Research programme of the Project Group
Legal Pluralism (2000-2012)

Heads of Project Group:
Prof. em. Dr. Franz von Benda-Beckmann (✝ 2013)
Prof. em. Dr. Keebet von Benda-Beckmann (✝ 2022)


Most contemporary legal systems – in developing countries and post-industrialised states – contain parallel and often contradictory regulations of social, economic and political organisation. These are based on different types of legitimation: international law, state law, religious law, customary law and forms of self-regulation. This type of legal complexity is called "legal pluralism".
Adopting a comparative approach, the Project Group aims at analysing and explaining how different constellations of legal pluralism are generated and maintained. The research focuses in particular on the mutual interdependences between customary laws, religious laws, state and international laws. Special attention is paid to the role of religion and religious laws in plural legal constellations and to the transnational dimensions of legal pluralism. Studying social practices in which different kinds of law are used, the research aims at generating insights in the circumstances under which constellations of legal pluralism contribute to or reduce legal insecurity and social and political conflict. The projects thus contribute to a better understanding of the constraining and enabling influences of plural legal orders on social interaction and the effects this has on power relationships, social integration, and social inequality. The research also aims at clarifying concepts such as law, legal pluralism, social security, trust, property, governance, globalization and transnationalisation of law for comparative socio-scientific studies of law.
The projects study the social significance of legal pluralism in five thematic domains:

  1. Law and religion (in Burma, Canada, Indonesia, Morocco, Mozambique, South Africa, and Swaziland);
  2. Dispute management and the mobilization of law (in Canada, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Mozambique, South Africa, and Swaziland);
  3. Social security and networks of exchange (in Burma, Hungary, Indonesia, Lithuania, Romania, and Serbia);
  4. Governance and resistance (Indonesia, Lithuania, Morocco, Mozambique, South Africa, and Swaziland);
  5. Property, law and natural resources (in Hungary, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Morocco, Mozambique, Romania, and Serbia).

In addition to the projects already initiated during the first period of the program, three other projects are currently carried out:
The research group “Law and Religion” headed by Keebet and Franz von Benda-Beckmann studies the relationship between law and religion in order to engender insights into how the changing role of religion affects plural legal constellations.
The externally funded research group “Local State and Social Security in Rural Hungary, Romania and Serbia” headed by Tatjana Thelen, Keebet von Benda-Beckmann and Katalin Kovács, carries out a comparative investigation of the role of local states in social security arrangements in the rural areas of three East European countries with a socialist past.


Completed Projects

Guests of the Project Group Legal Pluralism


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