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Beyond Debt

Islamic Experiments in Global Finance

Beyond Debt

Islamic Experiments in Global Finance

Recent economic crises have made the centrality of debt, and the instability it creates, increasingly apparent. This realization has led to cries for change—yet there is little popular awareness of possible alternatives. 
Beyond Debt describes efforts to create a transnational economy free of debt. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Malaysia, Daromir Rudnyckyj illustrates how the state, led by the central bank, seeks to make the country’s capital Kuala Lumpur “the New York of the Muslim world”—the central node of global financial activity conducted in accordance with Islam. Rudnyckyj shows how Islamic financial experts have undertaken ambitious experiments to create more stable economies and stronger social solidarities by facilitating risk- and profit-sharing, enhanced entrepreneurial skills, and more collaborative economic action. Building on scholarship that reveals the impact of financial devices on human activity, he illustrates how Islamic finance is deployed to fashion subjects who are at once more pious Muslims and more ambitious entrepreneurs. In so doing, Rudnyckyj shows how experts seek to create a new “geoeconomics”—a global Islamic alternative to the conventional financial network centered on New York, London, and Tokyo. A groundbreaking analysis of a timely subject, Beyond Debt tells the captivating story of efforts to re-center international finance in an emergent Islamic global city and, ultimately, to challenge the very foundations of conventional finance.  

288 pages | 18 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2019

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Economics and Business: Economics--International and Comparative, Economics--Money and Banking


"Beyond Debt makes an innovative and compelling contribution to anthropologies of finance and studies in Islamic finance in particular. This book is recommended for specialists in these fields, along with graduate students and scholars interested in globalization, money, and the economy. Highly recommended."


"[Beyond Debt] is a detailed and sensitive study of experiments in finance and banking at a time when there is much to be enraged about the relentlessness of capitalism. It delves into the practicalities and intricacies of doing this experiment through the voices of numerous interlocutors. It is a rich ethnography of a financial experiment.”


“This book sets a new standard for the ethnography of global finance with its detailed account of contemporary financial practices in a non-Western context. In addition, Rudnyckyj pays equal attention to infrastructure, cultural styles, and expert discourses. Beyond Debt is a major corrective to our dominant Euro-American understandings of debt, equity, risk, and profit, and thus offers new ideas for both theory and practice.”

Arjun Appadurai, New York University

“Drawing on extensive fieldwork in Malaysia, Rudnyckyj illuminates how Islamic finance experts design an alternate risk-sharing financial regime that challenges the debt-based norms of global finance. He provides a richly detailed portrait of the critical reasoning, institutions, and practices that mobilize Islam for a new system of wealth generation. This pioneering study should be read by everyone interested in the interlacing of religious piety and international entrepreneurialism, and the neglected role of Muslim societies in redesigning contemporary capitalism.”

Aihwa Ong, author of Fungible Life: Experiment in the Asian City of Life

“Focusing on efforts—orchestrated from within the Malaysian central bank—to design a new global system of Islamic finance, Rudnyckyj reveals an interpretative realm where the logics of finance can be appraised theoretically and evaluated ethnographically. He demonstrates with skill and acuity how experiments in Islamic finance—which allow surplus capital to flow to businesses without incurring conventional debt obligations—can yield a compelling demonstration of the salience of finance in underwriting our lives together and shaping the contingencies of our futures. A tour de force account of a critical contemporary problem, this path-breaking book will be debated for many years to come. Beyond Debt is a unique and paradigm-shattering work that should be mandatory reading for everyone from financiers and central bankers to activists and reformers to anthropologists and scholars of religion.”

Douglas R. Holmes, Binghamton University

"Based on interviews with financial experts and observations from within government think tanks and regulatory bodies(intermittently from 2010–2015) in Malaysia, Daromir Rudnyckyj explores the impact of developing Kuala Lumpur as a hub for Islamic financial services. Focusing on “how new forms of subjectivity and connectivity are produced through economic action”, this work contributes to the ethnographic exploration of economies and cultures."

Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde / Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia and Oceania (BIJDR TAAL-LAND-V)

“In Beyond Debt, Daromir Rudnyckyj paints a compelling picture of Malaysia’s efforts to turn KL into the pre-eminent global city of Islamic finance, and by extension how it came to have a significant impact on the industry itself.”

Penang Monthly

"Daromir Rudnyckyi’s Beyond Debt is a meticulous discussion of challenges that Islamic finance faces. . . . Indeed, Rudnyckyi’s main objective is to provide an anthropology of Islamic finance to challenge the debt-based financial system in the secular world."

Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
Introduction: Pious Finance in the Islamic Global City
Part I. Infrastructure
Chapter 1. An Infrastructure for Islamic Finance
Chapter 2. Expertise in Action
Chapter 3. Counterdebt                                                                                                         
Part II. Operations
Chapter 4. Making Bonds Islamic
Chapter 5. Adjacent System or Original Knowledge?
Chapter 6. Consuming Form, Investing in Substance
Part III. Problematization
Chapter 7. Experimenting with Risk
Chapter 8. Subjects of Debt, Subjects of Equity
Conclusion: An Emergent Geoeconomics

Appendix A: Methodological Notes
Appendix B: Glossary of Islamic Financial Terms

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