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The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle Eastby Timur Kuran
Synopses & Reviews
In the year 1000, the economy of the Middle East was at least as advanced as that of Europe. But by 1800, the region had fallen dramatically behind--in living standards, technology, and economic institutions. In short, the Middle East had failed to modernize economically as the West surged ahead. What caused this long divergence? And why does the Middle East remain drastically underdeveloped compared to the West? In The Long Divergence, one of the world's leading experts on Islamic economic institutions and the economy of the Middle East provides a new answer to these long-debated questions.
Timur Kuran argues that what slowed the economic development of the Middle East was not colonialism or geography, still less Muslim attitudes or some incompatibility between Islam and capitalism. Rather, starting around the tenth century, Islamic legal institutions, which had benefitted the Middle Eastern economy in the early centuries of Islam, began to act as a drag on development by slowing or blocking the emergence of central features of modern economic life--including private capital accumulation, corporations, large-scale production, and impersonal exchange. By the nineteenth century, modern economic institutions began to be transplanted to the Middle East, but its economy has not caught up. And there is no quick fix today. Low trust, rampant corruption, and weak civil societies--all characteristic of the region's economies today and all legacies of its economic history--will take generations to overcome.
The Long Divergence opens up a frank and honest debate on a crucial issue that even some of the most ardent secularists in the Muslim world have hesitated to discuss.
"Kuran (Islam and Mammon), a Duke University professor of economics and political science, continues his exploration of Islam and economics in a dense volume that debunks the most common apologies for the economic plight of the Middle East, such as colonization, or the economic importance of the annual hajj pilgrimage. Kuran argues instead that the failure of Middle Eastern economics is not due to Islam itself, but to the fact that Muslims failed to reinterpret previously successful economic concepts at the onset of the Middle Ages, while the West went on to create the corporation (see InProfile in this issue). Muslims may demur, but Kuran points out that many have abandoned some Qur'anic economic practices they disagree with, including the ban on interest, and, more progressively, they have updated and refreshed the tax code described in the Qur'an. His most controversial argument is that Islam, liberated from stagnant interpretation and practice, is very adaptable to modern institutions. (Dec.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"Professor Kuran’s research suggests that, at least looking forward, the more correct view is: Islam isn’t the problem and it isn’t the solution, it’s simply a religion — meaning that the break is over, there are no excuses, and it’s time to move forward again." --Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times
"Kuran's book is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in the Middle East and the Islamic world. The path toward economic and legal reforms for the Islamic world can only be charted by understanding the historical impediments to economic development in the region. There is currently no better starting point to contemplate such reforms and development efforts than this book."--Mahmoud El-Gamal, author of "Islamic Finance: Law, Economics, and Practice"
In Conflict, Peace, and Prosperity in the Name of God, Murat Iyigun explores how longer-term developments influenced the spread of monotheistic religions and how these trends affected other societies and religions. He explores with the statistical methods of economics the way religions shaped the development of societies and framed the conflicts between and within them. Specifically, he asks why and how political power and organized religion became so swiftly and successfully intertwined, and then examines the role of religion in conflict historically, as well as the sociopolitical, demographic, and economic effects of religiously motivated conflicts. Conflict, Peace, and Prosperity in the Name of God breaks exciting new ground in our understanding of religion and societies, and the conflicts between them.
Differences among religious communities have motivated—and continue to motivate—many of the deadliest conflicts in human history. But how did political power and organized religion become so thoroughly intertwined? And how have religion and religiously motivated conflicts affected the evolution of societies throughout history, from demographic and sociopolitical change to economic growth?
War, Peace, and Prosperity in the Name of God turns the focus on the big three monotheisms”—Judaism, Islam, and Christianity—to consider these questions. Chronicling the relatively rapid spread of the Abrahamic religions among the Old World, Murat Iyigun shows that societies that adhered to a monotheistic belief in that era lasted longer, suggesting that monotheism brought some sociopolitical advantages. While the inherent belief in one true god meant that these religious communities had sooner or later to contend with one another, Iyigun shows that differences among them were typically strong enough to trump disagreements within. The book concludes by documenting the long-term repercussions of these dynamics for the organization of societies and their politics in Europe and the Middle East.
"Sophisticated, purposive, and insightful, this book brings the powerful thinking of an economist to bear on a central question of Middle Eastern history. The argument is lucid and compelling; anyone with a serious interest in the way the world has changed in recent centuries will find this book rewarding."--Michael Cook, author of A Brief History of the Human Race
"The Long Divergence is a turning point in the understanding of Middle Eastern economic history and a must-read for everyone interested in economic development in the Islamic world more generally."--Avner Greif, Stanford University
"Kuran's book is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in the Middle East and the Islamic world. The path toward economic and legal reforms for the Islamic world can only be charted by understanding the historical impediments to economic development in the region. There is currently no better starting point to contemplate such reforms and development efforts than this book."--Mahmoud El-Gamal, author of Islamic Finance: Law, Economics, and Practice
About the Author
Timur Kuran is professor of economics and political science and the Gorter Family Professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University. He is the author of "Islam and Mammon: The Economic Predicaments of Islamism" (Princeton).
Table of Contents
PART I Introduction
Chapter 1: The Puzzle of the Middle East's
Economic Underdevelopment 3
Chapter 2: Analyzing the Economic Role of Islam 25
PART II Organizational Stagnation
Chapter 3: Commercial Life under Islamic Rule 45
Chapter 4: The Persistent Simplicity of Islamic Partnerships 63
Chapter 5: Drawbacks of the Islamic Inheritance System 78
Chapter 6: The Absence of the Corporation in Islamic Law 97
Chapter 7: Barriers to the Emergence of a Middle Eastern Business Corporation 117
Chapter 8: Credit Markets without Banks 143
PART III The Makings of Underdevelopment
Chapter 9: The Islamization of Non-Muslim Economic Life 169
Chapter 10: The Ascent of the Middle East's Religious Minorities 189
Chapter 11: Origins and Fiscal Impact of the Capitulations 209
Chapter 12: Foreign Privileges as Facilitators of Impersonal Exchange 228
Chapter 13: The Absence of Middle Eastern Consuls 254
PART IV Conclusions
Chapter 14: Did Islam Inhibit Economic Development? 279
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