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REL 376
Islam and Capitalism Fall 2020
Division II Difference, Power, and Equity

Class Details

Islam and Capitalism are two widely debated and yet increasingly elusive phenomena of our contemporary age. This course offers a chronological and thematic study of the conceptual and material entanglements between Islam and Capitalism. The mere juxtaposition of Islam and Capitalism is beset with conceptual difficulty and anachronism: can Islam be conceived as a religion proper given the Shari’a’s extensive regulation of commercial life? Is faith in the providence of free markets akin to religious belief? Are Islam and Capitalism universal goods, or are they isomorphic to distinct cultures? Does the simultaneous rise of Islamic banking and “halal” consumerism signal a revolt against capitalist modernity, or does it mark the domestication of religion by forces of the market? How do Islamic conceptions of socioeconomic justice and ecological preservation respond to the environmental crises of Capitalism and the Anthropocene? We will explore these questions and address their underlying assumptions from within the disciplinary frameworks of History, Anthropology, and Religious Studies. In terms of theory, students will comprehend key debates and methodological approaches to the broader study of religion and capitalism, including formal resemblances between theological concepts and theorizations of the market; the analytical purchase of binary oppositions between religion (enchantment) and economics (rationality); the cultural embeddedness of markets versus their formalistic autonomy; postcolonial critiques of corporate sovereignty and neoliberalism; and, finally, economic/ecological assemblages and “religious economies.” In addition to harnessing theoretical tools of analysis, students will also acquire substantial knowledge of the Shari’a, its commercial laws, institutions, and contracts by studying the history of commerce in Muslim societies from 7th-century agrarianism to contemporary Islamic finance. The diverse topics, regions, and periods covered in the course are organized into 5 modules: (1) theoretical concepts in religion and economics; (2) the Shari’a and Islamic commercial law; (3) commerce in medieval Islam; (4) modernity, colonialism, and industrial capitalism; and, finally, (5) globalization, modern Islamic finance, and environmentalism.
The Class: Format: seminar; This course will be conducted online in its entirety and will rely on a combination of synchronous and asynchronous modes of learning. The synchronous component will consist of weekly class meetings via Zoom. A discussion leader will be assigned for each session and, depending on enrollment, students will be separated into break-out sessions to facilitate group discussion. The asynchronous component will consist of weekly reading responses, the mid-term, and final paper.
Limit: 19
Expected: 19
Class#: 2697
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Weekly Reading Responses (approx. 300 words): 20%; Class Participation (based on a weekly assignment of in-class discussion leaders): 20%; Take-home Midterm Exam (5 double-spaced pages/1250 words max.): 20%; Term Paper (10 double-spaced pages/2500 words max.): 40%
Prerequisites: There are no prerequisites for enrollment. However, an elementary exposure to the history of economic thought will be useful.
Enrollment Preferences: Seniors
Distributions: Division II Difference, Power, and Equity
DPE Notes: This course examines trajectories of capitalism--beyond its isomorphic relationship with Western culture--in the Muslim world. It offers a critical perspective on economic inequality and underdevelopment in postcolonial Muslim states and their historical linkages with extractive/settler colonialism. Students explore connections between petrodollar capitalism, climate change, exploitation of migrant labor in the Arabian Gulf, and the fight for regional domination through proxy religious wars.

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