De-Centring Shi‘i Islam


De-Centring Shi‘i Islam



British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies

Volume 45, 2018 – Issue 1: SI: De-Centring Shi‘i Islam, Pages 1-17

By Morgan Clarke and Mirjam Künkler

Published online: October 24, 2017


In the introduction to this special issue, we make the case for ‘de-centring’ the study of Shiʿi Islam, conceptually, spatially and sociologically. After first noting the essentialization of Shiʿi identity within the contemporary public sphere, we question its spatialization within the modern world of nation-states and area studies, and contrast the physical and human geography of Shiʿi Islam. We then turn to the central theme of religious authority.

Much of the study of modern Shiʿi Islam has (legitimately) focused on towering clerical figures and the institution of the marjaʿiyya, the summit of the religious hierarchy.

We propose a number of ways in which this focus on the marjaʿiyya might be complicated, through attention to the diversity of forms it takes and the ways in which it is mediated. We point to the need for more bottom-up studies of Shiʿi authority as a complement to the dominant approach of a top-down perspective, as well as greater attention to contexts where the importance of the marjaʿiyya recedes into the background.

We also call for further study of the large part of the Shiʿi population to whom the path towards religious authority was long closed off: women.


Source: Taylor & Francis

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