A panel at the 47th MESA Annual Meeting (2014) organised by Shi‘i Studies research associates at The IIS entitled Shi‘ism in a Historical Perspective.

The panel brought together papers that studied aspects of Shi'i institutions, thought, and literature within the broader historical context. It took as its point of departure the notion that every historical development, religious doctrine, text, and literary genre formed a continuity with, and was a response to, larger historical processes. It furthermore recognized that the interconnections and continuities between Shi'ism and the outside world operated on two levels. On the one hand, these interconnections crossed confessional and linguistic boundaries, resulting, for example, in the introduction of Gnostic elements in some Shi'i currents. On the other hand, they operated within the Arabic/Persian-speaking Islamic world as a result of inner-Islamic developments, such as debates for legitimacy and the struggle for religious authority, or the amalgamation of Shi'ism and Sufism. The goal of the panel was hence to explore the larger historical significance of Shi'i texts, ideas, and institutions, revealing their connections with external developments. In particular, its aim was to look at the social and political factors behind the circulation of texts and ideas, at the ways Shi'i authors positioned themselves and their narratives within the wider Islamic context, and at the creation of new models of religio-political authority by amalgamating Shi'i ideas with external ones.


Dr Gurdofarid Miskinzoda, Research Associate at DARP, presented on Identity, Doctrine and the Writing of History: The Kitab al-Irshad of Shaykh al-Mufid (d. 413/1022) and the history of Twelver Shi‘i Islam.

Dr Miskinzoda addressed the following questions: What use does Shaykh al-Mufid make of narrative and narrativity in articulating the history of the Shi‘i Imams up until the 5th/11th century, and how his work compares against other representatives of the Muslim literary and historical tradition (e.g. works of hadith, sira, tabaqat and ta’rikh) during his time as well as in earlier centuries?

Dr Orhan Mir-Kasimov presented a paper entitled Mysticism, Messianism, Sufi/Shi‘i Eclecticism and Religious Authority in Post-Mongol Muslim Societies in which he focussed on the evolution of the mystical and messianic pattern of religious authority in Timurid Iran.

Dr Mir-Kasimov analysed and compared three movements with distinct doctrinal lines: the Nizari Ismailis on the Shi‘i side, the Kubrawis on the Sufi side, and the Hurufis, as an example of Sufi/Shi‘i eclecticism with a strong messianic component that developed in early Timurid Iran.

Mushegh Asatryan, Research Associate at the IIS at the time, presented on Kitab al-azilla, Nusayri Literature, and the Transmission of Texts Between Iraq and Syria in the Tenth Century. His paper studies the history of the early ‘ghulat’ (those whose views on God and the Imams came to be viewed as extremist) by looking at the convoluted fates of two such texts, a certain Kitab al-azilla (The Book of Shadows) and a Kitab al-kursi (The Book of the Throne).