Marc and I had a great time leading the Center’s Reading Society last night in a discussion of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” Along with the play, we discussed Allan Bloom’s great essay, “On Christian and Jew,” which reads the play as a reflection on the limits of law and commerce in holding together a community. We’ll be recording a Legal Spirits episode on all this soon, so stay tuned. Great comments from our students!
In this space last month, I wrote about a reference I had seen to an 18th Century Italian school called “The Academy of Fists” and suggested Marc might know what this was. I never received a response, and so I’ve had to do the digging on my own. It turns out it was a group of Enlightenment thinkers, including Cesare Beccaria, who sought to establish a new, secular order based in commerce–the Italian version of the doux commerce school. Later this year, Harvard will publish a study of the group, The Academy of Fisticuffs: Political Economy and Commercial Society in Enlightenment Italy, by Harvard Business School professor Sophus Reinert. The doux commerce theory has drawn a lot of interest from scholars lately and this new book looks like it will be a good read. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:
The terms “capitalism” and “socialism” continue to haunt our political and economic imaginations, but we rarely consider their interconnected early history. Even the eighteenth century had its “socialists,” but unlike those of the nineteenth, they paradoxically sought to make the world safe for “capitalists.” The word “socialists” was first used in Northern Italy as a term of contempt for the political economists and legal reformers Pietro Verri and Cesare Beccaria, author of the epochal On Crimes and Punishments. Yet the views and concerns of these first socialists, developed inside a pugnacious intellectual coterie dubbed the Academy of Fisticuffs, differ dramatically from those of the socialists that followed.
Sophus Reinert turns to Milan in the late 1700s to recover the Academy’s ideas and the policies they informed. At the core of their preoccupations lay the often lethal tension among states, markets, and human welfare in an era when the three were becoming increasingly intertwined. What distinguished these thinkers was their articulation of a secular basis for social organization, rooted in commerce, and their insistence that political economy trumped theology as the underpinning for peace and prosperity within and among nations.
Reinert argues that the Italian Enlightenment, no less than the Scottish, was central to the emergence of political economy and the project of creating market societies. By reconstructing ideas in their historical contexts, he addresses motivations and contingencies at the very foundations of modernity.
This month, Routledge releases “Indonesia, Islam, and the International Political Economy: Clash or Cooperation?” by Mark Williams (Vancouver Island University). The publisher’s description follows:
The Republic of Indonesia is a rising great power in the Asia-Pacific, set to become the eighth largest economy in the world in the coming decades. It is the most populous Muslim majority country in the world. The largest Islamic organizations and parties have supported Indonesia’s participation with global markets, but this has not come from an ideological support for capitalism or economic liberalization. Islamic political culture has denounced the injustices caused by global capitalism and its excesses. In fact, support for Indonesia’s engagement with the international political economy is born from political pragmatism, and from Indonesia’s struggles to achieve economic development.
This book examines the role of Islamic identity in Indonesia’s foreign economic relations and in its engagement with the world order. There is no single expression of Islam in Indonesia, the politics espoused by Islamic parties and organizations are far from monolithic. Islamic sentiment has been invoked by the state to justify heinous acts of brutality, as well as by violent, subnational revolutionary groups. However, these expressions of Islam have deviated from the dominant narrative, which is in favour of international cooperation and economic development. Economic exploitation, political alienation, financial volatility, and aggression toward Muslims around the world that has caused some Islamic groups to radicalize. The political culture of Islam in Indonesia is a social force that is helping to foster a peaceful rise for Indonesia. However, a peaceful expression of Islam is not inevitable for the republic, nor can it be assumed that Islamic identity in Indonesia will unwaveringly support the global economic order, regardless of what might occur in global politics.
In April, Cambridge University Press will release Religion and the Morality of the Market edited by Daromir Rudnyckyj (University of Victoria, British Columbia) and Filippo Osella (University of Sussex). The publisher’s description follows:
Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, there has been a widespread affirmation of economic ideologies that conceive the market as an autonomous sphere of human practice, holding that market principles should be applied to human action at large. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the ascendance of market reason has been countered by calls for reforms of financial markets and for the consideration of moral values in economic practice. This book intervenes in these debates by showing how neoliberal market practices engender new forms of religiosity, and how religiosity shapes economic actions. It reveals how religious movements and organizations have reacted to the increasing prominence of market reason in unpredictable, and sometimes counterintuitive, ways. Using a range of examples from different countries and religious traditions, the book illustrates the myriad ways in which religious and market moralities are closely imbricated in diverse global contexts.
- Allows for an exploration and theorization of economic practice through the lenses of the cultures and social relations in which it is embedded
- Furthers the theorization and comparative analysis of the relations of distinct forms of morality and religion to economies
- Provides a comparative framework for understanding how market practices and ideologies articulate with specific forms of religiosity or religious traditions
In June, Rowman & Littlefield will release “Religious Activism in the Global Economy: Promoting, Reforming, or Resisting Neoliberal Globalization?” edited by Sabine Dreher (Glendon College, York University, Canada) and Peter J. Smith (Athabasca University, Alberta, Canada). The publisher’s description follows:
Protests of neoliberal globalization have proliferated in recent years, not least in response to the financial crisis, austerity and increasing inequality. But how do religious groups organize themselves in response to these issues?
This book systematically studies the relationship of religious activism towards neoliberal globalization. It considers how religious organizations often play a central role in the resistance against global capitalism, endeavouring to offer alternatives and developments for reform. But it also examines the other side of the coin, showing how many religious groups help to diffuse neoliberal values, promote and reinforce practices of capitalism. Drawing on a unique set of case studies from around the world, the chapters examine a range of groups and their practices in order to provide a thorough examination of the relationship between religion and the global political economy.
In February, IGI Global will release “Islamic Economy and Social Mobility: Cultural and Religious Considerations” by Hasan Shahpari (Community College of Philadelphia) and Tahereh Alavi Hojjat (DeSales University). The publisher’s description follows:
In an era of globalization and cross-cultural awareness, an interest in the relationship between economics and religion, politics, and social behavior is alive and well. In particular, the Islamic economy has become a focal point of interest for economists and government leaders around the world interested in understanding the relationship between religion and economics among primarily Islamic regions.
Islamic Economy and Social Mobility: Cultural and Religious Considerations analyzes the social, cultural, religious, and political implications of the Islamic economy at the global level. Highlighting the foundations upon which Islamic ideology is formed and how it impacts socio-cultural and economic systems both within and outside of primarily Islamic regions, this publication is an ideal reference source for economists, sociologists, international relations professionals, researchers, academics, and graduate-level students.
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.
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.
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.
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:
The 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.