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About this Encyclopedia

The interdisciplinary Encyclopedia of Law and Literature pursues the goal of opening up new vistas by providing a comprehensive, reliable and authoritative reference to accumulated and current knowledge and research in the field of law and literature. This bilingual Encyclopedia in both English and German is being developed by the Collaborative Research Centre 1385 Law and Literature at the University of Münster with support from the German Research Foundation and contributions by numerous literary and legal scholars from Europe and abroad.

Law and literature

Questions of justice and injustice, crime and punishment, the rule of law and the shortcomings of existing laws and their application have always been central topics in literature. Legal texts used as literary material or even read as literature are not uncommon, while literary texts and expressions, their distribution and accessibility are subject to legal regulations concerning freedom of speech, libel, incitement or copyright, for example. Despite their differences, literature and law each require their own special forms of language use, writing and reading skills. As an institutional normative order, law is not merely a linguistic art nor identical with the library of texts supporting and explicating it. It remains a relevant fact that legal texts and their writing and application are inextricably bound to intertextual relations and always entangled in stories. We need stories to be able to deal with situations, events or relationships, in everyday life and also in legal terms. Competing stories often illuminate opposing perspectives. The legal validity of the law itself and of each of the laws currently in force depends upon the legitimization and acceptance of the stories told about this law. Literature can describe and serve as a sounding board for the law, the functioning of legal institutions and the actors’ options and challenges within the framework of legal institutions. It relates expectations towards the law as well as disappointment in failed expectations. Literary works can also have a formative influence on the actors’ understanding of the law and of themselves. Literature can even influence the transformation of certain legal institutions, just as legal regulations also exert a formative influence on literature.

The Encyclopedia of Law and Literature

The Encyclopedia of Law and Literature aims to explore and further develop this interdisciplinary research field in its full depth and from a comparative perspective including comparative law as well as comparative literature and, crucially, comparisons between certain fields of law and relevant works of literature, among texts and relevant practices. The authors are well aware that a lot remains to be done before the Encyclopedia of Law and Literature is able to meet these demands, but we would like to introduce our plan in the following paragraphs.

Central areas in the field, major concepts and important aspects of the relation between law and literature will be covered in substantial articles, in a historical as well as in a systematic perspective. Relevant literary texts or authors, legal cases and influential research contributions will also be discussed. In addition to a continuous review of relevant research in English and German, the encyclopedia pays special attention to international exchange processes within as well as beyond the European framework. Some developments in Eastern European literature and legal systems have hardly been researched in Western Europe; articles in this area may pave new ways. Highly relevant for current and future research on law and literature are also the traditions of Jewish and Islamic law which do not presuppose the distinction between scripture, legal text and literary work that is central to the Western understanding of the law. These traditions have developed their own particular formats of commentary and supra-commentary literature for shaping the law. Stronger consideration of non-European and postcolonial literature and legal cultures is recognized as a desideratum for the further development and enrichment of the encyclopedia, and first steps towards investigating these fields of knowledge have been initiated.

Each article in the encyclopedia is an independent monographic unit that provides information about its topic and the state of relevant research across disciplinary boundaries, as concisely as possible, yet as extensively as necessary. As the encyclopaedia grows, the increasing links between the articles will greatly increase its use. Upon publication, each article is identified by a persistent identifier (DOI; urn). By any revision, the older version remains permanently accessible both on this website as well as in the doi archive, thus securing the academic citability of the article.

The alphabetical index of entries is recommended as a primary access point for finding relevant information in the encyclopaedia. This list displays the articles already available as well as entries currently in preparation but not yet available. The list is intended to grow along with the development of the encyclopedia. Regular users of the encyclopaedia can keep up with the progress of the project by taking a shortcut to the five most recently published articles. In addition to the alphabetical table of contents, a full-text search from any page of the encyclopaedia is possible.

The successive development of the encyclopaedia in German and English will be more or less simultaneous. The icons of the British and German flags at the top of each page can be used to switch from one language edition to the other. At the moment, some articles are only available in one language or the other. Certain incongruities between the literary and especially the poetic versions in German and in English are unavoidable due to the difficulties of translation. Furthermore, a legal term derives its meaning from its use in legal texts governing a particular jurisdiction, so, in many cases, there is no direct equivalent in other jurisdictions. In some cases, the relationship between an article in the one language and the corresponding entry in the other language might be supplementary rather than one of translation. Readers who are proficient in both languages may benefit from comparing articles in both languages for the items that interest them.

This online encyclopaedia is intended to be a source of scholarly information and a reference work for those interested in law and literature, but also explicitly to serve as an invitation to cross-disciplinary critical dialogue. The authors of the respective articles as well as the editorial staff are grateful for objections, questions and hints in regard to aspects to be considered. You can reach us at 'encylop[at]uni-muenster[dot]de'.

SFB 1385

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Tel: +49 251 83-24804 | encyclop[at]uni-muenster[dot]de