An anthropologist specialising in Tibetan societies, Fernanda uses both ethnographic and historical methods to study and compare legal practices and texts. Initial research and publications on Tibet led to a monograph: The Anthropology of Law (OUP, 2013). This built on themes and debates developed in the Oxford Legalism project, which brought together scholars from anthropology, history, and other disciplines to compare wide-ranging empirical examples (Legalism, OUP, 4 vols).

These themes formed the basis for Fernanda’s research into Tibetan legal history and an AHRC-funded project on the legal history of medieval Tibet: Legal Ideology in Tibet: Politics, Practice, and Religion (2016–18) This led to a series of publications and a web-site containing source material (

In 2018 Fernanda was commissioned by UK and US publishers to write a global history of law, on which she is currently working: Civilized: how 4,000 years of law shaped the world as we know it.

Fernanda continues to publish on legal anthropology and Tibetan legal history, as well as related issues, such as comparison in law and anthropology and the relationship between empirical studies and legal theory.

Qualifications DPhil in Social Anthropology (Oxford) 2002 MSc in Social Anthropology (UCL) 1998 Called to the Bar 1988 BA in French and Philosophy (Oxford) 1986


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  • F Pirie, 'Legalism: A Turn to History in the Anthropology of Law' (2019) 15 Clio@Themis
    ISBN: ISSN 2105-0929
  • F Pirie, 'Legalism' in H. Callan (ed), The International Encyclopedia of Anthropology (Wiley-Blackwell 2018)
  • F Pirie, 'Buddhist Law in Early Tibet: The Emergence of an Ideology.' (2017) 32 Journal of Law and Religion 406–422
    DOI: 10.1017/jlr.2017.42
    Tibet is distinct within the Buddhist regions of Asia for its claims to have developed religious laws. The rulers of its early empire—or so it is claimed by the writers of Tibetan historical narratives—civilized their people by creating laws on the basis of Buddhist principles. In fact, the earliest Tibetan laws were not linked in any significant way with Buddhist principles, even after the religion had been firmly established in the region. The more ideological account of Buddhist law found in later narratives was only developed as the structures of the empire were collapsing. The paper asks why and how the idea of Buddhist law first emerged, examining its development through a number of texts from the empire (sixth to ninth centuries) and the immediate post-imperial period (tenth to twelfth centuries). Their accounts of law-making were far from consistent, but they do seem to have resonated with at least one, tenth-century ruler. These narratives set the scene for a long series of historical accounts, in which the idea that Tibetan law was based on Buddhist principles took hold, and which was maintained well into the twentieth century.
  • F Pirie, A. Kubal and N. Creutzfeldt, 'Introduction: Exploring the Comparative in Socio-Legal Studies' (2016) 12 .International Journal of Law in Context 377–89
  • F Pirie, 'Legal Theory and Legal History: A View from Anthropology' in M. del Mar and A. Lobban (eds), Law in Theory and History: New Essays on a Neglected Dialogue (Hart 2016)
  • F Pirie, 'State, Law, and Morality in Traditional Tibet' in J. Bischoff & S. Mullard (ed), Social Regulation: Case Studies from Tibetan History (Brill 2016)
  • F Pirie, 'Legalism and the Anthropology of Law' (2015) 36 Recht der Werklijkeid 99
  • F Pirie, 'Oaths and Ordeals in Tibetan Law' in D. Schuh (ed), Secular Law and Order in the Tibetan Highland (International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies 2015)
  • F Pirie, 'Rules, Proverbs, and Persuasion: Legalism and Rhetoric in Tibet' in Paul Dresch and Judith Scheele (eds), Legalism: Rules and Categories (OUP 2015)
  • F Pirie, 'Community, Justice, and Legalism: Elusive Concepts in Tibet' in Fernanda Pirie and Judith Scheele (eds), Legalism: Community and Justice (OUP 2014)
  • F Pirie, 'Comparison in the Anthropology and History of Law' (2014) 9 Journal of Comparative Law 88
  • F Pirie and Judith Scheele, 'Justice, Community, and Law' in Fernanda Pirie and Judith Scheele (eds), Legalism: Community and Justice (OUP 2014)
  • F Pirie and Judith Scheele (eds), Legalism: Community and Justice (OUP 2014)
  • F Pirie, 'Law and Religion in Historic Tibet' in F. and K. von Benda-Beckmann, M. Ramstedt, and B. Turner (eds), Religion in Disputes (Palgrave Macmillan 2013)
  • F Pirie and Justine Rogers, 'Pupillage: The Shaping of a Professional Elite' in J. Abbink and T. Salverda (eds), The Anthropology of Elites (Palgrave Macmillan 2013)
  • F Pirie, The Anthropology of Law (OUP, Clarendon Law Series 2013)
  • F Pirie, 'The Limits of the State: Coercion and Consent in Chinese Tibet' (2013) 72 Journal of Asian Studies 69
  • F Pirie, 'Who were the Tibetan Lawmakers?' in C. Ramble, P. Schwieger, and A. Travers (eds), Tibetans who Escaped the Historian's Net (Vajra Books 2013)
  • F Pirie, 'Legal Dramas on the Amdo Grasslands: Abolition, transformation, or Survival?' in K . Buffetrille (ed), Revisiting Rituals in a Changing Tibetan World (Brill 2012)
  • F Pirie, 'Law Before Government: Ideology and Aspiration' (2010) 30 Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 207
  • F Pirie, 'From Tribal Tibet: The Significance of the Legal Form' in M. Freeman and D. Napier (eds), Law and Anthropology (OUP 2009)
  • F Pirie, 'Kings, Monks, Bureaucrats, and the Police: Tibetan Responses to Law and Authority' in F. and K. van Benda-beckmann, and A. Griffiths (eds), The Power of Law in a Transnational World (Berghahn 2009)
  • F Pirie, 'The Horse with Two Saddles: Tamxhwe in Modern Golok' (2009) 1 Asian Highland Perspectives 164
  • F Pirie and Toni Huber (eds), Conflict and Social Order in Tibet and Inner Asia (Brill 2008)
  • F Pirie, 'Dancing in the Face of Death: Losar Celebrations in Photoksar' in M. van Beek and F. Pirie (eds), Modern Ladakh (Brill 2008)
  • Martijn van Beek and F Pirie (eds), Modern Ladakh: Continuity and Change in Anthropological Perspective (Brill 2008)
  • F Pirie, 'Violence and Opposition among the Nomads of Amdo' in F. Pirie and T. Huber (eds), Conflict and Social Order in Tibet and Inner Asia (Brill 2008)
  • Keebet von Benda-Beckmann and F Pirie (eds), Order and Disorder: Anthropological Perspectives (Berghahn 2007)
  • F Pirie, 'Order, Individualism, and Responsibility: Contrasting Dynamics on the Tibetan Plateau' in K. von Benda-Beckmann and F. Pirie (eds), Order and Disorder (Berghahn 2007)
  • F Pirie, Peace and Conflict in Ladakh: The Construction of a Fragile Web of Order (Brill 2007)
  • F Pirie, 'Legal Autonomy as Political Engagement: The Ladakhi Village in the Wider World' (2006) 40 Law and Society Review 77
  • F Pirie, 'Secular Morality, Village law, and Buddhism in Tibetan Societies' (2006) 12 Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 173
  • F Pirie, 'Segmentation Within the State: The Reconfiguration of Tibetan Tribes in China's Reform Period' (2005) 9 Nomadic Peoples 83


Research projects

Research Interests

Anthropology of law; Tibetan law and legal practices; Global legal history; The English Bar

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Law in Society

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Research projects