“An abundance of meaning”: Ramadan as an enchantment of society and economy in Syria

Paul Anderson


This article explores the ways in which Ramadan charity and almsgiving in Aleppo before the current conflict provided an occasion for Syrian merchants to enjoy enchanted conceptions of society and economy. Recent anthropological analyses of Muslim charity and almsgiving have argued that religiosities focused on “moral reward” (thawab) are aligned with and shaped by modern neoliberal rationalities. But my interlocutors, in the ways they talked about thawab, were often fascinated less by the possibility of maximizing reward and more by the way that rewards we redistributed through moral networks. They apprehended moral merit and blessing not as values to be maximized but as qualities whose exchange, circulation, and distribution defined the social. I analyze their practices of imagining society and economy as processes of enchantment that produced an abundance of meaning rather than—as in arguments about neoliberalism—an abundance of wealth or salvation.


Charity, almsgiving, merit economies, Ramadan, enchantment, transcendence

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/701026