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God’s Technicians: Religious Jurists and the Usury Ban in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

  • Ryan Calder (a1)

At the heart of the $2 trillion Islamic-finance industry is a ban on interest. But why is there only an Islamic ban on interest today? After all, for over a millennium, interest was also gravely sinful in Judaism and Christianity. While scholars have addressed the evolution of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic economic morality in isolation, very few since Weber have tackled the interest question directly and comparatively.

I argue that the fate of the religious interest ban has always depended on the fate of religious jurists. When religious jurists are absent, no systematic interest ban emerges. When religious jurists emerge as technical experts, the interest ban appears and thrives. And when religious jurists come under attack or lose their traditional role in society, the interest ban withers and dies.

To conclude, I call for a reconstruction of Weber’s theory of religion and economic morality that dissolves the tradition-modernity binary.


Au cœur d’une industrie financière islamique de 2 billions de dollars se trouve la prohibition de l’usure. Mais pourquoi n’y a-t-il aujourd’hui qu’un rejet islamique du prêt à intérêt ? Après tout, pendant plus d’un millénaire, l’intérêt a été décrit dans le Judaïsme comme le Christianisme comme un péché grave. Si de nombreux auteurs ont étudié l’évolution de la moralité économique des principales religions, en les considérant le plus souvent isolément les unes des autres, peu depuis Weber ont réellement traité la question de l’intérêt de façon directe et comparative.

Cet article montre que le destin de la prohibition religieuse de l’usure a toujours été lié à celui des juristes religieux. Lorsque ces derniers sont absents, aucune interdiction systématique d’intérêt n’émerge. A l’inverse lorsqu’ils sont investis d’une forme d’expertise technique, l’interdiction de l’intérêt apparaît et se développe. Et lorsque les juristes religieux sont mis en cause ou perdent leur rôle traditionnel dans la société, l’interdiction de l’intérêt dépérit et disparaît. En conclusion cet article invite à une reconstruction de la théorie wébérienne de la religion et de la moralité économique qui s’affranchisse de l’opposition entre tradition et modernité.


Im Herzen der zwei Billionen Dollar schweren islamischen Finanzindustrie befindet sich das Wucherverbot. Aber weshalb wird heute nur im Islam der Zinserwerb verworfen? Schließlich galt der Zinserwerb über ein Jahrtausend im Juden- und Christentum als Erbsünde. Haben zahlreiche Autoren die Entwicklung der wirtschaftlichen Moral der wichtigsten Religionen untersucht, meist von einander getrennt, sind es nur wenige, die sich seit Weber mit der Zinsfrage in direkter und vergleichender Weise auseinandergesetzt haben.

Dieser Aufsatz weist daraufhin, dass das Schicksal des religiösen Zinsverbots meist von dem der Religionsjuristen abhängig ist. Fehlen letztere bleibt ein systematisches Verbot aus. Werden sie als technische Spezialisten anerkannt, entsteht und entwickelt sich das Zinsverbot. Werden sie kritisiert oder in ihrer traditionellen gesellschaftlichen Rolle geschwächt, verkümmert das Zinsverbot um schließlich ganz zu verschwinden. Schlussfolgernd lädt der Aufsatz zu einem Neuaufbau der Weberianischen Religionstheorie und Wirtschaftsmoral ein, befreit vom Widerstand zwischen Tradition und Moderne.

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