The IIS sponsored a panel presentation at the 2009 meeting of the Middle Eastern Studies Association of North America (MESA), held in Boston, Massachusetts. The panel entitled "Formulations of Authority in Early Shi‘i Islam" was part of the Institute’s new endeavour in the field of Shi‘i Studies.
The panel was organised by Dr Teresa Bernheimer of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), who, until recently, was a Visiting Research Fellow at the IIS. Professor Roy Mottahedeh of Harvard University chaired the panel.
The four papers presented at the panel looked at various aspects of the formulations of authority in early Shi‘i Islam. The first paper by Dr Najam Haider examined the emergence of religious authority among various groups of Kufan Shi‘is. He emphasised the importance of public expressions of identity through a case study concerning authorities who operated at the margins of multiple communities.
Dr Teresa Bernheimer’s paper compared the formulations of authority among ‘Alid dynasties of the ninth and tenth century from a socio-historical perspective, with a particular emphasis on their claims to Prophetic descent. Her research was based on newly available historical and genealogical sources and numismatic material.
Dr Gurdofarid Miskinzoda’s paper focused on a report commonly known as the hadith manzilat Harun (the Prophetic tradition on the position of Aaron) in the Muslim tradition. She explicated the particular hadith’s role in the doctrinal formulation of Imam ‘Ali’s special status in Shi‘i Islam. The paper argued that, although not all authors discuss the parallels between Aaron and Moses directly, they nevertheless utilise them to respond to concerns about important issues as the concept of prophethood, the position of Prophet Muhammad as the last prophet and the nature of religious authority.
Dr Toby Mayer’s paper analysed Shahrastani’s concept of the Prophet’s Household as protectors of the Quran’s higher meanings, elaborated in his commentary ‘Keys to the Arcana’. In this work he presents a detailed system of complementary concepts underlying the entire Qur’anic text. This framework, supposedly transmitted by the lineage of the Prophet, not only functions as a scriptural hermeneutic, but also as a ‘philosophy’ on which basis Shahrastani challenges Ibn Sina’s thought in Struggling with the Philosopher.
All IIS publications were on display at the popular MESA book exhibit, located adjacent to the main MESA conference hall. Patricia Salazar and Nadia Holmes, two editors from the Department of Academic Research and Publications, were there to distribute catalogues and provide information about the books and the work of the Institute to academics, authors, publishers, students, researchers and other conference attendees.