- Religion and Trade: Cross-Cultural Exchanges in World History, 1000-1900 ed. by Francesca Trivellato, Leor Halevi, and Cátia Antunes
Cross-cultural trade has been one of the original—one might say, defining—themes in the study of world history. From Braudel to McNeill, from Curtin to Bentley, the question of how goods, people, and ideas traveled between societies has been at the core of rethinking the human past in its global contexts. As a result, much of the focus has been on the individuals and groups who facilitated these exchanges: cross-cultural brokers and trade diasporas. The present volume is an attempt at building a comparative picture of how, against the odds, merchants across the globe “concocted ways of bartering, securing credit, and establishing durable commercial relations with people who did not speak their language, wore different garb, and worshipped other gods” (pp. 1-2). [End Page 158]
In her thought-provoking introduction, Francesca Trivellato offers a useful overview of the twin notions of “cross-cultural trade” and “trade diaspora,” noting their ubiquity in today’s historiographical vocabulary while acknowledging the ongoing problems of defining them in concrete terms. She identifies five central concerns that have emerged from the literature and that are intended to tie together the contributions to this volume: religion; trust; legal institutions; violence; and material culture. (It is not made explicit why religion alone is foregrounded in the title.) The subsequent chapters, for all their individual merits, do not directly address this framework, which reduces the scope for a truly comparative exploration of cross-cultural trade across this volume. What is more, because most of the chapters deal with exchanges across the early-modern Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, the probative force of their findings with regard to world history, as the title invokes it, is likewise circumscribed. Both these limitations are perhaps inevitable in a conference volume, and the reader is amply compensated by the uniformly high quality of the individual contributions.
The first chapter, by Leor Halevi, engages directly and critically with the concepts of “culture” and “religion” to ask about the legal and symbolic barriers that shaped cross-confessional trade between Muslims and Christians. David Sacks, in chapter 2, examines a barrier to exchange of another kind: the absence of a shared language between a group of English merchants and Beothuk Indians on the coast of Newfoundland in 1612, which was overcome through a form of “silent trade.” The next three chapters all deal with the (interrelated) theological, legal, and political dimensions of exchanges between Christians and Muslims. Giuseppe Marcocci (chap. 3), in an accomplished study of the tension inherent in the Portuguese empire between religious enmity (and the duty to convert infidels) on the one hand and the imperatives of commerce on the other, argues that religion and trade were not simply antagonistic forces but rather “an inseparable couple” (p. 106) that together propelled Portugal’s imperial enterprise. Wolfgang Kaiser and Guillaume Calafat (chap. 4) explore the significance of ransoming to broader economic and political exchanges across the early-modern Mediterranean and show, through specific examples, how ransoming served both sides as an expedient justification for entertaining more general trade relationships with the “infidel.” This theme is pursued further in the next chapter, in which Kathryn Miller examines a fifteenth-century Islamic legal opinion (fatwa) that ruled on the importance of honoring ransoming agreements with Christians and subsequently became highly influential as the legal basis for a whole range of cross-confessional trade relations far beyond the specific context of ransoming. [End Page 159]
Building on the developing theme of inter-faith cooperation, Cátia Antunes (chap. 6) uses evidence from Amsterdam’s notarial records to highlight the regular and institutionalized cooperation between Protestant and Sephardic Jewish merchants in the early-modern Dutch Republic. The next chapter, by Silvia Marzagalli, pokes further holes in the traditional insistence on the intra-confessional nature of premodern trade by showing that the same was...