Erin Stiles, Ph.D.

Associate Professor
Erin Stiles


Erin Stiles' research focuses on the intersections of religion, law and gender and she conducts fieldwork in East Africa and in Utah. Stiles has done extensive ethnographic research on Islamic family law and dispute resolution in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Her work in Zanzibar has focused primarily on the way lay people and legal professionals understand, interpret and use Islamic legal ideas in marital disputes. She has done fieldwork both in and out of courts and is particularly interested in how Islamic judges, called kadhis and litigants reason using not only their understandings of Islamic law but also their views of real and ideal marital behavior, patterns of local authority and the role of Islamic courts in present-day Zanzibar; this work resulted in a 2009 book titled An Islamic Court in Context: An Ethnographic Study of Judicial Reasoning (Palgrave Macmillan). Stiles is particularly interested in comparative approaches to studying Islamic law and legal practice in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere and, with several collaborators, she completed a comparative, cross-cultural examination of a form of Islamic divorce known as khul'. Another project, again with several collaborators, focuses on Islam, governance and law in East Africa. In 2019, Stiles plans to return to working in East Africa with a project on Islamic inheritance law, gender and customary land rights in Zanzibar. In addition to her work on Islam and law, Stiles is also conducting research in northern Utah on Mormon conceptions of and experiences with the spirit world. Her graduate students have worked/are working on the following topics: health citizenship in South Africa, Sufism and Muslim youth in Senegal, health and belonging at a syringe services program in Reno, Shinto practice in the Pacific Northwest, ideas of modernity among self-described LDS "fundamentalists" in Utah and contemporary American witchcraft.

Research interests

  • Anthropology of religion
  • Anthropology of law
  • Islamic studies
  • Islamic law and courts
  • Legal pluralism
  • Religion and gender
  • Marriage and divorce
  • Religious practice
  • Swahili
  • East Africa (Zanzibar, Tanzania, Ethiopia)
  • Indian Ocean
  • Morality
  • Mormonism and religions in the western United States

Courses taught

  • ANTH 101 Introduction to Cultural Anthropology
  • ANTH 201 Peoples and Cultures of the World
  • ANTH 401c/601c Peoples and Cultures of Africa
  • ANTH 411B/611B Anthropology of Islam and Muslim Cultures
  • ANTH 419/619 Anthropology of Law
  • ANTH 420/620 Magic, Witchcraft and Religion
  • ANTH 436/636 History of Anthropology
  • ANTH 703 Graduate Core Course in Cultural Anthropology

Recent publications

  • 2018 "It is Your Right to Buy a Divorce": Khuluu in Zanzibar. Islamic Law and Society, 26(1), 12-35.
  • 2018 J. Brodd, L. Little, B. Nystrom, B. Platzner, R. Shek, E. Stiles, Invitation to World Religions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 3rd edition.
  • 2018 "How to Manage a Marital Dispute: Legal Pluralism from the Ground Up" University of California, Irvine Law Review, 8: 101-122.
  • 2016 Nadia Sonneveld and Erin Stiles, "Divorce and Custody: Contemporary Practices: Khul'" EWIC, general ed. Suad Jospeh. Leiden: Brill.
  • 2015  Gendered Lives in the Western Indian Ocean: Islam, Marriage and Sexuality on the Swahili Coast. Co-edited with Katrina Daly Thompson. Ohio University Press.
  • 2015 "An Unsuitable Husband: Allegations of Impotence in Zanzibar," in Gendered Lives in the Western Indian Ocean.
  • 2014. "The Right to Marry: Daughters and Elders in the Islamic Courts of Zanzibar." Islamic Law and Society, 21 (3): 252-275.

Related links


  • Ph.D., Washington University in St. Louis