A Colonial Legal Laboratory? Jurisprudential Innovation in British India

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In this Article, I examine jurisprudence textbooks and related works written in British India in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Some of the jurisprudential works from India were not merely summaries of the leading English books, but were different from English works in three senses. First, the gap between English theories and Indian legal realities led some authors to question key English notions about the nature and development of law. Second, some of the works produced in India were more influenced by Continental and American legal theories than the equivalent English textbooks. Sometimes this was due to the fact that the authors of these works had some Continental training, and sometimes the non-English influence reflected a wider anticolonial nationalist move away from English culture. Finally, the influence of nationalism also led some Indian legal scholars to create a unique genre of jurisprudential works: Texts that used Western jurisprudential theories to describe the main features of Hindu (and, to a lesser extent, also Islamic) law. These unique aspects of colonial jurisprudential works illustrate a broader phenomenon: the fact that legal scholars in imperial peripheries such as India were not always simply passive receivers of ideas produced at the center of empires, but in some cases created works containing interesting jurisprudential insights. The notion that India was a "legal laboratory"in which legal scholars experimented with new ideas has already been discussed in the literature, largely based on examples taken from the fields of legislation (the codification of English law in nineteenth-century India) or forensic science. This Article explores the extent to which India was also a site of jurisprudential innovation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-92
Number of pages49
JournalAmerican Journal of Comparative Law
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2021


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