The three papers touch on three related themes of early modern Ottoman law: sovereignty, uniformity, and practicability. These issues are common components of the perennial issue that any legal system faces of bridging the gap between law on the books and law on the ground. More specifically, all past and present states with a centrally run legal systems have had to do three things: establish the juridical authority of the ruler to make rules, form institutions that execute those rules consistently and predictably, and manage things that go wrong when those rules come into contact with the real world. This was perhaps even more true of early modern imperial legal systems, like the Ottoman one, that aspired to govern a diverse population without imposing on them a national conception of citizenship and a unitary system of law. These two regimes took root everywhere in the nineteenth century with the rise of nationalism. This session leaves them aside and asks, How did the Ottoman legal system work before them?
While none of the papers is focused on either all theory or all practice, the panel is structure to slide from a relatively more theoretical focus to a relatively more practical one. The first paper looks at attempts to link sultanic legislation with established jurisprudence concerning pious endowments in order to juridically establish the sovereign authority of the sultan over land regulation. The second paper then examines at a treatise by the Ottoman chief jurist that attempts to standardize the drafting of legal instruments and creating a more uniform legal procedure. The third and final paper looks at marriages between European Christians and Ottoman Muslims and unpacks some of the practical challenges of administering family law between members of different cultural and confessional communities.