Call for Papers

Traditional Authority and Transnational Religious Networks in Contemporary Shi‘i Islam:
Results from recent empirical research

Workshop of the Princeton/Oxford collaborative project
Princeton University, October 3–5, 2013.
Conveners: Morgan Clarke (Oxford) and Mirjam Künkler (Princeton)

De-Centering Shi‘ism?

Religious authority in Usuli Twelver Shi‘i Islam is generally seen as concentrated in the hands of the “sources of emulation,” the maraji‘ (sing. marja‘) al-taqlid, and as paradigmatically based in the established centers of Shi‘i learning of Najaf (Iraq) and Qom (Iran), from where it is projected out to the “peripheries”. Shi‘i Islam thus often appears in academic discourse as relatively monolithic, whereas the diverse, disparate, even fragmented nature of Sunni Islam would seem to be more widely documented.This workshop, sponsored by the Princeton/Oxford collaborative grant “Traditional authority and transnational religious networks in contemporary Shi‘i Islam: Results from recent empirical research,” seeks to question such a monolithic account and ask whether we need to de-center our picture of Shi‘i Islam.

To be held at Princeton University October 3-5, 2013, the workshop will bring together 10-15 scholars of Shi‘i religious authority and networks from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds (anthropology, sociology, history, political science, Islamic and Middle Eastern studies) to allow them to discuss results from recent field or archival research and rethink current academic understandings of Shi‘i religious authority.

We seek to explore whether academic representations of Shi‘i Islam could be de-centered in at least two senses: first, by questioning the ideal type of the marja‘iyya, seeing “religious authority” rather as emergent, contested and fragile; and second, by examining the notion of “the center” and directing attention towards the alleged peripheries of Shi‘i Islam, which have long remained comparatively understudied.

With regard to the first aspect, we are particularly interested in:

· Authority where there is no marja‘, and non-marja‘ Shi‘i religious leadership alongside or in competition with the marja‘iyya (including in the realm of female religious authority).

· Investigating taqlid: to what extent is the scholarly model of “emulation” accepted, applied or contested in practice?

· Myths of the marja‘iyya: was there ever really a sole marja‘? Has there ever really been a “quietist” marja‘iyya?

· Pursuing the plurality and diversity of the marja‘iyya: what implications does the current (or perhaps continuous) plurality of maraji‘ have for the institution? Does it strengthen or weaken it sociologically? And, are there limits to the comparability of different marja‘iyyas? For instance, are the marja‘iyyas of Khamenei and Sistani comparable as institutions, given that one is backed by state power?

· The fragility of the marja‘iyya: is the marja‘ an individual or an institution? And are the people of his bayt as, if not more, important than the marja‘ himself?

· The process of becoming and not-becoming a mujtahid and a marja‘.

With regard to the second aspect, we ask:

· Does Shi‘i Islam have centers and peripheries? Are Najaf and Qom “the centers” and the rest of the Shi‘i world “the periphery”? And if so, can there be two centers?

· Can new centers (and peripheries) emerge?

· Has the importance of national identities and the nation state in shaping Shi’i authority and identity been underestimated in favor of an undifferentiated “Shi‘a”?

· Authority, hierarchy and interdependence between “center” and “periphery”: does the periphery depend on the center, or vice versa? Or are the two more independent than has been assumed?

· What effect on such relationships does political contest and change have? The impact of “the Arab spring” and the 2009 Iranian elections.

· How are center and periphery connected? The nature of Shi‘i networks, be they pedagogical, genealogical, economic, political, ideological, or virtual.

· The role of the wakil: how are representatives of the marja‘ chosen? How do their roles differ, from one marja‘ to another and over time? How do individual representatives/wukala’ reconcile representing several maraji‘ simultaneously?

Interested parties are asked to submit abstracts of around 300 words (addressing also the source material and methodology used), and biographical information of 150 words by May 15, 2013 to [email protected] and [email protected] Draft papers will be due one month prior to the workshop (i.e., September 3) and will be circulated among all paper givers. During the workshop, we will dedicate about one hour per paper to the presentation and discussion. Subsidies for travel and accommodation will be available.

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