Valentino Cattelan (Madrid/Bonn): From the Island of Stone Money to the Archipelago of Islamic Finance. Reading Mangan’s Limits to Growth as an Exploration into Law, Economy and Cultures


This lecture undertakes a voyage into law, economy and cultures by using the arts and humanities as heuristic vehicle and the ‘pure energy’ of money (Simmel) as fuel to cross intra- and inter-social boundaries.

More in detail, this journey is divided into three main parts.

To start, Part I explores Western intra-social borders by entering the ‘theatre of modernity’ as the meta-language underpinning the dichotomy with the East (Said) and the theatrum mundi of capitalism as a Western space where “all are ‘brothers’ in being equally others” (Nelson). Within this frame, Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice will be featured to contribute to the explanation.

After experiencing Hamlet’s ‘play within the play’ (ultimate affirmation of the ‘self’, self-reflective agency and vehicle of intermedial and intercultural transformation: Fischer & Greiner), a visit to Mangan’s Limits to Growth will represent the transcultural core of the trip (Part II). Mangan’s artwork, as we will see, gives rise to a complex interaction between matter and energy – materials and labor – through a generative project that reformulates the value of money in time, space and cultures. For this purpose, his installation consumes the ‘wealth’ produced by a bitcoin mining ring to print large-format photographs of rai stone, the ancient currency of the island of Yap; accordingly, the representation of others’ value(-s) is reformulated from one exchange medium to another, while alluding to the necessity of circulation in any currency. This transformative process will later be applied to interpret Islamic finance as an archipelago of meaning: Here, monetary (religious?) value, although originally carved via (closed) criteria of shari‘ah compliance, is converted to the (open) market through state-law mechanisms, practices of standardization, and secularisation (while secular (?) money is converted to shari‘ah compliance as well) in a trans-social space characterized by the inescapable effects of cross-cultural hybridization.

Through Mangan’s Limits to Growth, Part III, in a circular itinerary, will lastly draw some conclusions on the nature of money as an ‘absolute symbol’ (again, Simmel) and the diverse ‘value within the value’ that can exist in an archipelago where sailors (either ‘merchants of Venice’ or ‘merchants of Mecca’) navigate strong winds of cross-cultural interaction. In particular, by paraphrasing Messick’s ‘calligraphic state’, the canon of shari‘ah compliance entextualized in Islamic finance will be critically interpreted as conducive to a ‘typewritten market’ where (abstract) securitization de facto replaces (actual) socio-economic relations.

Dr. Valentino Cattelan

Curriculum Vitae

Valentino Cattelan (Ph.D in Law & Economics, Siena 2009) is a legal scholar with a specific interest in comparative studies and a focus on Islamic law, economics and finance. Since 2016 he has been Research Associate at the Saudi-Spanish Center for Islamic Economics and Finance (SCIEF), IE Business School (Madrid, Spain).  Prior to this he held research and teaching positions at the University of Rome Tor Vergata (2010-2013); the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies (2014); and the University of Florence (2015). In 2017 he served as a Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology (Department of Law & Anthropology) in Halle (Germany); he also taught the module “Islamic Law, Ethics and Society” in the Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities (GPISH) at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London.
Dr. Valentino Cattelan holds an LL.B.+LL.M. (Laurea in Italian Law), and an LL.M. (Comparative Law) from the University of Rome Tor Vergata. He later earned a Ph.D. in Law & Economics (2009) from the University of Siena, with a dissertation on the topic Babel, Islamic Contract Law and Derivatives. How to Structure Shari‘ah-Compliant Financial Options. During the time of his doctoral degree, in 2008, he was also a visiting researcher at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London.
He is the author of several journal articles and book contributions on Islamic classical fiqh, the law of Islamic finance, Islamic property rights and the epistemology of Islamic economics. Moreover, he is the editor of the volumes Islamic Finance in Europe: Towards a Plural Financial System (Edward Elgar, 2013) and Islamic Social Finance: Entrepreneurship, Cooperation and the Sharing Economy (Routledge, forthcoming 2018).

Since April 2018 Dr. Valentino is Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities “Law as Culture”.


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