Colloquium in Middle East History
For nearly a century now, scholars have been positing an antithetical relationship between capitalism and Islam, framing the perceived underdevelopment of the Islamic world in terms of an absence of the rational spirit of capitalism, restrictions put in place by Islamic law, or more fundamentally as a clash between two competing ideologies (“jihad” vs “McWorld”). This course seeks to familiarize students with the debates surrounding the supposed tension between Islam and capitalism, but also explores the development of ideas and practices on capitalism and commercial society within the broader Islamic world, stretching from the Western Mediterranean to the Eastern Indian Ocean. We will look at the scholarship produced on the subject, but will also explore the everyday commercial practices, discourses, and artifacts that animated Muslim commercial society over the course of centuries. Students will leave with a deep appreciation of the contingencies surrounding the history of capitalism in the Islamic world, but also a sense of the genealogies of capitalist societies in the region. Our focus thus isn’t simply on how capitalism has shaped or transformed Muslim society, but how Muslims around the world have domesticated the forces of global capitalism – and perhaps even generated their own visions of a uniquely Islamic brand of capitalism.