"Debating Islam, Consuming Finance: Islamic Banking, Halal Food, and Religious Authenticity in Contemporary Malaysia" with Daromir Rudnyckyj

AVACGIS Spring 2015 Lecture Series

Tuesday, April 7, 2015 1:30 PM to 2:45 PM
Johnson Center, Meeting Room C, 3rd Floor

Malaysia’s ambitious Islamic finance project has made economic action a site of debate over correct Islamic practice. In this presentation, Dr. Rudnyckyj describes how Islamic finance experts frequently make analogies between Islamic economic action and Islamic dietary practices and note that Islamic banking and halal food consumption both share common origins in Islamic law. He also details how experts compare the prohibition against interest (riba) to restrictions on the consumption of meat that is not slaughtered according to religious prescriptions. This presentation documents the recurrent consternation of Islamic bankers as they are confronted by evidence that, while Malaysian Muslims are exceedingly fastidious ensuring that their dietary practices are halal (permissible), they exhibit far less discipline and reflection when it comes to ensuring that their financial practices are compliant with Islamic prescriptions. Dr. Rudnyckyj demonstrates similarities between branding of halal food and Islamic financial services and the outward display of practices marked as explicitly Islamic. He concludes that the apparent paradox between, on the one hand, inattention to Islam in economic action and, on the other hand, hyper-attention in dietary practice is rooted in 1) the relative complexity in the practices of creating halal financial products as opposed to halal food, and 2) uncertainty about the Islamicity of Islamic finance stemming from criticism that it is “not really Islamic.” These debates over religious authenticity simultaneously illuminate the multiplicity of approaches within Islamic finance and the challenge of creating a global financial alternative.

Daromir Rudnyckyj is an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Victoria, Canada. His research addresses globalization, religion, development, Islam, and the state in Southeast Asia, focusing on Indonesia and Malaysia. His current research examines the globalization of Islamic finance and analyzes efforts to make Kuala Lumpur the “New York of the Muslim World” by transforming it into the central node in a transnational Islamic financial system. His book, Spiritual Economies: Islam, Globalization, and the Afterlife of Development (Cornell University Press, 2010), was awarded a Sharon Stephens Prize from the American Ethnological Society. Dr. Rudnyckyj has published essays in Journal of Asian Studies, American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology, Social Text, Anthropological Theory, JRAI, Political and Legal Anthropology Review, and elsewhere. His research has been supported by the American Council for Learned Societies, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Social Science Research Council, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and other scholarly foundations. He holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley.