Producing Sharia in Context

Sharia is produced anew as something that has always been. We investigate the normative and contextual factors that define and produce sharia, as it is practiced, ethizied, legitimized and rationalized by Muslims and non-Muslims expressly in the relational contexts of society and state.

Normative contextual factors are part of what defines and produces sharia. This might seem banal, but it is often overlooked in the study of sharia, Islam and Muslims in Europe.

This project draws on the fact that Muslims and non-Muslims are changing, adapting and reinterpreting the governing understandings of Islamic and Muslim law, ethics and practice.

Looking at negotiations of family law and practice, at guidance and counselling, at legal and political governance, we ask our main research questions. How and to what extent do contemporary and contextual non-Islamic normative drivers change sharia as a social, moral, legal, and political co-product of its contexts? And, what impact does this have on the dominant understandings of sharia in society, amongst decision makers and scholars as well as Muslims?


This project challenges the unsatisfactory state of research on sharia in Europe, which is found wanting in three ways. There is a demonstrated inability to explain sharia in its apparent complexity, a blind spot in understanding of the contextual power of societal drivers in defining sharia and a lack of empirical studies into the questions of sharia in society.

The complex of ideas known equivocally as sharia is marred with contradiction, confusion and contextual contingencies. Muslim struggles of understanding and defining sharia have so far focused on a content-based, constitutive definition rather than a context-based, operational definition.

Contemporary Muslims rationalize the overall purposes or meanings of revelations as a way of reasoning that seeks to establish Islamic legitimacy for new substantive moral, legal and political commitments in new socio-political conditions in 21st century Europe, and beyond.

From this starting point, the epistemology in legal thinking is turned upside down and reverses the hierarchy of normative sources and allows contextual values and norms to be induced by Muslims as well as external actors into the normative fabric of sharia. Thus, the inherent features of sharia are not divine, immutable and infallible as doctrine would have it, but are characterized as flexible, changeable and even accidental.

Rather than deduced from the revealed and transmitted sources as a systematic, rational and hermeneutical ongoing process, we investigate the operable drivers of sharia production as inductive corroboration and interpolations of Muslim communities’ contemporary life-world problems.



In answering the overall questions of how sharia is a coproduct of its contexts and how this changes existing understandings of sharia in society, the project is carefully planned to support a clear taxonomical trajectory across the four approaches to sharia in context.

In this project, social anthropology investigates Muslim practice, sociology of religion investigates Muslim ethics and analytical jurisprudence investigates Muslim legal thinking. Each are analytically distinct, but in understanding sharia, they are aspects of one-another and inseparable parts of a coherent whole.

From anthropology through sociology to law, the scope moves from the individual, to the Muslim community and to the macro perspective of society, ultimately assessed by its impact on both state governance and scholarship.

The project investigates the co-productions and understandings of what sharia is in four complimentary and mutually reinforcing empirical cases. Each of these approaches express the dialectics between articulation of sharia from within a Muslim position and the contextual co-productions of sharia at the individual, communal, societal and state and meta-scholarly levels.



Gender equality and the embodied production of sharia

Jesper Petersen

Jesper Petersen investigates Islamic divorce practices in Denmark with a focus on marital captivity. He hypothesizes that the field is structured as an Islamic juridical vacuum – an absence of actual Islamic legal institutions – in which a range of heterogeneous and locally anchored practices emerge. These practices may be expressed with Islamic semiotic resources, even if they are defined by the power dynamics in individual cases. The study is based on ethnographic fieldwork and a collection of Islamic legal documents.

Islamic psychology and counselling

Tessie Bundgaard Jørgensen

Jørgensen examines spiritual care including Islamic psychology and counselling as sharia produced in Scandinavian contexts. She focuses on the ethical considerations and methods used by Danish Muslims to articulate spiritual care while producing Sharia, furthermore, the relation between concepts, articulated as universal sharia, and contextual influences. She examines Sharia as ethical productions contextually formed and transformed through inductive methods by Muslims in Scandinavia. Moreover, she attempts to map the discursive practices that produces and develops the concept spiritual including Islamic psychology.

Legal negotiations of understanding sharia

Mikele Schultz-Knudsen

Mikele Schultz-Knudsen is a legal scholar who is researching how European legal systems interact with Islam and co-produce understandings of sharia. His research looks at how Muslims’ own interpretations and applications of the rules within Islam are influenced by the legal systems they are regulated by, as well as how actors in European legal systems, such as judges and legislators, understand Islam. He further looks at how these various understandings of Islam influence the creation and application of national law. 

Sharia and the public moral of the welfare state

Niels Valdemar Vinding

Historically as well as globally, the state has had the hegemonic moral power to re-make sharia for its governance purposes, while symbolically allocating it outside society, obscuring the highly subjective nature of sharia. Gathering input from the rest of the project, the asks across which sectors and levels of society and in relation to which state institutions do we find the productions of sharia?


Research partners

In Denmark, colleagues at University of Copenhagen and at VIVE The Danish Center for Social Science Research help unfold the research potential of the project: 

Senior researcher Anika Liversage, VIVE - the Danish Center for Social Science Research

Prof. Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, UCPH

Prof. Helle KrunkeCentre for European and Comparative Legal Studies, UCPH

Scientific advisory board

Internationally, the project will be scrutinized by a scientific advisory board, which consists of: 

Prof. Maurits Berger, University of Leiden, Netherlands 

Dir. and prof. Marie Claire Foblets, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, Germany

Dr. Samia Bano, School of Oriental and African Studies, SOAS, United Kingdom





Name Title Phone E-mail


Funded by the Independent Research Fund Denmark grant no 0163-00070B.

Project period: 2021 - 2024

Principal investigator: Niels Valdemar Vinding

Sapere Aude starting grant

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