Monday, May 19, 2008

'In the Name of the Imam: The Shi'i 'Ulama, Nationalism, and the State in the Contemporary Middle East,' (My MEHAT Presentation/Paper Notes)

Hizbu'llah (Lebanon) Secretary General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah.

Iran's supreme leader, Sayyid 'Ali Khamanei, leads congregational prayers in the country's capital city, Tehran.

Billboard in Iraq showing the Iraqi al-Sadr family, one of modern Twelver Shi'ism's most illustrious. From left to right: the first martyr (al-Shahid al-Sadr al-Awal), Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr; Muqtada al-Sadr; and the second martyr (al-Shahid al-Sadr al-Thani), Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr.

● Despite the popular belief that all Twelver Shi‘i Islamic socio-political movements behave in the same manner, these movements are neither monolithic nor unresponsive to the modern world. An overview of Shi‘i political thought throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with primary focus on three of its modern manifestations: the first in 1970s revolutionary Iran, the second in 1980s sectarian Lebanon, and the third in Iraq during and shortly after Ba‘th Party rule, reveal a shift away from centuries of previous political quietism by a growing segment of ‘ulama.

● All three cases of modern political Shi‘ism have pursued ultimately nationalist goals despite allegations of a pan-Shi‘i political program. Shi‘i socio-political movements have taken into account national concerns in designing their political platforms and modus operandi.

●In the modern period, scholarship is no longer the deciding factor of who holds religious authority. Shi‘i leaders need to actively participate in the politics of the modern nation-state in order to remain relevant. Shi‘i ‘ulama in Iran, Lebanon, and Iraq have recognized that these challenges require a rethinking of their role in a twenty-first century, if they want to remain a relevant social force. They are being challenged by activists with fewer or no traditional scholastic credentials who are seeking to redefine Shi‘i political thought and practice.

Taken from the introduction to my talk notes for a paper/article draft which I presented at the 23rd Annual Middle East History and Theory Conference at the University of Chicago, 9-10 May 2008.

My complete notes may be accessed here.

These notes form the basis of my current (and ongoing) research project on Twelver Shi'i religious leadership, political movements, and the clerical evolution in the modern period with a particular focus on the contemporary Middle East.

By publishing them here I hope to (A) Share an update as to my current research with readers, friends, and family and (B) Document my copyright of the material, much of which is taken verbatim from my longer article draft, as I will be e-mailing this to several conference attendees soon.

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