Leor Halevi

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2015/2016
discipline History
Associate Professor of History Vanderbilt University

Research project

Forbidden Goods: Cross-Cultural Trade in Islamic Law


My broad project, a two-volume work, examines historically Muslim legal perceptions of non-Muslim commodities at the rise of Islam and in the modern age. In the medieval period, many experts on Islamic law earned their livelihood as merchants and thus appreciated the benefits of cross-cultural trade. Yet they worried that through such trade they would expose their bodies and communities to impurity, and so proposed ideological restrictions to regulate this commerce. This resulted in a productive tension in Islamic legal thought between an economic interest in porous communal boundaries and a religious interest in social exclusivity. As medieval jurists reflected on non-Muslims and their worldly goods, they also sought, in different ways in different historical circumstances, to define an Islamic social identity.


In modern times, high-ranking jurists known as muftis have continued this medieval legacy in some respects. They have cultivated a religious identity and calibrated their gauge of modernity through sentences of new technological objects made in the West. Yet the strength of revivalism in the twentieth century has resulted in the elaboration of arresting juxtapositions between modern things and sacred laws.


My topic has been neglected due to the disciplinary boundaries that tend to confine academic research in the humanities and social sciences. Economic historians have paid little attention to pious Muslim ideals concerning trade with non-Muslims either because it is difficult to measure the impact of religious interests on economic behavior or because of a neoclassical tendency to dismiss religious interests as economically irrelevant. Religious scholars, on their part, have paid no serious attention to the ethics of cross-cultural trade. Perhaps this is due to the impression that an economic topic such as trade lies outside of the proper study of religion. But the Shari‘a, Islam’s sacred law, includes legislation not only about purity rites and scriptural dogmas, but also about commercial transactions, behavior in the marketplace, and the production of worldly goods. Studying this moral economy will lead to a deeper methodological understanding of the impact of economic exchange upon religion.


Leor Halevi (PhD, Harvard University, 2002) is Associate Professor of History and Law at Vanderbilt University. 

As a historian of Islam, Leor Halevi explores the interrelationship between religious laws and social practices in various contexts. His main research interests are History of Islam, medieval and modern; social, cultural and intellectual history; Islamic law; ritual practices; material culture; world trade; exchanges between Muslims and others.

Selected publications


'The Consumer Jihad: Boycott Fatwas and Nonviolent Resistance on the World Wide Web', The

International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 44, 2012, pp. 45-70.


'Lex Mahomethi: Carnal and Spiritual Representations of Islamic Law and Ritual in a Twelfth-

Century Dialogue by a Jewish Convert to Christianity', in A. Q. Asad, B. Sadeghi & M. Bonner (eds), The Islamic Scholarly Tradition: Studies in History, Law, and Thought in Honor of Professor Michael Allan Cook, Brill, Leiden, 2011, pp. 315-342.


'Christian Impurity vs. Economic Necessity: A Fifteenth-Century Fatwa on European Paper',

Speculum, vol. 83, 2008, pp. 917-945.


Muhammad’s Grave: Death Rites and the Making of Islamic Society. New York: Columbia

University Press, 2007.


'The Paradox of Islamization: Tombstone Inscriptions, Qur’anic Recitations, and the Problem of

Religious Change', History of Religions, vol. 44, no. 2, 2004, pp. 120-52.




senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline Biology
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2012/2013
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline Linguistics
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline Sociology