Money has a privileged place in analyses of modernity. In both the Weberian and Marxist traditions of social theory, money’s increasingly abstract and free-floating character, and calculative behaviours associated with its use, are symbolic of modernity’s own hyper-rationalistic structures and patterns of decision-making. Yet in what Bill Maurer describes as the ‘haunting’ (2005) effect of the uncanny within the capitalist economy, anthropology and sociology has just as consistently pointed to exceptions. Recently, for example, Sarah Tobin (2016) and Daromir Rudnyckyj (2006) respectively, described the hybrid rationalities of ‘neoliberal piety’ and ‘spiritual economies’ in Jordan and Indonesia.
There are, however, almost no qualitative accounts of the Twelver Shia twenty percent tax on profits known as the khums. In this session of the Majlis, Sam Blanch will present some initial ethnographic findings from his fieldwork in Shia communities in Iran and in Sydney. After a brief introduction to the khums, Sam will describe some of the micro-practices and discourses of khums payers, administrators and beneficiaries. We will see, amongst other things, the regulative power of the khums amongst religious seminarians in Qom, Iran, who are beneficiaries of the khums as the so-called ‘Imam’s portion’.
Sam will suggest a reading of the khums as an index of ongoing tension within Shia communities between traditional authority structures and new forms of technocratic decision-making or what Rudnyckyj calls ‘management knowledge’.
Samuel Blanch is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, ANU. He has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Shia communities in London and Sydney, and recently returned from a short fieldwork trip to Qom, Iran. Samuel was a 2018 Fellow at the Institute for Critical Social Inquiry at the New School for Social Research in New York. Samuel has a BA and a JD from the ANU, and an MA in the sociology and anthropology of religion from King’s College, London.