Timur Kuran on Islamic Law and Economic Development
Date: August 23rd, 2010

At the start of the second millenium, Christian Europe and the Muslim Middle East were at comparable levels of economic development.  However, over the course of the next several centuries, Europe raced ahead of Muslim societies, eventually developing the institutions that led to the Industrial Revolution and modern capitalism.  Timur Kuran, professor of economics and political science and the Gorter Family Professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University, explains what happened.  Based on his forthcoming book The Long Divergence (due out in November 2010), Prof. Kuran shows how Islamic Law — specifically inheritance law — impacted the the institutional development of the Middle East in ways that made it difficult to pool financial capital and business expertise that could give rise to corporations and larger economic projects.   This system is contrasted with various European inheritance schemes, most notably primogeniture, that allowed for the creation of large economic enterprises that could take advantage of economies of scale.  Other explanations for the economic divergence between the Middle East and Europe are also discussed.  We conclude with a brief discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of communalism and individualism, the former tending to predominate in the Middle East.  Recorded: July 14, 2010.


Timur Kuran’s website at Duke University.

The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East by Timur Kuran.

Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification by Timur Kuran.

Islam & Mammon: The Economic Predicaments of Islamism by Timur Kuran.

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