Timur Kuran
  • Timur Kuran

  • The Gorter Family Professor of Islamic Studies in Trinity College of Arts and Sciences
  • Economics
  • Department of Economics, Box 90097, 213 Chapel Drive, Duke University, Durham, N
  • Phone: (919) 660-1800
  • Office Hours: Mondays 1:30-3:30 PM, Social Sciences 234
  • Homepage
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Overview

    Timur Kuran is Professor of Economics and Political Science, and Gorter Family Professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University. His research focuses on (1) social change, including the evolution of preferences and institutions, and (2) the economic and political history and modernization of the Middle East. His current projects include a study of the role that the Middle East’s traditional institutions played in its poor political performance, as measured by democratization and human liberties. Among his publications are Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification (Harvard University Press); Islam and Mammon: The Economic Predicaments of Islamism (Princeton University Press); The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East (Princeton University Press); and a tri-lingual edited work that consists of ten volumes, Socio-Economic Life in Seventeenth-century Istanbul: Glimpses from Court Records (İş Bank Publications). After graduating from Robert Academy in Istanbul in 1973, Kuran went on to study economics at Princeton University (AB 1977) and Stanford University (PhD 1982). Between 1982 and 2007 he taught at the University of Southern California. He was also a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, the John Olin Visiting Professor at the Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago, and a visiting professor of economics at Stanford University. He currently directs the Association for Analytic Learning about Islam and Muslim Societies (AALIMS); is a member of the Executive Committee of the International Economic Association; edits a book series for Cambridge University Press, serves on numerous editorial boards; and is a member of the Turkish Academy of Sciences. He has served on the World Economic Forum’s Arab World Council.
  • Bio

    Timur Kuran is Professor of Economics and Political Science, and Gorter Family Professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University. His research focuses on social change, including the evolution of preferences and institutions. He is an authority on the economic history and thought of the Middle East. His current projects include a study of the role that the traditional institutions of the Middle East, including Islamic economic institutions, played in its political development. Among his publications are Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification (Harvard University Press); Islam and Mammon: The Economic Predicaments of Islamism (Princeton University Press); and The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East (Princeton University Press).

    After graduating from Robert Academy, Istanbul in 1973, he went onto study economics at Princeton University (AB 1977) and Stanford University (Ph.D. 1982). Between 1982 and 2007 he taught at the University of Southern California. He was also a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, the John Olin Visiting Professor at the Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago, and a visiting professor of economics at Stanford University. He is currently a member of the Executive Committee of the International Economic Association, directs the Association for Analytic Learning about Islam and Muslim Societies (AALIMS), edits a book series for Cambridge University Press, and serves on the editorial boards of five academic journals.
  • Specialties

    • Economic History
    • Development Economics
    • Law and Economics
  • Education

      • Ph.D.,
      • Stanford University,
      • 1982
      • M.A.,
      • Stanford University,
      • 1979
  • Awards, Honors and Distinctions

      • Fellowship,
      • John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation,
      • January 2004
  • Selected Publications

      • T Kuran.
      • (2009).
      • Explaining the economic trajectories of civilizations: The systemic approach.
      • Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization
      • ,
      • 71
      • (3)
      • ,
      • 593-605.
      • [web]
      Publication Description

      A civilization constitutes a durable social system of complementary traits. Some of the complementarities of any given civilization are between elements of "material" life and ones commonly treated as integral to "culture." Identifying the mechanisms responsible for a civilization's observed trajectory involves, therefore, causal relationships that cross the often-postulated "cultural-material" divide. Complementarities make it difficult to transplant institutions across civilizations on a piecemeal basis. They imply that reforms designed to jump-start an economy will fail unless they are comprehensive. Civilizational analysis can benefit, therefore, from attention to institutional complementarities, including ones involving both cultural and material variables. © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

      • T Kuran.
      • (2010).
      • The Scale of Entrepreneurship in Middle Eastern History: Inhibitive Roles of Islamic Institutions.
      • In William J. Baumol, David S. Landes, and Joel Mokyr (Eds.),
      • Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship in Economic History
      • ,
      • (pp. 62-87).
      • Princeton:
      • Princeton University Press.
      Publication Description

      The historical record belies the claim that Islam impeded entrepreneurship by inculcating conformism and fatalism. However, the diametrically opposed view that Islamic institutions are necessarily supportive of entrepreneurship flies in the face of the historical transformations associated with economic modernization. Islamic institutions that served innovators well in the medieval global economy became dysfunctional as the world made the transition from personal to impersonal exchange. The key problem is that Islamic law failed to stimulate the development of organizational forms conducive to pooling and managing resources on a large scale.

      • T Kuran and WH Sandholm.
      • (2008).
      • Cultural integration and its discontents.
      • Review of Economic Studies
      • ,
      • 75
      • (1)
      • ,
      • 201-228.
      • [web]
      Publication Description

      A community's culture is defined by the preferences and equilibrium behaviours of its members. Contacts among communities alter individual cultures through two interrelated mechanisms: behavioural adaptations driven by pay-offs to coordination, and preference changes shaped by socialization and self-persuasion. This paper explores the workings of these mechanisms through a model of cultural integration in which preferences and behaviours vary continuously. It identifies a broad set of conditions under which cross-cultural contacts promote cultural hybridization. The analysis suggests that policies to support social integration serve to homogenize preferences across communities, thereby undermining a key objective of multiculturalism. Yielding fresh insights into strategies pursued to influence cultural trends, it also shows that communities benefit from having other communities adjust their behaviours. © 2008 The Review of Economic Studies Limited.

      • T Kuran.
      • (2005).
      • The absence of the corporation in Islamic law: Origins and persistence.
      • American Journal of Comparative Law
      • ,
      • 53
      • (4)
      • ,
      • 785-834.
      • [web]
      Publication Description

      Classical Islamic law recognizes only natural persons; it does not grant standing to corporations. This article explores why Islamic law did not develop a concept akin to the corporation, or borrow one from another legal system. It also identifies processes that delayed the diffusion of the corporation to the Middle East even as its role in the global economy expanded. Community building was central to Islam's mission, so early Muslim jurists had no use for a concept liable to facilitate factionalism. Services with large setup costs and expected to last indefinitely were supplied through the waqf, an unincorporated trust. The waqf thus absorbed resources that might otherwise have stimulated an incorporation movement. Partly because the waqf spawned constituencies committed to preserving its key features, until modern times private merchants and producers who stood to profit from corporate powers were unable to muster the collective action necessary to reform the legal system. For their part, Muslim rulers took no initiatives of their own to supply the corporate form of organization, because they saw no commercial or financial organizations worth developing for the sake of boosting tax revenue.

      • T Kuran.
      • (2005).
      • The logic of financial westernization in the Middle East.
      • Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization
      • ,
      • 56
      • (4 SPEC. ISS.)
      • ,
      • 593-615.
      • [web]
      Publication Description

      In the 19th century, financial reforms in the Middle East included the legalization of interest, the establishment of secular courts, and banking regulations, all based on Western models. Exploring why foreign institutions were transplanted, this article shows that Islamic law blocked evolutionary paths that might have generated financial modernization through indigenous means. Sources of rigidity included (1) the Islamic law of commercial partnerships, which limited enterprise continuity, (2) the Islamic inheritance system, which restrained capital accumulation, (3) the waqf system, which inhibited resource pooling, and (4) Islam's traditional aversion to the concept of legal personhood, which hampered private organizations. © 2004 Eslevier B.V. All rights reserved.

      • Timur Kuran.
      • (2004).
      • Islam and Mammon: The Economic Predicaments of Islamism.
      • Princeton University Press.
      • T Kuran.
      • (2003).
      • The Islamic commercial crisis: Institutional roots of economic underdevelopment in the Middle East.
      • Journal of Economic History
      • ,
      • 63
      • (2)
      • ,
      • 414-446.
      • [web]
      Publication Description

      During the second millennium, the Middle East's commerce with Western Europe fell increasingly under European domination. Two factors played critical roles. First, the Islamic inheritance system, by raising the costs of dissolving a partnership following a partner's death, kept Middle Eastern commercial enterprises small and ephemeral. Second, certain European inheritance systems facilitated large and durable partnerships by reducing the likelihood of premature dissolution. The upshot is that European enterprises grew larger than those of the Islamic world. Moreover, while ever larger enterprises propelled further organizational transformations in Europe, persistently small enterprises inhibited economic modernization in the Middle East.

      • Timur Kuran.
      • (1995).
      • Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification.
      • Harvard University Press.
      • T Kuran.
      • (2011).
      • The long divergence: How Islamic law held back the Middle East.
      • Princeton University Press.
      Publication Description

      "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 to the West? In The Long Divergence, one of the world's leading experts on Islamic economic institutions and the economy of the Middle East provides a new answer to these long-debated questions. © 2011 by Princeton University Press. All Rights Reserved.

      • Timur Kuran.
      • (2010-13).
      • (Ed.) Mahkeme Kayıtları Işığında 17. Yüzyıl İstanbul’unda Sosyo-Ekonomik Yaşam / Social and Economic Life in Seventeenth-Century Istanbul: Glimpses from Court Records, Vols. 1-10.
      • Istanbul: İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları,.
      • T Kuran and S Lustig.
      • (2012).
      • Judicial Biases in Ottoman Istanbul: Islamic Justice and Its Compatibility with Modern Economic Life.
      • Journal of Law and Economics
      • ,
      • 55
      • (3)
      • ,
      • in press.
      • [web]
  • View All Publications
  • Teaching

    • ECON 751.01
      • POLITICAL ECONOMY INSTITUTIONS
      • Social Sciences 111
      • W 06:15 PM-08:45 PM
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