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  1. Joakim Sandberg

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee087

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Sandberg, J. 2013. Usury. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


Usury originally and simply meant the practice of charging interest on loans. This practice was forcefully condemned and generally banned in both Ancient and Medieval times. Indeed, prohibitions against interest can be found in the traditions of all the major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity – compare, for instance, the commandments of the Hindu lawmaker Vasishtha, and the biblical story of how Jesus cast the moneylenders out of the temple (Matthew 21:12). As interest started to become socially acceptable, however, usury came to mean the charging of (legally or morally) excessive or exorbitant rates of interest, and this is also how it is commonly used today. Thus, although many people now may regard as usurious so-called payday loans – which sometimes come with up to 1,000 percent interest – we do not generally regard as usurious the normal bank practice of charging for loans at regulated interest rates. Modern Islam still contains a general prohibition against interest, however, and many countries still have at least partial usury laws – most often setting an upper limit on acceptable interest rates.


  • banking and finance;
  • business ethics;
  • capitalism;
  • ethics in economics;
  • ethics in finance;
  • legal and political;
  • practical (applied) ethics