Shaping the possibilities of political belonging

Shaping the possibilities of political belonging

Scholar describes how legal practices, institutions shaped nationality, citizenship, belonging for Jewish communities in nineteenth-century Mediterranean

In a recent installment of the Averroës Lecture Series, which highlight the history of Jewish communities in the Islamic world, Jessica Marglin discussed legal practices and institutions which shaped the possibilities of political belonging in the nineteenth-century Mediterranean. After nearly a year-long hiatus due to COVID-19 precautions and the ensuing turbulence of 2020, the faculty and staff of the Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES) were excited to put the series back in action. The series itself is the result of a generous anonymous donation intended to promote public engagement with the scholarship of Jewish life in the Islamic and Islamicate worlds. Over the past few years, some of the most prominent historians of Jewish, Middle Eastern, and global history have been presenters in the series. Dr. Marglin has maintained the prestige of the series with a well-received lecture on the Tunisian Jewish experience that contributed to the CNES’s efforts to demonstrate the cultural contributions and experiences of the multi-confessional and diverse communities of the Middle East and North Africa.

Dr. Marglin, an associate professor of Religion and the Ruth Ziegler Early Career Chair in Jewish Studies at the University of Southern California, focuses on legal conventions and legal practice in North Africa. She has received numerous awards for her 2016 book Across Legal Lines: Jews and Muslims in Modern Morocco (Yale University Press 2016) including the Salo Wittmayer Baron Book Prize, a National Jewish Book Award, and the Norris and Carol Hundley Award. She has also published in a number of major academic journals such as the International Journal of Middle East Studies, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Jewish Social Studies, the Jewish Quarterly Review, and the British Journal of Middle East Studies. Her career has been brilliant and accomplished so far and only continues to follow the same trajectory with her more recent research on Tunisia.

Whereas, in earlier works Dr. Marglin has demonstrated the legal mechanisms used by Jews to integrate into the broader cultural fabric of Muslim North Africa, her new project on the estate of Nissim Shamama integrates analysis of trans-Mediterranean legal assumptions and the political implications that debates over various legal traditions produced. The book that she is writing on this topic deals with Islamic and Tunisian law as well as regional Jewish law and Italian legal theory and practice. Not only does this research reflect her expertise therefore in the specificity of the regional Jewish experience but it also demonstrates her vast legal knowledge and her unique intellectual ability to maneuver between legal practices specific to Europe, North Africa, and Judaism. Her work, in this manner, is part of the scholarly lineage in recent years that highlights the importance of legal pluralism for understanding issues of nationality, citizenship, and belonging — all of which were in flux during the nineteenth century.

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Published: Thursday, February 18, 2021