Conference/CfP - Expectations of justice and political power in the Islamicate world, October 27-29, 2021, Leiden University

Leiden University


March 01, 2021


Expectations of justice and political power in the Islamicate world (ca. 600-1500 CE). Leiden University, October 27-29, 2021

In the Islamicate world, as elsewhere, requests for just rule surface constantly as notions of justice are debated and contested. An exemplary rule can be sought in direct and open ways, through entreaties and demands, but also subversively through irony, flattery, and satire. Expectations of justice can be pursued through reform or revolution, or via secession, utopianism, and millenarianism. This conference, organized in the framework of the ERC-funded Embedding Conquest: Naturalising Muslim rule in the Islamic empire (600-1000) project, examines how such expectations of justice shaped political discourse and behavior in the early and medieval caliphate (ca. 600-1500 CE).

Participants are asked to present a case study discussing how just rule was defined and what actions and reactions it precipitated in specific historical, geographical, and cultural contexts (local, regional and imperial). How was just rule or, conversely, the abuse of political power understood and defined? What solutions were at hand to redress unjust rule or to institute just rule? How was the call for just rule theorized, and what values (scriptural, moral, customary) were invoked? What concrete actions followed from them? Case studies may discuss single instances initiated by individuals (petitions, speeches, literary works) or groups (utopian settlements, revolts) or long-term initiatives (organized, large-scale, revolutionary movements, institutions, and structures to implement just rule). Discussion is not limited to Muslim debates and initiatives but can include any group or individual in the Islamicate world.

The following themes are expected to occur as conference panels and applicants are invited to indicate if one of these fits their topic especially well. Papers that do not fall clearly under one of these themes will still be considered as additional panels might be introduced based on submissions.

I Expectations of justice as revolutionary action

When do ideas about just rule coalesce into political movements aiming to reconfigure society, including the composition of its political leadership? How are ideas about a just ruler connected to conceptions of a just society more broadly? And how is this realized through actions aimed at societal change? In other words, should society change towards a just society, leading to just rule, or rely upon a just ruler to lead and build a just society? Can a society become just without a (just) ruler?

II Getting rid of unjust rulers

The idea that justice will prevail when an unjust ruler is removed from power raises interesting questions. When is it permitted to remove a ruler by force or even kill him/her? How is a ruler “made” or presented as unjust in order to allow his/her removal? What characteristics should the just ruler have in order to implement just rule and thereby create a just society? Is it enough to remove the unjust ruler or does an alternative ruler need to be installed?

III Calling on rulers to be just

Courtiers, competitors for power, but also humble citizens can step forward to show rulers exemplary behavior by telling stories, relaying anecdotes, or writing treatises, such as mirrors for princes. Sometimes this is done at the instigation of the ruler, as an invitation to offer some slight suggestions for improvement. Whether brought forward from within the governing circle or from outside, criticism can, in fact, become fiercer through the use of satire.

IV Transparency and anti-corruption

The rule is embodied in more than the ruler alone. When the system that underpins political rule and governance is perceived to be unjust, how should it be repaired? When is the unjust rule in fact considered to inhere in the system rather than in the ruler at the top, and why does this happen? Who is responsible and capable of cleaning up or checking on the system to keep it just? How are officials and civil servants who serve political rule kept just? And what constitutes justice in the ruling apparatus for those involved in it and those ruled by it, i.e. by the officials themselves and by the subjects governed by it?

V Alternative systems of justice

When the political order does not offer the kind of just treatment that is expected, can people turn to alternative channels such as mediation, petitioning, patronage? How are such alternative justice offerings created and maintained? Do they exist in competition with the state or in co-operation with it? How is justice guaranteed and upheld in these alternative structures?

We invite paper proposals of 250 words to be submitted by 1 March 2021.

We welcome submissions from leading and junior scholars, advanced graduate students, and independent researchers. The organizers are committed to gathering a diverse group of presenters and will do their best to give more visibility to the work of scholars from traditionally underrepresented groups in academia, including but not limited to junior scholars.

Please send your proposal to

The papers are to be published in a collected volume.

This opportunity has expired. It was originally published here:

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Publish Date
February 28, 2021