeed it is Euripides’ – would seem to resemble the post-Enlightenment non-foundationalism of the late Richard Rorty.

So much for the treatment of the warrior burial norm in Sophocles. In the next installment, we shall consider evidence of that norm in the historians Herodotus and Thucydides.

Dispatches from Kabul: On the Banks of the Kabul River


Former CLR Fellow Jessica Wright ’14 is currently working as an attorney in Kabul, Afghanistan. This post is part of a series of reflections on her experiences there.

A Public Murder

She was a 27-year-old student of Islamic law and a devout Afghan Muslim. After praying at the Shah-e Du Shamshira mosque at the center of Kabul, Farkhunda Malikzada confronted the caretaker about the practice of selling charms or tawiz, amulets containing Quranic verses and incantations. Like many other conservative Muslims, she believed they were superstitious and un-Islamic. As she admonished the caretaker and the confrontation escalated, he began shouting, “In the name of God, kill her! She has burned the Quran!” Within minutes, a mob of hundreds had assembled, and while the police stood idly by, Farkhunda was stoned, beaten, set on fire, and left to die on the banks of the Kabul River. Some of those present filmed the lynching on their mobile phones.

Violence is endemic in Afghanistan and modern political and legal institutions have faltered since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, but the brutal murder of Farkhunda – which took place just last March – was particularly shocking given the cultural understanding in Afghanistan that public violence toward women is taboo. Despite the outcry from within the country and abroad, a number of prominent Afghan officials and religious leaders immediately endorsed the murder, highlighting Afghanistan’s complicated relationship with Islam and shattering the cautious hopes of reformers, particularly women’s rights advocates. The official spokesman for the Kabul police characterized Farkhunda’s protestations as a publicity stunt with the aim of attaining U.S. or European citizenship, and during his Friday prayer sermon, Ayaz Niazi, the prominent imam of the Wazir Akbar Khan Mosque, said, “If someone disrespects the Quran, you cannot expect people to control their emotions and wait for judges to decide the punishment.” Mullah Hassam of the Bagh-e Bala mosque argued that mahkama—e sahrayi or arbitrary execution is the appropriate punishment for insulting Islam. Soon thereafter, an investigation by the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs found no evidence that Farkhunda had burned the Quran, and concluded that she had been slandered.

I first read about Farkhunda while weighing the pros and cons of moving to Kabul to practice law. I knew about Afghanistan’s abysmal human rights record, and had read up on the fragile legal protections for women and girls, as well as the “moral crimes” they are often prosecuted for and the oppressive customary rules they are subject to. Nevertheless, I was stunned by the savagery of Farkhunda’s murder. Afghanistan has “entered a new period of instability in 2014” the reports read, but Taliban-style murders were, I thought, a thing of the past.

Several friends and colleagues asked if I would be defending victims of human rights abuses, particularly women, and strongly advised against it. I assured them that I would be working in the commercial sector, focusing on corporate law and taxation, and would remain far outside the controversial limelight. Free enterprise is the surest path to prosperity and human rights, I would tell them. And surely it is. But even though I am not an Afghan woman, and life in Kabul is comparatively easy for me, Farkhunda’s story affected me deeply and became a catalyst for deeper study into a troubled country.

Afghan Law

Afghanistan’s legal system has been shaped by the country’s multiethnic population and chaotic history, as well as its distinctive culture. Under the veneer of monotheism, it is actually a country of competing belief structures. Afghanistan is overwhelmingly Muslim, but it is also clan-based, and as such its two primary sources of law have long been customary tribal law and Islamic law. The current formal legal system – designed in Bonn after Allied forces and the Northern Alliance gained control of the country in 2001 – aims to blend both traditions within a constitutional order defined by civil codes and formal courts. The Constitution designates Islam as the religion of the state and stipulates that no law shall contravene its tenets and provisions. It also suggests that Hanafi jurisprudence – one of the four Sunni Muslim schools – should be used as a kind of gap filler, consulted when there is no provision in the Constitution or others laws regarding a particular issue. And while Islam has been used as a source of authority to unite Afghanistan’s disparate clans under the auspices of the government since the late eighteenth century to the present, legal authority has never been fully consolidated in the hands of the state. This is due in part to ongoing conflict, lack of infrastructure, and an overarching lack of legitimacy, but also because of the prevalence and perceived authority of informal or customary law.

Within the informal system in Afghanistan, the ulama or religious leaders adjudicate disputes by employing common cultural and ethical standards that are assumed to conform to Islamic law. Most of these tribal leaders, who meet in shuras or jirgas – the main institutions that operate as mechanisms of dispute settlement – are untrained in the classical Islamic law tradition. In Pashtunwali, an unwritten ethical code with its own particular set of customs or urf, individual identity is inextricably linked to membership within a particular tribe, and the concept of nang or honor is paramount. Certain actions help to build one’s honor within the tribe while others negate honor and bring about shame. Namus or the practice of observing gender boundaries, for example, is routinely extolled as a virtue. Women abide by purdah or seclusion to maintain these boundaries since it is believed that a woman who is almost invisible to others cannot shame herself. These norms and others like them are not codified; urf assumes space within Islamic law. As such, the formal and informal legal systems operate in parallel with significant tensions between them.

During my first month in Kabul I met Kimberley Motley, the spirited American defense attorney who represented Farkhunda’s family at the initial trial. Motley is, in her words, on a “quest for justness,” which means using existing laws for their intended purpose: to protect. She keeps records of all legal proceedings, and insists that court officers, judges, and parties to the dispute sign off on them. Since the principle of stare decisis does not apply in the Afghan legal system, and judicial interpretation cannot be relied upon to clarify interpretive voids, Motley often relies on this self-made precedential system to argue her cases.

Forty-nine suspects were tried in the Farkhunda case at a trial noted for its unusual brevity. Motley wrote a petition for the family, in which she cited the Afghan Penal Code, the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law, the Afghan Constitution, the Quran, a body of tribal law, and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. She requested civil compensatory damages for the family and criminal punishment to the extent of the law for the perpetrators. Motley also demanded punishment for those who stood by and watched the murder. “To take good care of and protect women is one of the principles of Islam,” she wrote. “To allow society to ignore this obligation promotes anarchy and discord, and perpetuates further violence.”

In the end, four of the perpetrators were given death sentences and eight were sentenced to 16 years in prison for murder, assault, and encouraging violence. Nineteen more were sentenced to one year in prison for failure to protect, and 18 were acquitted. “The trial was about Farkhunda and her family,” said Motley. “But to some extent, this ordeal has also put the Afghan legal system on trial.” Critics contend that the rapid convictions were a result of public pressure, and came at the cost of serious failings in the judicial process. Motley, too, acknowledged that there were monumental flaws, but also noted that it was the most well run trial she has ever seen in Afghanistan. She added, “I hope the judges, police, and the wider community in Afghanistan have learned from this case and better understand that the laws exist to protect not oppress women.” Unfortunately, this seems not to be the case. Two months later, during a secret and unlawful hearing, the Appellate Court overturned the death sentences. Motley hopes the case will now be brought before the Supreme Court.

The Aftermath

In the aftermath of Farkhunda’s murder, the largest women’s protest in the Afghanistan’s history took place. Women poured onto the streets of Kabul to demand justice and an end to gender-based violence. Many decried the notion that “men are fundamental and women are secondary,” as declared by the Afghan Ulama Council in 2012, saying that such a concept exists in neither classical nor contemporary Islamic jurisprudence. One women’s rights activist said, “The men who killed and attacked Farkhunda were mostly those who have lived in Kabul and have grown up as boys in Hamid Karzai’s government. . . they learned how to wear jeans and look modern but their mentality towards women hasn’t changed.” This attitude, split between a yearning for modernity and fidelity to tribal custom and regressive norms, applies most visibly to issues affecting women.

The dissonance between customary practice, Islamic law, and the state legal code makes it difficult to use existing laws to effectively protect the rights of individuals or to hold accountable those who have violated the rules, norms, and customs of the existing constitutional order. Preventing tragedies like the murder of Farkhunda in the future depends, at least in part, on building and sustaining a robust legal system in Afghanistan. And because that legal system will develop within the strictures of Islam – a religion focused on jurisprudence – many believe change must begin with the ulama.

Photos via Wikimapia and The Guardian

Izbicki, “The Eucharist in Medieval Canon Law”

This month, Cambridge University Press releases “The Eucharist in Medieval Canon Law” by Thomas Izbicki (Rutgers University). The publisher’s description follows:

Thomas Izbicki presents a new examination of the relationship between the adoration of the sacrament and canon law from the twelfth to fifteenth centuries. The medieval Church believed Christ’s glorified body was present in the Eucharist, the most central of the seven sacraments, and the Real Presence became explained as transubstantiation by university-trained theologians. Expressions of this belief included the drama of the elevated host and chalice, as well as processions with a host in an elaborate monstrance on the Feast of Corpus Christi. These affirmations of doctrine were governed by canon law, promulgated by popes and councils; and liturgical regulations were enforced by popes, bishops, archdeacons and inquisitors. Drawing on canon law collections and commentaries, synodal enactments, legal manuals and books about ecclesiastical offices, Izbicki presents the first systematic analysis of the Church’s teaching about the regulation of the practice of the Eucharist.

Schaposchnik, “The Lima Inquisition”

In October, the University of Wisconsin Press will release “The Lima Inquisition:
The Plight of Crypto-Jews in Seventeenth-Century Peru,” by Ana E. Schaposchnik (DePaul University).  The publisher’s description follows: 

The Holy Office of the Inquisition (a royal tribunal that addressed issues of heresy and offenses to morality) was established in Peru in 1570 and operated there until 1820. In this book, Ana E. Schaposchnik provides a deeply researched history of the Inquisition’s Lima Tribunal, focusing in particular on the cases of persons put under trial for crypto-Judaism in Lima during the 1600s.

Delving deeply into the records of the Lima Tribunal, Schaposchnik brings to light the experiences and perspectives of the prisoners in the cells and torture chambers, as well as the regulations and institutional procedures of the inquisitors. She looks closely at how the lives of the accused—and in some cases the circumstances of their deaths—were shaped by actions of the Inquisition on both sides of the Atlantic. She explores the prisoners’ lives before and after their incarcerations and reveals the variety and character of prisoners’ religiosity, as portrayed in the Inquisition’s own sources. She also uncovers individual and collective strategies of the prisoners and their supporters to stall trials, confuse tribunal members, and attempt to ameliorate or at least delay the most extreme effects of the trial of faith.

The Lima Inquisition also includes a detailed analysis of the 1639 Auto General de Fe ceremony of public penance and execution, tracing the agendas of individual inquisitors, the transition that occurred when punishment and surveillance were brought out of hidden dungeons and into public spaces, and the exposure of the condemned and their plight to an avid and awestricken audience. Schaposchnik contends that the Lima Tribunal’s goal, more than volume or frequency in punishing heretics, was to discipline and shape culture in Peru.