PE/PI Seminar: Timur Kuran
Timur Kuran will present his paper "Inequality-Preserving Benevolence: Wealth Sheltering through the Islamic Waqf."
Until modernizing reforms of the 1800s, the Islamic waqf, a form of trust, played massive economic roles in the Middle East, the Balkans, and North Africa. Scholars have tended to treat it primarily as a vehicle for philanthropy and charity and secondarily as a wealth shelter. In fact, this impression is accurate only for "state waqfs"-waqfs that members or high officials of the ruling dynasty founded to provide social services. And even these were partial to elites. Numerically, state waqfs are unrepresentative of waqfs. Using an original data set of Istanbul waqf deeds from 1453 to 1923, this paper shows that "regular waqfs"-waqfs ordinarily founded by people outside the sultan's close circle-served mainly as wealth shelters. In providing material security to prosperous families, regular waqfs perpetuated temporal inequalities. Among the services that regular waqfs commonly funded were prayers for expiating the sins of founders and their families. The intended effects of regular waqfs thus included the replication of temporal inequalities in the afterworld. A factor lowering inequality among founders themselves is that relatively disadvantaged founders, such as female commoners, were especially likely to prioritize wealth sheltering.