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CFP - 2015 Shiʿi Studies Symposium


Date of Symposium: April 3rd-4th, 2015

Abstract submission deadline: January 5th, 2015

Completed papers due: March 20th, 2015

Call for Papers

The theoretical authority of the Imam in Shiʿism has been addressed as a question of intellectual history by numerous articles and monographs over the course of the last century. Polemics over the nature of the Imamate provide rich sources for such questions, leading back to the very earliest years of Islam. However, it remains far more difficult to study the question of the practical efficacy of the Imam’s authority, and those who wielded it in his name. This symposium seeks to draw together research that addresses both the intellectual conceptualization of authority with the question of the practical authority of the Imam and his various representatives. We welcome contributions from scholars working from any relevant scholarly perspective, including social, intellectual and political history, anthropology, political science, literature, and religious studies.

The word ‘Imam’ can refer to the supreme spiritual leader of any of the various branches of Shiʿism (Zaydi, Ismaili, Twelver, Nusayri), as well as to the Caliphs and counter-Caliphs who wielded temporal authority across the Islamic world for the first centuries of Islam. In our symposium we will also consider various Imamic representatives and quasi-Imamic figures who claimed spiritual and temporal authority, such as the charismatic bābs who have emerged at various points through history, Ismaili dāʿīs, the Safavid kings, and those to whom the name ‘Imam’ has been applied, such as Ruhollah Khomeini. Determining the efficacy of the authority of these figures is often a tricky task, due to the dispersal of the Imam’s authority through the sacral institutions that represent him to his followers. The type of authority wielded by an Imam can change between generations in spite of the assertions of continuity that emerge from theorists of Imamate anxious to preserve the image of timelessness in their conceptions of the operation of Imamate. The analytical process involved in solving these puzzles thus involves negotiating both the mythopoeic and theological functions that produce foundational narratives, as well as the concrete historical details that suggest the ways in which power was wielded.

Presentations might address such topics as the following:
The legal theory and practice of wielding authority by the Imam, or in his name
The authority to interpret sacred texts (tafsīr, taʾwīl)
The authority to issue commands to the community
The authority to collect and redistribute wealth (zakāt/ ṣadaqa, khums, etc.)
Imamic authority and uprisings
Military command by Imams and their representatives
The execution of state functions on behalf of Imams
The scholars as mediators of Imamic authority
The social construction of authority

Format of the Symposium

Presenters will be requested to present for 20 minutes followed by substantial additional time for moderated discussion between panelists and audience. The pre-circulation and reading of papers within panels is encouraged.

Abstracts of around 300 words must be submitted by January 5th, 2015

Send abstracts to, with the words “PRACTICAL AUTHORITY” in the subject line.

Purpose of the Symposium

The University of Chicago Shiʿi Studies Symposium was initiated with the aim of strengthening the field of Shiʿi Studies by regularly bringing together an inter-disciplinary group of both senior and early-career scholars to present research. At each symposium we aim to address a focused set of questions with cross-cutting relevance to scholars working on various periods and from various disciplinary perspectives.

Funding and support for this symposium is provided by various funders within the University of Chicago, including Norman Wait Harris Fund, the Martin Marty Center at the Divinity School, the Division of the Humanities and the Humanities Visiting Committee, the Franke Institute for the Humanities, the Council for Advanced Studies Islamic Studies workshops and MEHAT workshops, and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago.