skip to content

Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Middle Eastern Studies
HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal University Associate Professor in Middle Eastern Studies
Assistant Director, HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies
Email address: 
+44 (0)1223 335145
Fellow of: 
Darwin College

Dr Paul Anderson is the Prince Alwaleed Associate Professor in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cambridge, the Assistant Director of the University’s Prince Alwaleed Centre of Islamic Studies, and a Fellow of Darwin College, Cambridge. Dr Anderson is a social anthropologist interested in the articulation of economic, moral and political life. He has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Syria, China, Turkey and the UAE.

His new book (2023) is entitled "Exchange Ideologies: Commerce, Language and Patriarchy in Pre-conflict Aleppo", and is published with Cornell University Press:

At the University of Cambridge, he teaches courses and supervises research on the anthropology of the Middle East, and the anthropology of Islam.

Teaching responsibilities: 

Dr Anderson lectures and supervises Masters students, and supervises PhD projects within the field of social anthropology, particularly as related to his current research interests in trade and the morality of exchange.

Supervision information: 

Dr Anderson is open to receiving applications for MPhil and PhD projects from students with a training in social anthropology, who want to work on projects that contribute to current debates in anthropology, particularly in relation to the anthropology of Islam, ethics or commerce; or the anthropology of Syria.

Applicants for PhD study should have some prior academic training in anthropology, which is also usually offered as part of the MPhil by advanced study programme.

Research interests: 

Exchange Ideologies: Commerce, Language and Patriarchy in Pre-Conflict Aleppo

My new book (2023), Exchange Ideologies, documents the social world of Aleppo's traders before the destruction of the city, exploring changing conceptions of commerce in Syria. Syria's traders have been seen as embodying a timeless culture of "the bazaar," or an ahistorical Islamic culture of trade. Other accounts portray them as venal figures, motivated only by profit, and commerce as a purely instrumental pursuit. Rejecting both approaches, Paul Anderson traces the diverse social structures, and notions of language, through which Aleppo's merchants understood and construed commerce and the figure of the merchant during a period of economic liberalization in the 2000s. Rather than seeing these social structures and representations as expressions of a timeless bazaar culture, or as shaped only by Islamic tradition, Exchange Ideologies relates them to processes of politically managed economic liberalization and the Syrian regime's attempts to ensure its own survival in the midst of change. In doing so, Anderson provides an account of economic liberalization in Syria as a social and cultural process as much as a political and economic one.

The Afterlives of Urban Muslim Asia: Alternative Imaginaries of Society and Polity

It is widely accepted the conflict and large-scale migrations over the past century, of minorities and Muslims, have led to "decosmopolitanisation". However, interreligious relations sometimes persist in older and newer diasporic contexts, and in appeals to shared urban heritage. This comparative research programme, led by the University of Sussex and in collaboration with the Universities of Copenhagen and Cambridge, analyses the ways in which both everyday living and projects of the imagination invoke urban imaginaries, and the extent to which these transcend (or reinforce) religious, sectarian, national and ethnic boundaries.

A New Silk Road? Mercantile Connections across Asia

Another strand of my recent work aims to describe the dynamics of long-distance trading networks connecting China to markets in West Asia and Arabic-speaking countries. It is part of a European Research Council-funded project, led by Professor Magnus Marsden, entitled ‘Trust, Global Traders, and Commodities in a Chinese International City’, documenting the trading networks and activities centred on the city of Yiwu in south east China. The focus of this work, which is also supported by the Centre of Islamic Studies, is on the history of trading routes between China and the Arab world, the social dynamics and identities, and forms of trust/mistrust underpinning these long-distance trading networks.

Current PhD students

Rubby Haji Naif: Interfaith relations and integration of Muslim Syrian refugees in Germany: the case of 'The House of One'.
Shahla Suleiman: TBC


Exchange Ideologies: Commerce, Language and Patriarchy Cornell University Press (2023)
Muslims in the UK and Europe V Cambridge: Centre of Islamic Studies (2020)
Muslims in the UK and Europe IV Cambridge Centre of Islamic Studies (2018)
Muslims in the UK and Europe III Cambridge Centre of Islamic Studies (2017)
Muslims in the UK and Europe II Cambridge Centre of Islamic Studies (2015)

Articles, Book Chapters etc

Urgency and Imminence: The Politics of the Very Near Future Social Anthropology, Volume 30, Issue 4 pp. 1-17 (2022)
The Social Life of Syrian Diplomacy: Transnational Kinship Networks of the Asad Regime History and Anthropology (2021)
After Trust: Institutions, Flexibility and Geopolitics in the Durability of Networks in Inter-Asian Commerce”. Introduction to Special Issue (with Magnus Marsden) Global Networks (in press) (2020)
Not a Silk Road: Trading Networks between China and the Middle East as a Dynamic Interaction of Competing Eurasian Geographies Global Networks: a Journal of Transnational Affairs (2020)
Games of Civility: Ordinary Ethics in Aleppo’s Bazaar Ethnos, 84:3 pp. 380-397 (2019)
Beyond Syria’s war economy: Trade, migration and state formation across Eurasia Journal of Eurasian Studies, 1879366518814657 (2019)
Aleppo in Asia: Mercantile Networks between Syria, China and (Post-) Soviet Eurasia since 1970 History and Anthropology, vol. 29 pp. 67-83 (2018)
“Order” and “Civility”: Middle-Class Imaginaries of Citizenship before the Syrian Uprising Anthropological Theory, vol. 18(2-3) pp. 248-270 (2018)
“An Abundance of Meaning”: Ramadan as an Enchantment of Society and Economy in Syria HAU Journal of Ethnographic Theory, Volume 18(3) pp. 610-624 (2018)
Money and Commerce in Aleppo: the success and failure of a businessman in Aleppo, 1980s-2009 Jean-Claude David (ed.) & Thierry Boissière (ed.) Alep et ses territoires. Fabrique et politique d'une ville, 1868 - 2011 pp. 351-368 (2014)
Aleppo’s Yarn Market: Trust and Speculation in a Time of Economic Transformation Jean-Claude David (ed.) & Thierry Boissière (ed.) Alep et ses territoires. Fabrique et politique d'une ville, 1868 - 2011 pp. 333-350 (2014)
The Politics of Scorn in Syria and the Agency of Narrated Involvement Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 19(3) pp. 463-481 (2013)
'The Piety of the Gift’: Selfhood and Sociality in the Egyptian Mosque Movement Anthropological Theory 11(1) pp. 1-19 (2011)
Is Altruism Possible? Royal Anthropological Institute Hocart Prize Essay (2008)
Conducting fieldwork in the Middle East British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 35(2) pp. 151-172 (2008)

Featured books


Exchange Ideologies Cover Image