Tag Archives: Religion and Economics

Khan, “Islamic Banking in Pakistan”

In November, Routledge will release “Islamic Banking in Pakistan: Shariah-Compliant Finance and the Quest to make Pakistan more Islamic” by Feisal Khan (Hobart and William Smith Colleges). The publisher’s description follows:

Islamic Banking and Finance (IBF) has become a growing force over the past three decades, with Pakistan being one of the IBF pioneers by converting to an ‘interest-free’ banking system in 1985. However, since independence in 1947, there has been continual tension over Pakistan’s essential character, between Islamic Minimalists, who favour a Modernist interpretation of Islam, and those who favour an Islamic Maximalist interpretation that sees Pakistan as a model Islamic state.

This book analyses the push to Islamize Pakistan and its financial system by Islamic revivalists, following the early 1947 debates in the original Constituent Assembly to the final 2002 ruling on IBF of the Shariat Appellate Bench of the Pakistan Supreme Court. It examines the practice and theory behind contemporary Islamic, “Shariah-compliant”, banking. It offers extensive interviews with Pakistani Islamic bankers on the state of their industry and how they see it developing, and provides analysis on how the Islamic banks’ customers differ from those of conventional ones.

Presenting a critical analysis of Pakistan’s IBF experience and offering a new insight into Pakistan’s banking industry that illustrates broader political and social trends in the country, this book will be of interest to specialists on Islam, South Asia and International Economics.

“Beyond Hybridity and Fundamentalism” (Khan, ed.)

In August, the Oxford University Press released “Beyond Hybridity and Fundamentalism: Emerging Muslim Identity in Globalized India,” edited by Tabassum Ruhi Khan (University of California, Riverside).  The publisher’s description follows:

The question of identity, and especially its formation among youth, has received significant academic attention as our worlds become intricately and unpredictably connected through satellite televisions, mobile telephones, Internet, and social networking platforms. Marking a distinct addition to such scholarship, this volume is an ethnographic study of the under-investigated issue of Indian Muslim youth’s emergent subjectivity in a media-saturated globalized Indian society.

The author develops the idea of ‘convoluted modernity’ to explain Muslim youth’s reactions to multifarious and divergent influences both from the East as well as the West shaping their everyday life. The concept illustrates how Muslim youths’ ideas about self and community draw equally on MTV as on Peace TV to create a complex truck between consumerist hedonism and globalized Islam.

Introducing a new perspective to studies on globalization, media, and cultural politics, this book shows how interpolation of local and global in the accelerated virtual spheres, and their contextual interpretation within an expanding economy, notwithstanding Muslim youth’s disadvantaged position, shape alternate modernities rife with ambiguities and beyond binaries of progress and regression.

The Merchants of Venice

unde origo inde salus

Photo Courtesy of Gianmario Guidarelli

I’ve enjoyed Nate’s posts this month on the importance and benevolence of the market as a human institution. The market can indeed promote tolerance, cooperation, and peace, to say nothing of wealth. And its importance in our culture only increases. The market continues to expand its reach, governing many aspects of life we once thought beyond it. A few decades ago, prenuptial agreements were void as against public policy. Courts would not enforce agreements in contemplation of divorce. Now, prenups are routine. There are many other examples.

As the market expands, it seems inevitable that competing commitments will shrink, at least as a matter of public life. Religion may be among these commitments. In fact, as Nate explains, reducing religion’s hold on people may have been the point all along. Voltaire, for example, anticipated that the expansion of commerce would cause religious commitment to atrophy. People would come to see the market, not the church, as important, and identify as buyers and sellers rather than believers. After all, in the marketplace, it doesn’t matter whether one is a good Christian, Jew, Muslim or pagan. All that matters is whether one can pay.

In the passage Nate quotes, Voltaire offers eighteenth-century London as the model of a benevolent, religiously indifferent, commercial society. (Voltaire overstated things. In 1780, two years after he died, London was convulsed by the vicious, anti-Catholic Gordon Riots, in which mobs terrorized the city for days while Londoners huddled inside their homes, afraid to face them. “Such,” Johnson observed, “is the cowardice of a commercial place.”) When one thinks of the prototype of a mercantile society, though, one usually thinks of another city a thousand miles away. It’s Venice, more than any other place, which conventionally epitomizes the commercial society.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about Venice, lately, ever since I visited last month to participate in an international law and religion moot court competition. In its glory, Venice was a city devoted to commerce. Just as in today’s New York, you could find anything for sale. The city pioneered credit-financed capitalism and grew fabulously wealthy on trade with Byzantium and the Levant. And, as Voltaire’s theory would suggest, the Venetian Republic was quite tolerant of religious difference, especially for the time. The city had significant colonies of Eastern Christians like Greeks and Armenians; Lutheran Germans; Muslim Turks; and of course Jews. All made fortunes trading peaceably in Venice.

And yet, as I learned, Venice had a compensating commitment to tradition. The city balanced devotion to the fluid world of commerce with an equal devotion to the static world of custom. As Peter Ackroyd explains in his marvelous book, Venice, Pure City (2009), Venice was “the most conservative of societies.” In law and government, ancient usage had preeminent authority, more than positive legislation. Social interactions followed patterns that did not change. For example, strict rules limited what different classes could wear. Patricians wore stiff black gowns, which highlighted gravity and authority, not flexibility and cosmopolitanism. In architecture, generation after generation followed old models. When buildings collapsed, Venetians would reconstruct them exactly as they had been, often using the same materials. Come era, dove era.

And Venice was exceptionally religious. The city’s enthusiastic participation in the Crusades is well known, and was always a matter of great pride. One could dismiss Crusading as a search for more loot, but for Venetians it was more than that. Venetians were genuinely devout, perhaps excessively so. Hundreds of churches shared a very small space; religious processions were numerous and frequent.  Reports of miracles were common; only Rome had more. This is not to say that Venetians were saints. They never lost sight of the main chance. But Catholicism was a centerpiece of their identity. Ackroyd sums it up best: “Machiavelli wrote that ‘we Italians are corrupt and irreligious beyond all others.’ That was not true of the Venetians. They were corrupt and religious.”

The commitment to tradition was brought home to me when I was visited the famous basilica of Santa Maria della Salute on the Grand Canal. The basilica was built in the seventeenth century to commemorate the Virgin’s help in ending one of the periodic plagues that struck Venice. As architectural historian Gianmario Guidarelli explained to me, at the very center of this church, there is an inscription (above) that captures the Venetian understanding of life: Unde Origo Inde Salus, “Where is the Origin, There is Salvation.” The inscription refers to the legendary founding of Venice on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation to the Virgin in the Western calendar. But I think the inscription must allude more generally to the saving power of the past. Salvation doesn’t come from novelty or change. To preserve the city, one must return to history, to ancient customs, to the origins. You can’t get more traditional than that.

With their dual commitment to markets and tradition, the merchants of Venice held the gorgeous East in fee. The state they created, the Venetian Republic, lasted for more than a thousand years. In the West today, we have kept and expanded markets, but seem ever more eager to jettison tradition. I wonder how long we’ll last.

Papademetriou, “Render unto the Sultan”

This April, Oxford University Press will release “Render unto the Sultan: Power, Authority, and the Greek Orthodox Church in the Early Ottoman Centuries” by Tom Papademetriou (Richard Stockton College, New Jersey).  The publisher’s description follows:

Render Unto the SultanThe received wisdom about the nature of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Ottoman Empire is that Sultan Mehmed II reestablished the Patriarchate of Constantinople as both a political and a religious authority to govern the post-Byzantine Greek community. However, relations between the Church hierarchy and Turkish masters extend further back in history, and closer scrutiny of these relations reveals that the Church hierarchy in Anatolia had long experience dealing with Turkish emirs by focusing on economic arrangements. Decried as scandalous, these arrangements became the modus vivendi for bishops in the Turkish emirates.

Primarily concerned with the economic arrangements between the Ottoman state and the institution of the Greek Orthodox Church from the mid-fifteenth to the sixteenth century,Render Unto the Sultan argues that the Ottoman state considered the Greek Orthodox ecclesiastical hierarchy primarily as tax farmers (multezim) for cash income derived from the church’s widespread holdings. The Ottoman state granted individuals the right to take their positions as hierarchs in return for yearly payments to the state. Relying on members of the Greek economic elite (archons) to purchase the ecclesiastical tax farm (iltizam), hierarchical positions became subject to the same forces of competition that other Ottoman administrative offices faced. This led to colorful episodes and multiple challenges to ecclesiastical authority throughout Ottoman lands.

Tom Papademetriou demonstrates that minority communities and institutions in the Ottoman Empire, up to now, have been considered either from within the community, or from outside, from the Ottoman perspective. This new approach allows us to consider internal Greek Orthodox communal concerns, but from within the larger Ottoman social and economic context.

Render Unto the Sultan challenges the long established concept of the ‘Millet System’, the historical model in which the religious leader served both a civil as well as a religious authority. From the Ottoman state’s perspective, the hierarchy was there to serve the religious and economic function rather than the political one.

Indiana and Doux Commerce

Amidst the often disappointingly vacuous cacophony over Indiana’s recently passed RFRA legislation, Jacob Levy, a political philosopher at McGill, raised the fascinating question of how we ought to think about the relationship between religious freedom and commerce.

Levy raises two sets of concerns with Indiana’s law, one of which is largely illusory and one of which merits serious thought. The illusory concern is that the Indiana RFRA is a radical innovation that by applying the compelling state interest test to private causes of action threatens to undermine the basic legal infrastructure – property, contract, and tort – of the market.

It’s important to remember that we have decades of experience applying some version of the compelling state interest test to religious claims. We have the nearly three decades from Sherbert to Smith as a matter of constitutional law, and then the more than two decades from the passage of RFRA to the present as a matter of federal statutory law. Beginning in the mid-1990s some states began passing their own RFRAs, and during this entire period numerous states applied some version of the compelling state interest test as a matter of state constitutional law. If antinomian chaos were going to break forth one would think that after a half century it already would have happened.

In terms of concrete conflicts between RFRAs and basic private law, it seems to me that the most dangerous ones would be cases involving bodily harm or the invasion or destruction of property. I think that in cases involving bodily integrity, courts would have no problem saying that the state had a compelling government interest in protecting bodily integrity and in providing recourse to those suffering bodily injury. I think that for most property cases, we can dispose of them by saying that property law places no substantial burden on religious exercise. Saying that you have to build your sukkah on in your yard rather than my yard is not a substantial burden. There might be issues if we have a property owner who for some reason owned religiously significant land, as has been the case with some Native American claims against the federal government. Depending on the facts, I am not convinced that chaos would result if we granted an exemption from certain rules of property law. To give an analogy, lots of private property owners have land that contains graves. In many states there is a common law doctrine granting descendants an easement on the land to visit the graves. The market has not been threatened.

His rather fanciful legal concerns aside, however, Levy raises a deeper issue, one that deserve far more attention that it has received. His concern is with the way in which allowing religious believers to claim exemptions from otherwise applicable laws might inject the question of religious identity into commerce.  He quotes Voltaire’s famous statement of the doux commerce argument:

Take a view of the Royal Exchange in London, a place more venerable than many courts of justice, where the representatives of all nations meet for the benefit of mankind. There the Jew, the Mahometan, and the Christian transact together, as though they all professed the same religion, and give the name of infidel to none but bankrupts. There thee Presbyterian confides in the Anabaptist, and the Churchman depends on the Quaker’s word. At the breaking up of this pacific and free assembly, some withdraw to the synagogue, and others to take a glass. This man goes and is baptized in a great tub, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: that man has his son’s foreskin cut off, whilst a set of Hebrew words (quite unintelligible to him) are mumbled over his child. Others retire to their churches, and there wait for the inspiration of heaven with their hats on, and all are satisfied.

Voltaire’s insight – one he shared with thinkers such as Montesquieu and Adam Smith – was that markets are more than simply a mechanism for organizing economic production. They are also moral and political institutions that structure relationships and inculcate certain moral habits. For the eighteenth-century apologists for commerce, the effect of markets in this area was largely beneficent. They allowed those of very differing religious convictions to peacefully cooperate and tended to inculcate habits of tolerance and, if not respect, at least peaceful co-existence.

Levy suggests that by allowing religious people to claim exemptions from the demands of contract or property, RFRA statutes might undermine this order. As explained above, I think that this is the wrong thing to worry about. The scope of anti-discrimination laws, however, does raise this issue. As near as I can tell, Levy himself favors rather narrow antidiscrimination laws on largely libertarian grounds. What happens, however, when we apply the doux commerce argument itself to the question of antidiscrimination laws?

Normally we think of contract as structuring relationships in the market. Antidiscrimination laws, however, deprive certain market participants of the ability to avoid contracting. This raises two questions. First, does such forced contracting undermine doux commerce by replacing contractual norms with non-contractual equality norms, or does it enhance doux commerce by requiring people to trade across tribal and religious boundaries? Second, when thinking about religion in our society, how desirable is the Royal Exchange of Voltaire? On one hand it tends to promote tolerance and peacefully mediate religious pluralism. At the end of the day, however, Voltaire was no great friend of religious faith and for him one of the great attractions of commerce was the corrosive effect he hoped that it would have on religious communities, which he wished to see submerged in the universal, secular identity of citizenship.

“The Changing World Religion Map: Sacred Places, Identities, Practices and Politics” (Brunn, ed.)

In February, Springer Publishing will release “The Changing World Religion Map: Sacred Places, Identities, Practices and Politics” edited by Stanley D. Brunn (University of Kentucky). The publisher’s description follows:

This extensive work explores the changing world of religions, faiths and practices. It discusses a broad range of issues and phenomena that are related to religion, including nature, ethics, secularization, gender and identity. Broadening the context, it studies the interrelation between religion and other fields, including education, business, economics and law. The book presents a vast array of examples to illustrate the changes that have taken place and have led to a new world map of religions.

Beginning with an introduction of the concept of the “changing world religion map”, the book first focuses on nature, ethics and the environment. It examines humankind’s eternal search for the sacred, and discusses the emergence of “green” religion as a theme that cuts across many faiths. Next, the book turns to the theme of the pilgrimage, illustrated by many examples from all parts of the world. In its discussion of the interrelation between religion and education, it looks at the role of missionary movements. It explains the relationship between religion, business, economics and law by means of a discussion of legal and moral frameworks, and the financial and business issues of religious organizations. The next part of the book explores the many “new faces” that are part of the religious landscape and culture of the Global North (Europe, Russia, Australia and New Zealand, the U.S. and Canada) and the Global South (Latin America, Africa and Asia). It does so by looking at specific population movements, diasporas, and the impact of globalization. The volume next turns to secularization as both a phenomenon occurring in the Global religious North, and as an emerging and distinguishing feature in the metropolitan, cosmopolitan and gateway cities and regions in the Global South. The final part of the book explores the changing world of religion in regards to gender and identity issues, the political/religious nexus, and the new worlds associated with the virtual technologies and visual media.

Conference: The Economic & Business Case for Freedom of Religion or Belief (Dec. 10)

On December 10, the United Nations NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief in New York will explore the connection between religious freedom and economic growth with a panel discussion featuring Dr. Brian Grim, president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, and with responses from Prof. Silvio Ferrari, an expert on freedom of religion and the law, and Jeffrey French, an expert in the peacemaking potential of business.

Get more information here.

Conference at Catholic University: “The Relationship between Religious and Economic Liberty”

On November 10, 2014, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty will hold a day-long conference entitled “The Relationship between Religious & Economic Liberty in an Age of Expanding Government.” The conference is hosted by the Catholic University of America.

Throughout Western developed nations, there is dawning recognition that robust protections for religious liberty can no longer be taken for granted. Less understood are the ways in which infringements of other political, civil and commercial forms of freedom can subtly undermine religious liberty: but also vice-versa. Businesses and other institutions of civil society now need to consider how the restrictions of religious freedom by governments throughout the Western world is likely to affect them. What then is the relationship of religious liberty to other expressions of freedom?

Details can be found here.

“Money as God?” (von Hagen & Welker, eds.)

Last month, Cambridge University Press released Money as God: The Monetization of the Market and its Impact on Religion, Politics, Law, and Ethics edited by Jürgen von Hagen (Universität Bonn) and Michael Welker (Universität Heidelberg). The publisher’s description follows:money as god

The nature of money and its impact on society has long interested scholars of economics, history, philosophy, law, and theology alike, and the recent financial crisis has moved these issues to the forefront of current public debate. In this study, authors from a range of backgrounds provide a unified examination of the nature and the purpose of money. Chapters cover the economic and social foundations of money; the historical origins of money in ancient Greece, China, the ancient Middle East, and medieval Europe; problems of justice connected to the use of money in legal systems and legal settlements, with examples both from ancient history and today; and theological aspects of monetary and market exchange. This stimulating interdisciplinary book, with its nontechnical and lively discussion, will appeal to a global readership working in the interfaces of economics, law and religion.

What’s Your Social Class?

Here is a fun quiz from the Christian Science Monitor that purports to identify one’s socioeconomic status. The questions are about psychology, tastes, and personality traits, not salary. For example, a few test how well one identifies emotions. Our readers should pay particular attention to the religious identity question (number 19) and the diagnostic explanation at the end of the quiz. Do you know which religious group in America is the wealthiest and best educated?

For what it’s worth, my own socioeconomic status, according to the test, is “Middling.” Hey, it’s better than “Upper Class”:

MIDDLING: Your habits and perspectives most resemble those of middle-class Americans. Members of this group tend to be gentle and engaging parents, and if they’re native English speakers they probably use some regional idioms and inflections. Your people are mostly college-educated, and you’re about equally likely to beg children not to shout “so loudly” as you are to ask them to “read slow” during story time. You’re probably a decent judge of others’ emotions, and either a non-evangelical Christian, an atheist, or an agnostic. A typical member of this group breastfeeds for three months or less, drinks diet soda, and visits the dentist regularly. If you’re a member of this group, there’s a good chance that you roll with the flow of technological progress and hate heavy metal music.

H/T: Rod Dreher.