Merchant and Murshid: Greed and God in Karachi’s Marketplace (completed)

Noman Baig

This research project explains the ways in which the mutual contamination of esoteric Islam (transcendental) and financial practices takes place in Karachi’s bazaar. Of particular interest is how merchants’ economic and spiritual senses of success and progress determine and shape money exchange. While enchanted and disenchanted worlds coexist in a variety of mercantile practices, I suggest that they are not inherently coterminous. I argue that many merchants express an aporetic sensibility because they use economic ideologies and yet use esoteric Islam to authenticate and legitimize their spiritual-ethical positions. It is important to note the counter-hegemonic aspects of esoteric Islam, which undermines the market logic and secular time of hegemonic economic ideology. This project hypothesizes that although dominant economic ideologies constrain alternate sensibility formation among merchants; counter-hegemonic sensibility associated with esoteric Islam mediates and potentially transforms dominant national structures. Because esoteric and exoteric ideologies are not fully commensurable, merchants’ sense of another world and dominant financial understanding are in continuous state of negotiation. Although grounded in Pakistan, my research speaks to a growing body of anthropological work on gift-exchange, religion, and cosmology as they relate to market forces, globalization, and neoliberalism.


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