Trade, Institutions and Religious Tolerance: Evidence from India

46 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2008 Last revised: 1 Oct 2013

See all articles by Saumitra Jha

Saumitra Jha

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: January 10, 2008


This paper analyses the incentives that shaped Hindu and Muslim interaction in India's towns from the rise of Islam to the rise of European intervention in the 17th century; it argues that differences in the degree to which medieval Hindus and Muslims could provide complementary, non-replicable services and a mechanism to share the gains from exchange has resulted in a sustained legacy of religious tolerance. Due to Muslim-specific advantages in Indian Ocean shipping, incentives to trade across ethnic lines were strongest in medieval trading ports, leading to the development of institutional mechanisms that further supported inter-religious exchange.

Using new town-level data spanning India's medieval and colonial history, this paper finds that medieval trading ports were 25 percent less likely to experience a religious riot between 1850-1950, two centuries after Europeans disrupted Muslim dominance in overseas shipping. Medieval trading ports continued to exhibit less widespread religious violence during the Gujarat riots in 2002. The paper shows that these differences are not the result of variation in geography, political histories, wealth, religious composition or of medieval port selection, and interprets these differences as being transmitted via the persistence of institutions that emerged to support inter-religious medieval trade. The paper further characterises these institutions and the lessons they yield for reducing contemporary ethnic conflict.

A newer version, entitled "Trade, Institutions and Ethnic Tolerance", was accepted at the American Political Science Review.

Keywords: Trade, Institutions, Complementarities, Religion, Ethnic Conflict, Peace

JEL Classification: F10, N25, O17, Z12

Suggested Citation

Jha, Saumitra, Trade, Institutions and Religious Tolerance: Evidence from India (January 10, 2008). Stanford University Graduate School of Business Research Paper No. 2004, Available at SSRN: or

Saumitra Jha (Contact Author)

Stanford Graduate School of Business ( email )

655 Knight Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5015
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics