AVACGIS Visiting Scholar Presentation by Dr. Christopher Taylor

“The Transformation of Islamic Charity: From Alms to New Public Voluntarism in India”

Thursday, April 16, 2020 3:00 PM to 4:15 PM
Online Location


Almsgiving is a ritual obligation in Islam practiced by the vast majority of the world's Muslims, yet it is not well understood in popular or scholarly discussions.  This lecture examines the contemporary changes in obligatory almsgiving (zakat) through ethnographic research on new Islamic charity organizations in north India.  Indian Muslims are reinventing the meaning of zakat, moving away from a focus on the purification of the giver toward a focus on long-term economic development. The charities' volunteers revisit Islamic scriptures and embrace the managerial ethos of development to be responsive to the specific needs of their communities. Dr. Taylor presents the bureaucratization of zakat within a theorization of Islamic alms as “a paradox of obligated voluntarism” -- at once a mandatory ritual and a charitable choice to improve the lives and welfare of those around them.

Christopher Taylor is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies. Taylor received his PhD from Boston University in Anthropology with a focus in economic anthropology, Islamic studies, and political anthropology. He was previously a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Research Innovation Fellow, a graduate fellow of the National Science Foundation (NSF), and a fellow at the Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University.  He has published on India, the ethics of economic practice, socioeconomic mobility, and Islamic law.