Religion and Capitalism in Everyday Life
For the past two years, I have been working with a program that teaches critical thinking and moral reasoning skills to Ismaili Muslims using hypothetical case studies of everyday ethical dilemmas. In order to explain the difference between ‘unethical’ and ‘illegal’ acts, and why it isn’t always enough just to follow the law, the program turns to religion for support; from the perspective of a believer, unethical action puts the soul at stake – and the law is not designed to govern the soul.
Connecting the realm of ethics so explicitly to the domain of religion made me rethink the key argument of my PhD Dissertation (defended in 2012). My material did much more than what it purported to do (which was to argue that people continue to see themselves as socialist notwithstanding the putative end of state socialism). My ethnography beautifully illustrated the struggles that people face in reconciling their moral order with the prevailing economic and political system. Moreover, it demonstrated that people turn to religion to do this. Whether they are trying to justify an action that might be considered immoral, or whether they are simply trying to be good on an everyday basis, the people I lived with in Tajikistan turn to religion to help them think through what is ‘good’ and to help them to figure out how they might continue to be good in a changing world. Most importantly, the reason why it matters to them to be good is also rooted in religious aspirations.
Thinking through these ideas has mobilized me to re-work my PhD to highlight the intersections between religion, politics and economics through the realm of morality. My recent appointment as a Research Associate at Simon Fraser University has given me the institutional support I need to begin this work.
It is my expectation that this book will highlight the embedded nature of the economy. Being a rational (capitalist) individual pursuing one’s own self-interest is not always easy; it has social consequences that also need to be accommodated. While religion has the potential to exacerbate these issues, it simultaneously offers possibilities of reconciliation. In Tajik Ishkashim, at the very least, people want to live in a socio-economic system that is embedded in their religious frameworks.