Timur Kuran

Professor of Economics and Political Science &
Gorter Family Professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University

What's New

(with Jared Rubin), "The Financial Power of the Powerless: Socio-Economic Status and Interest Rates Under Partial Rule of Law." Economic Journal, 127 (2017): in press.

Legal Roots of Authoritarian Rule in the Middle East: Civic Legacies of the Islamic Waqf.” American Journal of Comparative Law, 64 (June 2016): in press.

(with Murat Çokgezen) “Between Markets and Islamic Law: The Evolution of Islamic Credit Cards in Turkey.” Journal of Comparative Economics, 43 (2015): 862-83.

Interview with Steven Richmond and Jared Rubin on financial markets in Ottoman Istanbul: "Study Explores Ottoman Empire's Upside Down Lending System." BadCredit.org, November 6, 2014.

(with Anantdeep Singh) “Economic Modernization in Late British India: Hindu-Muslim Differences”. Economic Development and Cultural Change, 61 (2013): 503-38.

"The Political Consequences of Islam's Economic Legacy." Philosophy & Social Criticism, 39 (2013): 345-405.

(with Scott Lustig)  “Judicial Biases in Ottoman Istanbul: Islamic Justice and Its Compatibility with Modern Economic Life.” Journal of Law and Economics, 55 (2012): 631-66.

“Political Consequences of the Middle East’s Economic Legacy.” In Institutions and Patterns of Economic Development: Proceedings of the Sixteenth World Congress of the International Economic Association, vol. 1, ed. Masahoki Aoki, Timur Kuran, and Gérard Roland (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), pp. 99-115.

The Economic Roots of Political Underdevelopment in the Middle East: A Historical Perspective.” Southern Economic Journal, 78 (2012): 1086-95.

Synergies between Middle Eastern Economic History and the Analytic Social Sciences,” International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 44 (2012): 542-45.

The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011). There is a discussion forum for this book on Facebook. Read reviews.

(Ed.) Mahkeme Kayıtları Işığında 17. Yüzyıl İstanbul’unda Sosyo-Ekonomik Yaşam / Social and Economic Life in Seventeenth-Century Istanbul: Glimpses from Court Records,10 vols. (Istanbul: İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 2010-13).

Aptullah Kuran, Selçuklular’dan Cumhuriyet’e Türkiye’de Mimarlık / Architecture in Turkey from the Seljuks to the Republic, ed. Çiğdem Kafesçioğlu, Lucienne Thys-Şenocak and Timur Kuran (İş Bank Publications, 2012), 788 pp. Table of contents + preface by Timur Kuran + Introduction by  Çiğdem Kafesçioğlu and Lucienne Thys-Şenocak.

Interview with William Barnes: "Islamic Finance Sits Awkwardly in a Modern Business School." Financial Times, July 21, 2013.

Op-ed: “You Can’t Keep a Lid on Discontent Forever.Cato Unbound, March 16, 2016. 

Op-ed: “The Authenticity Deficit in Modern Politics.” Cato Unbound, March 7, 2016.

Religious Freedom Project discussion on “The Economic and Political Effects of Restrictions on Religion” moderated by Daniel Philpott. Participants: Timur Kuran and Abdullah Saeed, December 15, 2014. 

Interview with Denis Volkov, “An Atmosphere of Repression Leads to Preference Falsification among Opinion Leaders,” Institute of Modern Russia, 14 October 2015 (Online: http://imrussia.org/en/opinions/2445-timur-kuran- in English and Russian).

Op-ed: "Turkey's Electoral Dictatorship.” Project Syndicate, April 10, 2014.

Video interview, Istanbul Seminars, May 20, 2012: "Islamic Law and the Challenge of Democracy."

Interview with Toni Johnson, Council on Foreign Relations: "Free Speech in the Islamic World," September 28, 2012.

Op-ed: "Phase III of the Arab World's Modernization: Building Accountability and Boosting Creativity," pp. 10-11 in World Economic Forum, The Compendium on Economic Governance in the Arab World 2011.

Op-ed: "The Weak Foundations of Arab Democracy," New York Times, May 28, 2011

Radio interview: "How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East," WILL am 580, Illinois Public Media, April 9, 2012.

Op-ed: "Building Arab Civil Society to Promote Economic Growth," pp. 15-17 in World Economic Forum, Addressing the 100 Million Youth Challenge: Perspectives on Youth Employment in the Arab World in 2012.

Interview with Noah Blazer in Istanbul: "Crescent Moon Capitalism: Timur Kuran Weighs the Legacy of Islam's Divergence from the West,"  Today's Zaman, June 28, 2012

Interview with "Rebel Economy" (Cairo) on Egypt's present and future: "Sharia Law is Out of Date," January 12, 2013.

Interview with Giancarlo Bosetti on institutional sources of unrest in Turkey and Egypt: "Egypt is becoming a failed state," Reset DOC, July 26, 2013.

Op-ed: "Political Islam's Loss of Democratic Legitimacy." Project Syndicate, August 2, 2013.

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Research Highlights

Social Mechanisms - I have written on the evolution of preferences and institutions, with contributions to the study of hidden preferences, the unpredictability of social revolutions, the dynamics of ethnic conflict, the evolution of morality, perceptions of discrimination, and cultural change. Many of these works deal with the repercussions of concealing knowledge.

Middle East, Islam, and Economics -  Another of my research interests concerns the economics of the Middle East. I have critiqued and analyzed contemporary attempts to restructure economies according to Islamic teachings. Recently I completed a work that explores why the Middle East, once economically advanced by global standards, subsequently fell behind in various realms, including organizational efficiency, technological creativity, and commercial competitiveness. My current interests include the economic trajectories of India's religious communities, especially its Hindus and Muslims; and effect of Islam on the evolution of political institutions in the Middle East. 


Long Divergence (Kuran)

Book: The Long Divergence

How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East

In the year 1000, the economy of the Middle East was at least as advanced as that of Europe. But by 1800, the region had fallen dramatically behind - in living standards, technology, and economic institutions. In short, the Middle East had failed to modernize economically as the West surged ahead.

What caused this long divergence? And why does the Middle East remain drastically underdeveloped compared with the West? The Long Divergence provides a new answer to these long-debated questions.

The book argues that what slowed the economic development of the Middle East was not colonialism or geography, still less Muslim attitudes or some incompatibility between Islam and capitalism. Rather, starting around the tenth century, Islamic legal institutions, which had benefitted the Middle Eastern economy in the early centuries of Islam, began to act as a drag on development by slowing or blocking the emergence of central features of modern economic life, including private capital accumulation, the corporation, large-scale production, and impersonal exchange.

By the nineteenth century, modern economic institutions began to be transplanted to the Middle East, but its economy has not caught up. And there is no quick fix today. Low trust, rampant corruption, and weak civil societies—all characteristic of the region’s economies today and all legacies of its economic history—will take generations to overcome.

Table of contents and a sampling of pages of The Long Divergence

For Turkish readers:

(1) the transcript of a talk given in June 2010 in Istanbul, on the basic themes of Long Divergence, (2)-(3) two review articles in Turkish, (4) an op-ed on the Arab Spring, (5) an op-ed on the aftermath of the Arab Spring, and (6) reviews of the Long Divergence.

Türk okurlar için:

(1) The Long Divergence  kitabındaki ana temaları kapsayan bir konuşmanın metni: "Orta Doğu’da Ekonomik Azgelişmişliğin Kurumsal Kökenleri" (Kayseri Ticaret Odası Dergisi (Ekim 2010): 50-58).

(2) Metin Under'in kitap hakkındaki yazısı, "Bin Yılın Sorusu," Newsweek Türkiye, 112 (12 Aralık 2010): 62-67 (Pdf).

(3) Şahin Alpay’ın yorumu: “Ortadoğu Niye Geri Kaldı?Zaman, 4 Ocak, 2011.

(4) “Arap Demokrasilerinin Zayıf Temelleri,” Optimist, Kasım 2012, 92-93.

(5) “Arap Baharı’nın Sonrası.” Optimist, Mayıs 2013, 26-29.

(6) Can Uğur ile söyleşi: “Daha Şiddetli Bir Dikatörlük Gelecek,” Birgün, 22 April 2014, p. 1 (Online: http://birgun.net/haber/daha-siddetli-bir-diktatorluk-gelecek-13274.html).

(7) "Ortadoğu’daki Politik Başarısızlıkların Ekonomik Kökenleri: Tarihsel Bir Perspektif," Journal of Economics and Political Economy, 1 (September 2014): 68-76 (Çeviren: Gözde Soykan).

(8) Yollar Ayrılırken hakkında yazılar:

    • yollar ayrilirken (cover, LD Turkish)

Social and Economic Life in Seventeenth-Century Istanbul: Glimpses from Court Records

In the seventeenth century, when the modern global economy began to take shape, what institutions governed socio-economic life in the Eastern Mediterranean? Were the region’s traditional economic institutions in flux?

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This ten-volume set, 6,431 pages in length, presents original historical sources that are helping to generate answers to the above questions.

The books are the culmination of a data-gathering project initiated in 2003 as part of research that led to The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East.

The set contains Ottoman-Turkish transliterations, along with English and modern Turkish summaries, of thousands of cases found in 15 seventeenth-century Islamic court registers from Istanbul, then the capital of the Ottoman Empire and the commercial center of the Eastern Mediterranean.

The cases are grouped under seven topical headings:

  1. Guilds and Guildsmen (Vol. 1)
  2. Communal Affairs of Christians and Jews (Vol. 1)
  3. Foreigners (Vol. 1)
  4. Commercial Partnerships (Vol. 2)
  5. State-Individual Relations, including Taxation (Vols. 3-4)
  6. Waqfs (Vols. 5-8)
  7. Credit Markets and Uses of Interest (Vols. 9-10)

Volume 10 contains several general indexes.

All volumes will be available online through Nadirkitap.com:  

Volume 1  (932 pp.) - Table of contents

Volume 2   (659 pp.) - Table of contents

Volume 3   (544 pp.) - Table of contents

Volume 4   (708 pp.) - Table of contents

Volume 5   (584 pp.) - Table of contents

Volume 6   (650 pp.) - Table of contents

Volume 7  (677 pp.) - Table of contents

Volume 8  (651 pp.) - Table of contents

Volume 9 (529 pp.) - Table of contents

Volume 10 (497 pp.) - Table of contents


Association for Analytic Learning about Islam and Muslim Societies

The purpose of AALIMS is to promote analytic research of Muslim societies, with a focus on the roles of culture and religion in social, economic, and political trends in both the past and the present.

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