Brinkley Messick specializes in the anthropology of law, legal history, written culture, and the circulation and interpretation of Islamic law. He is the author of The Calligraphic State (1993), which was awarded the Albert Hourani Prize of the Middle Eastern Studies Association, and co-editor of Islamic Legal Interpretation (1996). His Sharīʿa Scripts: An Historical Anthropology was published Columbia University Press in 2018.His scholarly articles include "Indexing the Self: Expression and Intent in Islamic Legal Acts," Islamic Law & Society (2001); “Written Identities: Legal Subjects in an Islamic State,” History of Religions (1998); “Genealogies of Reading and the Scholarly Cultures of Islam,” in S. Humphreys,
ed. Cultures of Scholarship (1997); and “Textual Properties: Writing and Wealth in a Yemeni Shari a Case,” Anthropology Quarterly (1995).
He has conducted research in Yemen and Morocco supported by the Social Science Research Council, Fulbright and the Guggenheim Foundation, and he teaches courses on the anthropology of law, the analysis of written culture, and the theory and practice of Islamic law.