The Department of Academic Research and Publications at the IIS organised an international colloquium on 20-22 September 2010. The colloquium entitled The Study of Shi‘i Islam: The State of the Field, Issues of Methodology and Recent Developments offered a productive atmosphere for the exchange of new ideas and for taking stock of the current state of scholarship in Shi‘i studies. By focusing on the state of the field itself, the colloquium enabled serious discussions on current issues in the study of Shi‘i Islam and advancing its understanding.
The growth of interest in Shi‘i Islam in recent decades has led to the development of numerous important studies. Therefore, a colloquium devoted to the examination of the state of the field, methodological issues, tools and problems of sources in the study of Shi‘i Islam and Islam in general is a timely endeavour. The colloquium was held over three days and brought a mix of seasoned academics and younger scholars. It comprised eight panels, each devoted to a particular area in the study of Shi‘i Islam. All chairs of the panels also served as discussants.
Papers on the first panel, chaired by Professor Wilferd Madelung, looked at issues pertaining to the study of history and historiography. Dr Farhad Daftary, Co-Director at the Institute, looked at modern progress in Ismaili Studies and Alnoor Merchant, Head Librarian at the Institute, examined a number of coins and argued that numismatic evidence provides unique chronological and historical details on different Shi‘i individuals and dynasties.
The second panel was chaired by Dr Sajjad Rizvi and included papers by Professor Meir Bar-Asher and Professor Andrew Rippin. Professor Bar-Asher in his paper addressed the question of who has the authority to interpret the Qur’an within the Shi‘i tradition and Professor Rippin looked at the Shi‘i contributions to the history of the genre of tafsir.
The third panel, chaired by Professor Etan Kohlberg, was devoted to the study of Shi‘i hadith and comprised papers by Professor Maria Massi Dakake, Muhammad R. Jozi and Dr Gurdofarid Miskinzoda. While Professor Dakake’s paper discussed wider issues pertaining to the transmission of religious knowledge in early Shi‘ism through hadiths, Mr Jozi’s paper focused on the philosophical approach of Badr al-Din al-Shirazi to commenting on al-Usul min al-Kafi of al-Kulayni, and Dr Miskinzoda’s paper investigated a particular hadith and its various interpretations in the Muslim tradition.
Panel four, chaired by Professor Maria Massi Dakake and Professor Eric Ormsby, was devoted to Shi‘i law. Dr Sayyid Zayd al-Wazir’s paper was devoted to the theory of mal (property) in Zaydi jurisprudence. Professor Robert Gleave’s paper focused on the early development of the Shi‘i law of mut’a while Dr Christopher Melchert discussed the idea of renunciation in the early Shi‘i tradition. Professor Ismail K. Poonawala focused on the evolution of al-Qadi al-Nu‘man’s theory of Ismaili jurisprudence based on the chronology of his works on the subject.
The fifth panel, chaired by Professor Gerald R. Hawting looked at the rituals and rites in Shi‘i traditions. The panel consisted of three papers, each devoted to various aspects of studying rites and rituals particular to Shi‘i traditions: Professor Sabrina Mervin’s paper showed a comparative approach to the study of ashura rituals and Hakim Elnazarov’s paper introduced the audience to a little known practice among the Ismailis of Central Asia, namely the ceremony of chiragh-i rawshan (the luminous lamp). The topic of this panel continued in a form of a public lecture delivered by Professor Paul E. Walker which explored Fatimid feasts and festivals.
An important aspect of Shi‘i studies is the study of religious and political authority. Therefore, the sixth panel, chaired by Dr Andrew Newman and Dr Teresa Bernheimer, was devoted to this aspect. The first paper on the panel by Professor Paul E. Walker focused on the role of the Imam-caliph as depicted in official treatises and documents issued by the Fatimids. Dr Sajjad Rizvi’s paper looked at the issues of authority and their philosophical underpinning on the example of the Safavid hikmat tradition’s conceptualisation of walaya takwiniyya (the onto-cosmological role and power of the Imams), while Dr Andrew Newman’s paper discussed the khilaf (debate or polemic) and authority between the Buyid and Safavid periods.
The final thematic panel of the colloquium was devoted to philosophy. Chaired by Professor Daniel de Smet, the panel comprised two papers: Dr Nader El-Bizri discussed wider issues of philosophy and science in classical Shi‘i intellectual contexts, while Dr Toby Mayer’s paper focused on Shahrastani’s philosophical system.
The colloquium concluded with a highly stimulating panel that provided summaries of the major problems raised by the various papers delivered during the colloquium. The skill and knowledge of the chair, Dr Farhad Daftary, and the panellists Professor Etan Kohlberg and Professor Robert Gleave resulted in animated discussions on several important methodological and conceptual issues essential to the better understanding of Shi‘i Islam and the need for even more rigorous research in this area of studies.
This colloquium is expected to result in a volume under the same title to be published by the Institute. Both the colloquium and the resulting volume seek to encourage further discussions of the current issues in the study of Shi‘i Islam and ways for furthering research in this field.