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Islam and the Construction of New Economic Moralities

The Mini-Conference 'Islam and the Construction of New Economic Moralities: Divergence, Convergence and Competing Futures' will be held as part of the 28th SASE Conference 'Moral Economies, Economic Moralities', 24-26 June 2016, University of California, Berkeley.

The organizers invite contributions from across the social sciences and humanities to reflect on the past, present, and contested futures of Islam’s new financial and economic moralities.

The deadline for submitting paper proposals is 1 February 2016. Acceptance notifications will be sent by 23 February 2016. Please visit the SASE website for further information about how to submit your paper proposal.

Mini-Conference Theme

As part of the Islamic revival of the 1970s and 1980s, social movements worldwide have pursued multiple strategies to imagine and implement an economic system organized around Islamic values such as social justice, reciprocity and the spiritual, moral, intellectual, social, and material well-being of individuals. This includes the US$2.5 trillion Islamic finance industry and US$1.29 trillion halal food market, not to mention Islamic “modest fashion,” halal pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, and Islamically-marketed travel, recreation, and lifestyle products. It also includes philanthropic institutions such as pious foundations (waqf) and charities funded by alms-giving (zakat). Islamic economic practices range from the morally guided everyday practices of individuals to those of multinational corporations and state elites seeking to enter and advance Islamic markets. With the hindsight of forty years, we can observe heterogeneous and explicitly competing Islamic economic moralities, found at various scales of socio-economic organization.

Three overlapping research projects have emerged as a result of the rapid growth of the Islamic economy. First, it has attracted social scientists seeking to document and interpret the historical and contemporary dynamics of this new socio-economic phenomenon. This strand of scholarship studies the emergence of the Islamic economy either on its own terms, or with reference to its convergence and divergence with other economies, be they explicitly moral or otherwise. Second, it has generated research by academics and practitioners to advance this socio-economic project. In this scholarship, Islamic economy is often conceptualized as part of an emerging alternative modernity that explicitly embraces the morality of economic action. Third, it has also generated scholarship critical of Islamic economic practices, particularly in Islamic banking and finance. Much of this third research stream argues that Islamic finance is excessively focused on efficiency and profitability at the expense of Islamic moral values such as equity, fairness, and individual development. Importantly, it debates the extent to which the Islamic finance industry has diverged from Islamic idea(l)s, investigates alternative aspirations for Islamic finance, and deliberates strategies for transforming its current trajectory.

Embracing all three research streams, the conference aims to (i) (re-)examine the key axioms and moral claims of Islamic economy both in theory and as practiced; (ii) explore the economic, social and political dynamics underpinning the various sectors, scales and sites of the Islamic economy; and (iii) interrogate the extent to which the Islamic economy provides a substantive alternative to mainstream economic activity with a special emphasis on the Islamic finance sector.

Provisional List of Panels

(i) Introductory Panel: Conceptualizing and Theorizing the Moral Economies of Islam

  • What are the key principles of Islamic economic thought and to what extent and in what ways do they constitute moral claims?
  • How are the moral economies of Islam practiced, enacted and performed?
  • What are the 'substantive morality'-related consequences in the move from ‘Islamic economics’ to ‘Islamic moral economy’?
  • How substantive is the theoretical framework of Islamic economics?
  • Can Islamisation of social sciences provide theoretical and moral substantiation for Islamic economics?
  • Is the current theoretical frame of Islamic economics a product of ‘multiple modernities’?
  • What is the relationship between authority, authenticity and legitimacy in the constitution of Islamic economies?

(ii) Moral Economies of Islam and Everyday Political Economy

  • How does Islam shape everyday economic practices related to production, exchange and consumption?
  • What economic subjectivities does it create?
  • How are Islamic markets, firms and institutions reshaping economic practices outside of Islamic niche markets?

(iii) Divergences between Aspirational Islamic Moral Economy and Islamic Finance in Practice

  • What are the sources of tension in the operation and everyday practice of Islamic finance in relation to the aspirations?
  • What are the sources of the observed divergence between the aspirations of Islamic economics and realities of Islamic finance?
  • Can the practice of ontological knowledge biasing towards intentions and forms and ignoring consequences and substance be considered as a source of excluding morality?
  • How can the divergence be overcome?
  • Is convergence between Islamic financial operations and conventional financial markets inevitable?
  • What is the role of hegemony and authority - in particular of shari’ah scholars - in this convergence?

(iv) Islam, the State, and Global Markets

  • How and why do states promote or impede economic moralities and moralized markets?
  • What are the differences in how various Islamic economies are governed —and with what consequences?
  • What are the key causal explanations for geographic variation in how Islamic economies are performed?

(v) Moral Economies of Islam, Civil Society and Social Change

  • How do consumer movements, Islamic political movements, and religious revival social movements shape the emergence of Islamic economies in local, national and transnational contexts?
  • How does Islamic economic thought influence these national and transnational movements?
  • What are the implications of these social interactions for understanding the capacities and limitations of these movements to shape alternative capitalisms?

(vi) Performativity and Religious Expertise in Islamic Economies

  • How does Islamic economic expertise and technical expertise interact to produce economic moralities?
  • What opportunities and constraints does the digital economy offer for Islamic entrepreneurs?
  • What are the implications of this for social science research in, for example, innovation, technological diffusion, knowledge industries and epistemic communities?

(vii) Concluding Panel and Open Discussion: Islam, Social Theory & Economic Change: Theoretical Futures for an Islamic Moral Economy