Baber Johansen

Professor Baber JohansenBaber Johansen

Professor of Islamic Religious Studies, Harvard Divinity School

PhD, Habilitation in Islamic Studies, Freie Universität Berlin


Baber Johansen has been Professor of Islamic Religious Studies at Harvard Divinity School since 2005. He was directeur d'études at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Centre d'étude des normes juridiques), Paris (1995-2005), and Professor for Islamic Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin (1972-1995).

From 2006 to June 2010, in addition to his professorship at Harvard Divinity School, he was Affiliated Professor at Harvard Law School and acting director of its Islamic Legal Studies Program. He served as director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies from July 2010 through June 2013.

His research and teaching focus on the relationship between religion and law in the classical and the modern Muslim world. He is particularly interested in the role that religious and legal systems assign to the practices of laypeople as factors that exert an influence on the interpretation of sacred norms.

His book Muhammad Husain Haikal - Europa und der Orient im Weltbild eines ägyptischen Liberalen (1967) examines twentieth-century liberal interpretations of Islam; Islam und Staat (1982) looks at modern Muslim debates on state models; and Islamic Law on Land Tax and Rent (1988) considers long-term changes in classical and postclassical legal doctrine. Contingency in a Sacred Law: Legal and Ethical Norms in the Muslim Fiqh (1999) introduces the relation between law and theology in Islam and Western efforts to analyze both forms of knowledge.

Baber Johansen was twice elected a member of the School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and has been a visiting professor at the Watson Institute (Providence), Harvard University, and Ca' Foscari (Venice). He is one of the three executive editors of Islamic Law and Society, and has served as area editor for Islamic Law in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Legal History (2009) and as adviser for the Encyclopedia of Law and Society (Sage, 2009). He serves on the editorial boards of a number of French and Lebanese periodicals, and has published about 60 articles in international journals.

Research Interests

  • Law and Religion in Classical and Modern Muslim World
  • Long-Term Changes in Islamic Classical and Postclassical Legal Doctrine
  • Modern Muslim Debates on State Models
  • The Status of Islamic Law in Modern Arab Legislation and Jurisprudence
  • Twentieth-Century Liberal Interpretations of Islam

Representative Publications

Linked titles are available for download as PDFs.


Contingency in a Sacred Law: Legal and Ethical Norms in the Muslim Fiqh. Leiden: Brill (Studies in Islamic Law and Society, 7), 1999, 521 p.

The Islamic Law on Land Tax and Rent. The Peasants’ Loss of Property Rights as Interpreted in the Hanafite Legal Literature of the Mamluk and Ottoman Periods. London-New-York-Sydney: Croom Helm (Exeter Arabic and Islamic Series), 1988, 143 p.

Islam und Staat. Abhängige Entwicklung, Verwaltung des Elends und religiöser Antiimperialismus, [Argument Studienhefte SH 54], 1982, 55 p.

Muhammad Husain Haikal. Europa und der Orient im Weltbild eines ägyptischen Liberalen, [Beirut, Orient-Institut der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft] 1967, 259 p.

Edited Books

Devin J. Stewart, B. Johansen and Amy Singer, Law and Society in Islam, [Markus Wiener Publishers; also printed in Princeton Papers in Near Eastern Studies, vol. 4] 1996, 152 p.

Axel Havemann and Johansen., editors: Gegenwart als Geschichte. Islamwissenschaftliche Studien. Fritz Steppat zum fünfund-sechzigsten Geburtstag, [Leiden: Brill; also printed in Die Welt des Islams, vol. XXVIII], 1988, 639 p.

Articles in a Periodical
(a selection)

"Le contrat salam. Droit et formation du capital dans l’Empire abbasside (XIe et XIIe siècle)", Annales HSS, 61e année, n° 4, juillet-août 2006, pp. 863-899.

"The relationship between the constitution, the sharîa and the fiqh in the adjudication of Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court", Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht, vol. 64, n° 4 (2004), pp. 881-896.

"Apostasy as objective and depersonalized fact: two recent Egyptian court judgments", Social Research ("Islam: the Public and Private Spheres"), vol. 70, no. 3 (2003), pp. 687-710.

"Vom Wort- zum Indizienbeweis: die Anerkennung der richterlichen Folter in islamischen Rechtsdoktrinen des 13. und 14. Jahrhunderts", Ius commune, no. 28 (2001), pp. 1-46.

"The valorization of the human body in Muslim Sunni law", Princeton papers in Near Eastern Studies, vol. 4 (1996), pp. 71-112.

Shorter Works in Collection

"A Perfect Law in an Imperfect Society. Ibn Taymiyya’s Concept of “Governance in the Name of the Sacred Law’”, in P. Bearman, W. Heinrichs, and B. G. Weiss (eds.), The Law Applied: Contextualizing the Islamic Shari'a, London: I.B. Tauris, 2008, pp. 259-294.

"Can the law decide that Egypt is conquered by force? A thirteenth-century debate on history as an object of law", in A. Christmann and R. Gleave (eds.), Studies in Islamic Law. A Festschrift for Colin Imber, Oxford: OUP, 2007, pp. 143-163.

"La mise en scène du vol par les juristes musulmans" in Maria Pia Di Bella (sous la direction de), Vols et sanctions en Méditerranée, Amsterdam: Editions des Archives Contemporaines ("Ordres sociaux"), 1998, pp. 41-74.

"Wahrheit und Geltungsanspruch: zur Begründung und Begrenzung der Autorität des Qadi-Urteils im islamischen Recht", in La giustizia nell'Alto Medioevo (secoli IX-XI), Spoleto: Centro Italiano di Studi sull'Alto Medioevo, 1997, pp. 975-1074.

"Legal literature and the problem of change: The case of the land rent", in Chibli Mallat (ed.): Islam and Public Law. Classical and Contemporary Studies, London: Graham and Trotman, 1993, pp. 29-47.

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