Past events

UChicago Shi'i Studies Group Symposium CFP: Shi'ism and Governance

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The University of Chicago Shiʿi Studies Group Symposium

Call for Papers (CFP):

“Shiʿism and Governance”

Abstract submission deadline: February 24th, 2017

Symposium Date: May 12-13, 2017

The relationship between Shiʿism and governance—whether through doctrinal beliefs, political movements and ideologies, or practical exigencies—constitutes a highly relevant area of study within Islamic history and modern life. From the earliest disagreements over the succession to the Prophet Muhammad to current debates over Islamism and the modern state, various thinkers and movements within Shiʿism formulated original and innovative answers to the question of how Shiʿi communities should approach governance, politics, and communal relations in the larger societies within which they lived.

Given its historic minority status, how have Shiʿis theorized their position vis-à-vis caliphates they intrinsically rejected? How have Shiʿis legitimized or contested the rhetoric and practice of Shiʿi dynasties and governments once they came into power? How can we theorize Shiʿi pre-modern and modern notions of “governance” and the “political,” and is this a useful metric for understanding the relationship between Shiʿism and power? Finally, how have other schools of thought approached and responded to Shiʿi notions of governance or politics? We welcome contributions from scholars and graduate students working on these questions from any relevant scholarly perspective, including social, intellectual and political history, anthropology, sociology, political science, area studies, literature, and religious studies.

Papers may focus on both modern and pre-modern subject areas and might address—although by no means are limited to—such topics as the following:

·         Historic Shiʿi notions of leadership and what constituted the authority of the Islamic ruler;

·         Shiʿi beliefs of the Imamate and the Caliphate regarding governance and political responsibilities;

·         Modern Shiʿi scholarly thought and the various political positions of Twelver Grand Ayatollahs towards governance;

·         Polemic debates between Shiʿis and other thought schools on the theory of proper Islamic rule;

·         Political Islam, mass movements, and the modern state;

·         Sectarianism, communal relations, and the state in the modern Middle East;

·         Comparative studies on approaches towards governance between different Shiʿi groups such as the Zaydis, Twelvers, Isma’ilis and Alawis in historical and modern contexts.

Format of the Symposium

Presenters will be requested to present for 15-20 minutes followed by additional time for moderated discussion between panelists and the audience.

Abstracts of around 300 words along with a CV should be submitted by February 24, 2017. Send abstracts to Mohammad Sagha at, with the words “UChicago Shiʿi Studies Symposium Application” in the subject line.

About the Symposium

The University of Chicago Shiʿi Studies Symposium is an endeavor of the Shiʿi Studies Group, established in 2010, to provide an interdisciplinary, non-area-specific forum for the discussion of research on Shiʿism by faculty and graduate students at the University and beyond. The annual symposium aims to strengthen the field of Shiʿi Studies by bringing together a group of both senior and early-career scholars to present research and to cultivate an environment for intellectual discussion and collaboration. 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. 

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2015 Shi'i Studies Symposium, "The Practical Authority of the Imams and their Representatives"

April 3 – 4, 2015, Swift Hall Common Room, 1025 East 58th Street

Friday, April 3rd

8.30-10.15 -- Panel 1

Discussant: Najam Haider, Barnard College, Columbia University
Devin Stewart, Emory University, The Twelfth Imam's Rescripts to al-Shaykh al-Mufīd
Liyakat Takim, McMaster University, Between Theory and Practice: The Clash of Authority between the Imams and their Disciples
Nebil Husayn, Princeton University, Legal Codes Specific to Hāshimid

10.15-10.30 -- Coffee Break

10.30-12.15 -- Panel 2: 

Discussant: Paul Walker, University of Chicago
Shayesteh Ghofrani, Exeter University, A Comparative Exploration of the Concept of Wilāya in Shiʿism before the Minor Occultation
Samer Traboulsi, University of North Carolina at Asheville, Whose Charisma is it? A Weberian Reading of Authority in Ṭayyibī Ismāʿīlism 
Najam Haider, Barnard College, Columbia University, The Travelling Tree, the Dead Magician, and the Poisoned Dog

12.15-1.15 -- Lunch 

1.15-2.30 -- Lecture

Moderator: Mohammad Sagha, University of Chicago
Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi, The divine man’s Holy Spirit. Some new remarks regarding Imamate and prophecy

2.30-2.45 -- Coffee Break

2.45-4.00 -- Panel 3:

Discussant: Alireza Doostdar, University of Chicago
Elham Mireshghi, University of California, Irvine, The Authority of the Jurist and the Making of Policy : the Cases of Kidney Sales and Smoking in the Islamic Republic of Iran
Elvire Corboz, Aarhus University, The Transnational Marja'iyya and the Islamic Republic of Iran: The Dynamics of a Competition
(Following this program, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies will be hosting a lecture by Laura Deeb, 4.30-6.00, in Stuart Hall Room 105)

Saturday, April 4th

9.00-10.45 -- Panel 4:

Discussant: Rodrigo Adem, University of Chicago
Denis Hermann, The Imam and the Political Authority in the Modern Shaykhi Literature
Sajjad Rizvi, Exeter University, Who represents the Imam in contemporary Iran? Debates between jurists and mystics

Discussant: Timothy Gutmann, University of Chicago
Oliver Scharbrodt, University of Chester, Muhammad Al-Shirazi (1928-2001): The Collective Governance of the Jurisconsults (ḥukūmat al-fuqahā’) in the Time of Occultation

10.45-11.00 -- Coffee Break

11.00-12.15 -- Panel 5:

Discussant: Sajjad Rizvi, Exeter University
Rizwan Mawani, Instituting and Institutionalizing Authority in 19th and 20th Century Ismaili Shi’ism: The First Three Aga Khans and the Mechanisms and Modes of Authority Reclamation in the Age of Steam and Print
Radhika Gupta, Goettingen University, Striking a fine balance: The exercise of religious authority among the Twelver Shi‘a in India

1.00-2.00: Lunch for presenters

Format of the symposium
Presenters will get 10 minutes to introduce their papers. Discussants will prepare around 5 minutes of remarks for each paper, then presenters will be given time for to respond to the discussant and also to make remarks about each the other papers, and then open it up to the floor. Contact to obtain one or all of the pre-circulated papers.

All events will be held at Swift Hall (1025 E 58th St., Chicago, IL)

This event is free and open to the public. Funding and support for this symposium is generously 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, the Franke Institute for the Humanities, the Council for Advanced Studies Islamic Studies workshops and MEHAT workshops, the Department for Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, the Department of Anthropology and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago. Persons with disabilities who may need assistance should email Other inquiries can be directed towards Ed Hayes ( or Mohammad Sagha (

Spring Quarter, 2014

2014 Shi'i Studies Symposium, "Reason and Esotericism"


hermeneutics, law, theology, heresiography, epistemology, politics, and anthropology

April 4th 2014


Coulter Lounge, International House, 1414 East 59th Street, Chicago, IL


8.15-8.45: Coffee

8.45-9.00: Opening remarks

9.00-11.00: Panel 1: Pre-modern tafsīr and taʾwīl

Hassan Ansari: The Tafsīr al-ʿAskarī: a brief history of the development of a Shiʿi text

George Warner: Explaining Prayer: A Passage from Ibn Bābawayh’s ʿIlal al-Sharāʾiʿ in Context

Tahera Qutbuddin: Principles of Fatimid Esoteric Interpretation (taʾwīl): An Analysis Based on the Majālis mu’ayyadiyya of al-Muʾayyad al-Shirazi (d. 470/1078)

Paul Walker: Examples of Taʾwīl in Fatimid Ismaili Texts

11-11.15: Coffee break

11.15-1.15: Panel 2: Pre-modern texts and contexts

Bella Tendler: ʿAbd Allāh b. Sabaʾ and the role of the Nuṣayrī Bāb: Rehabilitating the Heresiarchs of the Islamic Tradition

Ed Hayes: Proto-Nuṣayrī Opposition to Jaʿfar ‘the Liar’ and the Business of Building Coalitions Between Mainstream and Esotericist Imamis

Mushegh Asatryan: The World and Worldview of Early Shiʿi Ghulāt (8th-9th cc).

Rodrigo Adem: Ismaili Doctrine: Context and Sources

1.15-2.15: Lunch

2.15-4.15: Panel 3: Politics and anthropology of knowledge

Alireza Doostdar: The Occult Sciences in Iran: Between Sanction and Censure

Olly Akkerman: The Politics of the Bohra Bāṭin Archive: Ismaili Manuscript Culture and the Language of Secrecy 

Devin Stewart:  Taqiyya and Tawriya, or the Art of Ambiguity

Hamid Reza Maghsoodi: To Define the Indefinable; the Epistemology of Maktab-i Maʿārif-i Khurāsān

4.15-4.30: Coffee break

4.30-6.00: Panel 4: Early modern philosophy and esotericism

Ata Anzali: Philosophers, Sufis, and their Opponents in the Late Safavid period: Some Observations

Sajjad Rizvi: Esoteric Shiʿism in the Later School of al-Ḥilla: Walāya and Apocalyptism in Rajab al-Bursī and al-Ḥasan b. Sulaymān al-Ḥillī

Matt Melvin-Koushki: Occultism, Imamophilism and Rationalism in Timurid-Safavid Iran: The Case of Lettrism

6.00-8.00: Reception

This event is free and open to the public. Funding and support have been provided by the Center for International Studies and the Norman Wait Harris Fund, the Martin Marty Center at the Divinity School, the Division of the Humanities, the Franke Institute for the Humanities, the Council for Advanced Studies, the Islamic Studies Workshop and the Middle East History and Theory (MEHAT) workshop, the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Central Asian Studies Society, and International House’s ‘Global Voices’ program

Spring Quarter, 2013

"Preserving the Faith: Cultural Assets among Shi'is in Soviet and Post-Soviet Tajikistan".

Zahra Jamal, Research Associate, Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, University of Chicago,

Thursday, May 30, 12 p.m. to 1:15 p.m., Pick 218.

Middle East History and Theory Workshop and the Shi'i Studies Group


Shi‘ism Panel Sponsored by the Shi‘i Studies Group at MEHAT conference:

Saturday May 4th, 9:00 – 10:30 a.m. – Panel Session 5, “Between Doctrine and Practice: Shiʿi and Sunni Political Formations in 10th-12th Century Iraq and Iran”

“Ismailis at Isfahan – A Tale in Three Texts”, Shiraz Hajiani (University of Chicago)

“In the Shadow of the 12th Imam: Contestation in the Lesser Occultation; a Network Analysis Approach”, Mohammad Sagha (University of Chicago)

“Maintenance of Public Order in Baghdad under Buyids and Seljuqs”, Mohammed Allehbi (University of Chicago)

“Fluidity and Compromise: A Reassessment of the Offices of Wakil and Safir During the Earliest Stages of Twelver Factionalism”, Edmund Hayes (University of Chicago)


Another Shi‘ism Panel at MEHAT conference:

Saturday May 4th , 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. – Panel Session 8, “Negotiating Shi’i Doctrine”

“The Qur’an – Word of God or Word of Muhammad: Prophetic Revelation in the thought of Abdulkarim Soroush and Nāṣir-i Khusraw”, Khalil Andani (Harvard University)

“Ambiguity in the Lines of Demarcation Between Akhbārī and Uṣūlī in the Last Islamic Centuries”, Mohammad Hadi Gerami (Institute of Imamite Studies, Tehran

“Bidʿah as an Image Problem: Reforming the ʿĀshūrāʾ Ritual in Mandatory Southern Lebanon”, Ari Schriber (Harvard University)

“The Challenge to Taqlīd by Two Leading Modern Shiʿi Clerics: Shaykh Hadi Najmabadi and Shariʿat Sangalaji”, Farhad Dokhani (Harvard University)


“The Fate of the Nations: Iranian History, Ethnic Identity and Shi'ism in Ferdowsi's Book of Kings,”

Edmund Hayes, PhD Candidate NELC

Friday May 10, 2013 at 9:30AM. Swift 106.

Islamic Studies Club (aka Majlis) and the Shi‘ism Discussion Group


Winter Quarter 2013


“Shīʿī Seminaries in Iran and Iraq: Studying Islamic Law in Qum and
Najaf,” A lunchtime seminar

Robert Gleave (Mellon Islamic Studies Initiative Visiting Professor, University of Chicago, and Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, Sulayman Ali Hassan (PhD candidate, NELC, University of Chicago), chaired by Alireza Doostdar (Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies and the Anthropology of Religion,
Chicago Divinity School)

Monday, 11th March, 12.30pm-2pm, Seminar Room 406, Swift
Shi‘i Studies Group


Studying Shīʿī Islam: Prospects and Challenges

Friday, 8th March 2013, 9.00am-6.30pm, Swift Common Room, Divinity School

Mellon Islamic Studies Initiative Workshop


"Sacred Knowledges and Expert Opinions: Understanding the Fatwas on Kidney Sales in Iran"

Elham Mireshghi , Ph.D Student, Medical Anthropology, University of California, Davis

Wednesday, March 6, 3:00 - 4:30 p.m. Pick 218,

Hosted by the Middle East History and Theory Workshop and the Shi'ism Studies Group.


“Shi`i Jurisprudence, Sunnism and the Traditionist Thought (akhbārī) of Muhammad Amin Astarabadi (d. 1036/1626-7)”

Professor Rula Abiisaab, Assistant Professor, Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University.

Monday Feb 18th, 5-6.30pm, Cobb Hall, room 103

Shi'ism Studies Group and the Middle East History and Theory Workshop (MEHAT)



Spring Quarter 2012

“The Motif of the Cave and the Narrative Tradition of Nāṣir-i Khusraw in Badakhshan”

Professor Jo-Ann Gross, History Department, The College of New Jersey

Weds April 11th, 4pm. 

The Shi'ism Discussion group, MEHAT and CEERES



Fall Quarter 2011

Screening of “Taʿzieh: Another Narration,” a documentary film about Ta‘ziyeh, the Shi‘i passion play about the martyrdom of Imam-Hossein.

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011
Persian Circle and the Shi’ism Discussion Group 


“ASHURA AT SKARDU,” a field video from the Northern Areas of Pakistan
shot by Professor John R. Perry, of an Ashura procession in Baltistan, Pakistan,

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011
4:30pm, Pick Hall 016

Shi‘ism Discussion Group

Spring Quarter 2011


“Inflictions: The Writing of Violence—East/West,”

Dr. Jason Mohaghegh (New Jersey City University)

Thursday, May 5, 2011, 4:00–5:30, Foster 305

The Literature and Philosophy Workshop, MEHAT workshop and the Shi'ism Discussion Group 


“The Chaotic Imagination: Cruelty, Fatality, and the Shadow-Becoming in New Middle Eastern Literature,”

Jason Mohaghegh  (Assistant Professor of World Literature at New Jersey City University)

Friday, May 6, 2011, 4:00–5:30, Pick 016

A joint meeting with the Literature and Philosophy Workshop, sponsored by the Middle East Studies Students’ Association. MEHAT workshop and the Shi'ism Discussion Group 


“Of Books and Bodies: The Hagiography of the Shiite Scholar-Martyr Zayn al-Din al-Amili,”

Devin Stewart, Associate Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Emory University

Shi'ism Discussion Group

Friday, May 6, 2011 4:00–5:30, Pick 218


“The Silent Imam: Religious Archetype and Historical Memory in the Sectarian Milieu,”

Rodrigo Adem, PhD Candidate , NELC, University of Chicago 
Tuesday, April 12, 2011 12:00 PM Noon - 1:20 PM 


“Old and New Sources/Voices in Twelver Shī`ī History,”
Dr. Andrew Newman (Reader in Islamic Studies and Persian with the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Edinburgh. )
Tuesday, April 5th, 2011 at 12:00 PM Noon in Pick Hall 218

Shi ‘ism Discussion Group


Winter 2011

"Sectarianism and the Anxieties of Influence in Early Islam: Ibn Saba' and the 'Jewish' Origins of Shi'ism"
Sean Anthony, Assistant Professor of Islamic History, University of Oregon
Friday, February 11, 2011, 4:00 PM, Pick Hall, Room 218


Fall Quarter 2010


"Why did the Twelver Shi‘a survive? Thoughts on the relationship between rhetoric, history, theology, and the social construction of sectarian identity."

Edmund Hayes, PhD candidate, NELC, University of Chicago

Thursday, December 3, 12-1:30 PM Pick Hall 218

Shi‘ism Discussion Group


"Iraqi Shi'is as Ottoman Subjects"

Dr. Orit Bashkin, Assistant Professor, NELC, University of Chicago,

Monday, November 8, 2010, 5-6:30 PM, Pick Hall, Room 218


“Nahj al-Balagha" 

Prof. Tahera Qutbuddin, NELC, University of Chicago

Thursday, October 21st 12:00 noon,2010 

Shi‘ism discussion Group


Winter Quarter 2010


“The Curriculum at Qum”

Sulayman ‘Ali, PhD candidate, NELC, University of Chicago

Monday, February 28th, 2010 4.30pm, Pick 218.


Discussion session: "What to include in an introductory course on Shi'ism – continued”

Monday, February 1st , 2010 4.30pm in Pick 218,


Discussion session: “What to include in an introductory course on Shi'ism."

Thurs, January 14th 2010, 4.30pm