Faith and Profit in the Pre-Modern Mediterranean: 300-1600

History 103B.004

Fall 2018
3205 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
W 10-12
Class Number: 

"In the name of God and good profit.” For the 14th century Italian merchant Francesco Datini, faith and profit were two complementary, not conflicting, aims of life. He was far from alone in his thinking, though not unchallenged. Across many historical societies, there have been tensions between the demands of economic and religious life. Who can I marry, what may I sell, what should I do with money, and how shall I interact with strangers? These questions can become especially acute when representatives of two competing belief systems interact with each other. The history of the Mediterranean provides numerous rich examples of societies and individuals facing these questions. In this class, we will examine two crucial aspects of historical development in the pre-modern Mediterranean (from late Antiquity to the sixteenth century): the role of religion and of economic exchange in creating and defining a wide range of communities and cultures. In particular, students will analyze the spread and influence of the major Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and will compare how the adherents of these faiths viewed themselves and each other. We will read the normative literature - how religious scholars thought their co-religionists should behave towards each other – and compare it with evidence for how people actually lived and interacted with each other in daily life. We will look at how a range of pre-modern Mediterranean societies accommodated or rejected religious pluralism, and will examine the ways in which religious norms influenced economic behavior and vice versa. A glimpse at today’s headlines reminds us that these are far from settled questions, but a deeper understanding of how past societies responded to them will serve us well as citizens in a twenty-first century where religion and trade still divide and unite us.