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Ethnography of Contemporary Shi'ism: The Middle East (2/2)

Panel Chair: David Thurfjell | Monday, August 24, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

The last decade bear witness to massive changes within many Shi‘ite Muslim societies. In Iran, the Khomeinist system is challenged in hitherto unseen ways and critique of the dominating ideology is articulated also within the Islamist establishment. In Iraq, the political influence of the country’s Shi‘ite majority has drastically increased. In Lebanon, Hezbollah’s involvement in the country’s politics has changed as the organization became a member of the country’s government for the first time in 2011. The uprisings in many Arab countries and increasing sectarian tensions with Sunni-Muslim communities, furthermore, have also had great impact on the life of Shi‘ites both in their traditional heartlands and in the West. Based on ethnographic research, this panel focuses on how Shi’ite Muslims on a grass-roots level negotiate, interpret and practice their religious tradition in these new religious, cultural and political environments.

Thomas Fibiger

Finding the right marja – reflections and distributions of moral authority among Kuwaiti Shia

Why and how do Shia Muslims choose a particular marja? On what grounds do they choose one over others, when there are apparently many to choose from? And why is it important to have a marja to follow? These are the main questions I will discuss in this paper, based on such discussions during ethnographic fieldwork with Kuwaiti Shia. Not least in recent decades, the issue of who might be recognised as marja has been complicated and a number of contenders have been available. This causes reflections, doubts, concerns and self-awareness for the individual Shia. Who holds authority, what is proper religious knowledge and teachings, which line should one follow? In this paper I focus on reflections and distributions of moral authority, and the relationship between the two, as this is important to Kuwaiti Shia today.

Pedram Khosronejad

Shia Visual Piety and Material Religion during Muharram Rituals in Modern Iran, 1830-2014

The papers will discuss Shia visual piety and material religion which were used during Muharram rituals in Modern and contemporary Iran. Based on very recent and unpublished visual materials of Golestan Palace Photo Archive and also field observations of speaker, this paper will explore and classified the material religions which were used during Muharram rituals in Iran. The papers draw on this insight to explore sensuous and religious and visual aspects of material religion to discuss relationships between belief, materiality, sensation, public participation and social relations.

David Thurfjell

The Heyyati-movement and charismatic Shi’ism in contemporary Iran

The heyyati-movement is a folk-religious movement in Iran circling around the practice of chest beating and ritual mourning of the martyred household of the Prophet. During the last decade, since the presidential period of Mohammad Khatami, the structure of this movement has changed. The heyyati-groups were mobilised in the campaign that led to the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the presidential elections of 2005 and since then what may be described as a new type of heyyati-culture has flourished in certain layers of Iranian society and it has frequently been a matter of controversy. Today, the movement can be described as a charismatic alternative to the religious authority of the clerical establishment. Based on interviews and ethnographic observations this paper describes and analyses one heyyati-community in Qom.

Sufyan Abid

Recreating Karbala in London: Contested Expressions of Commemorating Ashura among Twelver Shi’i Muslims of South Asian Background

This paper explains the contested nature of expressions and commemorations of Ashura among Shi’i Muslims of South Asian background living in London. The researcher explores how Shi’i Muslims in London are uniquely asserting their way of commemorating Ashura in public sphere as ‘authentic and with the true spirit of Shi’i Islam’. The paper also presents the ethnographic accounts of the complex and often contested nature of relationship between the expressions and practices of Shi’i Muslims from South Asian background with Shi’i centres of religious authority affiliated with Iran and Iraq. Shi’i Muslims of South Asian background constitute numerical majority among Shi’i in Britain but lack representation in Shi’i leadership. The paper argues that Shi’i Muslims from South Asian background are not the passive recipients of reformist versions of commemorating Ashura as presented by individuals trained in Iran and Iraq, but they keep their version of practicing Ashura intact by contesting and often rejecting the reformist Shi’i trends.


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Thematic Outline

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