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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 Lecturer 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 religious life. His research has a particular focus on Islam, value, moral personhood and the sociality of trade. He has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Syria and China, and is currently part of an ERC-funded research project studying the global trade in low-grade Chinese commodities. He is also working on a monograph of Aleppo as a trading city before the outbreak of the current conflict in Syria. 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: 

Moralities of the Market: Merchants, Islam and Ethics in Pre-Conflict Aleppo 

This project explores the moral and social dynamics of trade in the city of Aleppo, then Syria’s commercial hub, before the outbreak of the Syrian uprising in 2011. It starts from the assumption that Aleppo was not simply a second city to Damascus, nor a site of political opposition to the Baathist regime, but had been fashioned by Aleppo’s merchant families into a dynamic node in an expansive Asian economy, connected to markets in China, central Asia, the Gulf and beyond. As well as identifying these connections, this project seeks to describe the local understandings of economy, value and circulation in which trade in Aleppo was embedded. Drawing on fifteen months of fieldwork in Syria, conducted in 2008-09, this project explores the forms of value, dynamics of trust, and notions of moral personhood, that underpinned trade in Aleppo’s wholesale and retail suqs and textile factories in this period.

A New Silk Road? Mercantile Connections across Asia

Another strand of my current 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


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)