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May 12 Colloquium: Professor Timur Kuran

Visiting Professor at Stanford University, Timur Kuran, will discuss a self-contained chapter from his book in progress.

Chapter 10 titled The Logic of the Ottoman Capitulations is from a manuscript in progress:

Islam and Economic Underdevelopment
Legal roots of Organizational Stagnation in the Middle East
Timur Kuran / May 2005

The chapter deals with how institutional dynamics and divergence are reflected and supported in commercial treaties negotiated between the Ottoman Empire and European powers over time. 


From the rise of Islam, Islamic adjudication had always relied on oral testimony. Though documents could be presented as evidence, they were viewed with suspicion, partly because of the possibility of forgery, but also because written texts could be misread to illiterate litigants. The uncommonness of literacy doubtless fed this suspicion, and it became the norm to consider a document valid only if attested by morally upright witnesses. This norm meant, of course, that a litigant or witness could invalidate a document merely by casting doubt on the authenticity of a seal signature.  Under the circumstances, written contracts always furnished the names and attestations of multiple witnesses, to ensure the availability of corroborating oral testimony in case of litigation.  This produced a huge demand for professional witnesses (shuhãd), who could be found at every court, where they exercised the function of a modern notary. The witnesses accredited to a court observed not only the drawing of private contracts but also the recording of the kadi’s judgments.  No written instrument, not even the archives of a kadi court, carried legal value without corroboration of at least two witnesses of good character.


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