AlterUmma is a five-year interdisciplinary project investigating the transformation of Shii Islam in the Middle East and Europe since the 1950s. It will use research in key archives, intellectual and oral history, ethnographic research and cultural studies approaches to examine the formation of modern Shii communal identities and the role Shii clerical authorities and their transnational networks have played in religio-political mobilisation.
Within the various denominations of Shii Islam, Twelver Shiis are the majority, being dominant in Iran and Iraq and constituting important minorities in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
Despite Shii Muslims in the Middle East often being seen as marginalised minorities in different national contexts, they actually constitute up to half of the population in the entire region. Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 and the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 have shifted the region’s sectarian power dynamics and translated the demographic strength of Shii communities into geopolitical power.
Prof Oliver Scharbrodt
Oliver Scharbrodt is Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Birmingham. His research expertise covers the intellectual history of modern Islam, Muslim minorities in Europe and the historical, discursive and social formations of transnational networks within modern and contemporary Islam, with a particular focus on Twelver Shia Islam. He is the principal investigator of the AlterUmma project.
Dr Christopher Pooya Razavian
Christopher Pooya Razavian's research is focused on the relationship between tradition and modernity in Islam. He has spent many years in Iran, at both the Islamic Seminary and the University of Tehran. He received his PhD from the University of Exeter under the supervision of Prof Sajjad Rizvi. For the AlterUmma project, his research is focused on Morteza Motahhari's concept of social justice.
Dr Oula Kadhum
Oula Kadhum's research explores Middle Eastern politics and society from a transnational perspective, with a focus on diasporic communities. Her doctoral thesis at the University of Warwick compared the UK and Swedish diaspora's involvement in state building during intervention, occupation and following the country's first democratic elections. Currently, she is exploring Iraqi Shia transnational mobilisation in the UK as part of the AlterUmma project.
Yousif Al-Hilli graduated with an MSc in Middle East Politics from SOAS and a BSc in Politics and Sociology from Brunel University. His research interests include informality within political and religious institutions, and the role of religion within states in the Middle East. He is currently working as part of the AlterUmma project to investigate the ways in which the clerical establishment in Iraq have positioned themselves post-2003.
Dr Fouad Gehad Marei
Fouad Gehad Marei is a Research Associate at the Department of Theology and Religion, University of Birmingham. His research focuses on Muslim religiosities, piety, Shii politics, Islamic eschatology, sectarianism and jihadism as well as on state-society relations, and governance. He has research experience in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq and is particularly interested in conflict and post-conflict dynamics.
Dr Nada Al-Hudaid
Nada Al-Hudaid researches Shia religious art in the Middle East and how art is employed in the service (khidmah) of Ahl Al-Bayt. Her PhD thesis at the University of Manchester explored the materiality of Shia art among pious women in Kuwait and what role art plays in the lives of these women. For the Ulterumma project, she will focus on the materiality of dreams and miracles in contemporary Shii art.
Dr Stefan Williamson Fa
Stefan Williamson Fa is an anthropologist specialising in sensory and material approaches to the study of religion. He has conducted extensive research in Turkey, the Caucasus and Iran as well as in his home region of Gibraltar and Andalusia. Stefan received a PhD in Social Anthropology from University College London in 2019 and is currently working on a manuscript and ethnographic film based on this research tentatively titled "Resounding Love for the Household of the Prophet.
ActivitiesView All Activities
28 -31 Oct
Organized by: Fouad Gehad Marei (University Of Birmingham).
Panel organised at the annual conference of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA). Montreal, Canada. This panel examines the role of faith-based and religiously-motivated activism in contemporary Shi‘i politics as well as the triangulation of Shi‘i politics and global shifts in development practice, maxims of governance, and hybrid regimes of rule. Panelists will probe into the hybridified forms of governance and development practices that emerge from the intersection of faith-based activism and global political transformations. Panelists will examine transnational ties between the Middle East, East Africa, Europe and the U.K. We also interrogate the role of faith-based Shi‘i non-state providers (NSPs) and sub- and supranational aid-economy actors in the context of postwar reconstruction and urban revitalization, and examine hybrid regimes of rule in the Islamic Republic of Iran, where authoritarianism and electoral democracy are mutually reinforcing.
Location: Montreal, Canada.
15 -17 Sep
Organized by: Gabriel Malli (University of Graz) and Fouad Gehad Marei (University of Birmingham).
This workshop addresses the amplified importance of faith-related digital practices and devices, recognising that people of faith have been entangled with the effects and conditions of the digital environment for decades. It interrogates the relationship between digital technologies and religious life-worlds and examines the mutually transformative relationship between digital technologies and contemporary modes of religiosity, with a particular interest in three broad themes: (a) religious subjectivities and digital technologies, (b) communities of faith in an era of digital culture, and (c) the occult and other-worldly in the digital environment. As part of the iFaith workshop, thirteen pre-circulated draft articles will be workshopped by experts in the fields of ‘digital religion’, mediatization of religion, and religion on the internet: Prof. Gary Bunt (University of Wales) Dr. Christph Günther (University of Mainz) Dr. Tim Hutchings (University of Nottingham) and Prof. Mia Lövheim (Uppsala University). iFaith is a collaboration between the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham and the Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies at the University of Erfurt.
Organized by: Nada Al-Hudaid and Fouad Gehad Marei (University of Birmingham).
Workshop session at the European Association for the Study of Religion (EASR) annual conference. Pisa, Italy, on 30 August — 3 September 2021. In this workshop session, we examine modes of adaptation and resilience of Shi‘i Islam in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, focusing on: (a) the modernization and consolidation of the Ḥawza (seminary center for the education of Shi‘i clergymen), (b) the activities of globally interconnected Shi‘i public intellectuals, (c) the social life of diasporic and exilic Shi‘is in Europe, and (d) the ritual cultures and artistic expressions of Shi‘i Islam. The workshop session includes nine interventions by ten presenters. In the first part, we examine the intellectual and exegetical legacies of twentieth-century Shi’i scholars, whose contributions constituted a major shift in Islamic social theory. We argue that they contributed to the resilience of Shi‘i Islam in the face of immense socio-cultural transformations brought about by the advent of modernity and secularization. In the second part, we investigate intellectual connections between Shi‘is in Europe and the Middle East, showing how a hybridized Shi‘ism emerges through processes of translation and transnatioanlization. We show how second-generation European Shi‘is develop and practice transnational engagements and attachments We also examine the role ritual lamentation poetry and ritual purveyors in cultivating and promulgating globalised and trans-localized imaginaries.
Location: Pisa, Italy.
PublicationsView All Publications
Author/s: Dr Mohammad Mesbahi
Description: Reza Shah’s attempt in the latter part of his autocracy (1935–1941) to implement formal education for the clergy continues to be one of the most understudied periods of Iran’s modern history. The primary aim of this paper is to investigate the ḥawza’s strategic response to Reza Shah’s envisaged secularism and to assess the contribution made by Ayatollah Muhammad Hojjat Kuh Kamari (1892–1952), the religious authority leading the ḥawza ʿilmīyya of Qum during this crucial phase. At a time, when the political establishment actively attempted to change the cultural identity of Iran through its promotion of modernization with Western connotations, he viewed this as a new challenge that endangered the Islamic fabric of Iranian society and placed an emphasis on a socio-cultural response by Shia clerics. By drawing on a range of primary sources not consulted before, this study aims at understanding how the institutional and intellectual development of this critical transition period led to the breathing period for ḥawza ʿilmīyya of Qum and the quasi-democratic phase of Iran (1941–1953). Additionally, this paper will analyse the approach of dynamic quietism that prioritized the engagement of the ‘ulamāʾ with education and society as the crucial factor in ensuring their socio-cultural influence in Iran.
Reza Shah’s attempt in the latter part of his autocracy (1935–1941) to implement formal education for the clergy continues to be one of the most understudied periods of Iran’s modern history. The primary aim of this paper is to investigate the ḥawza’s strategic response to Reza Shah’s envisaged secularism and to assess the contribution made by Ayatollah Muhammad Hojjat Kuh Kamari (1892–1952), the religious authority leading the ḥawza ʿilmīyya of Qum during this crucial phase. At a time, when the political establishment actively attempted to change the cultural identity of Iran through its promotion of modernization with Western connotations, he viewed this as a new challenge that endangered the Islamic fabric of Iranian society and placed an emphasis on a socio-cultural response by Shia clerics. By drawing on a range of primary sources not consulted before, this study aims at understanding how the institutional and intellectual development of this critical transition period led to the breathing period for ḥawza ʿilmīyya of Qum and the quasi-democratic phase of Iran (1941–1953). Additionally, this paper will analyse the approach of dynamic quietism that prioritized the engagement of the ‘ulamāʾ with education and society as the crucial factor in ensuring their socio-cultural influence in Iran.
Published: Oct. 10, 2021
Divine Sovereignty and Clerical Authority in Early Shi‘i Islamism: Bāqir al-Ṣadr (1935–80) and Taqī al-Mudarrisī (b. 1945) on the Islamic State
Author/s: Oliver Scharbrodt
Description: Divine sovereignty (ḥākimiyya)—as conceived by Abū al-A‘lā Mawdūdī (1903–79) and popularised by Sayyid Quṭb (1906–66) - has been a central component of Islamist thought. This article investigates the reception of the concept within Shi‘i Islam. As case studies, the article choses two prominent actors in the formative period of Shi‘i Islamism in Iraq: Muḥammad Bāqir al-Ṣadr (1935–80) and Muḥammad Taqī al-Mudarrisī (b. 1945). By discussing their reflections on the nature of an Islamic state, the article pursues three objectives: first, it overcomes a trend in academic scholarship that disregards Sunni influences on the development of Shi‘i Islamism. Second, the article highlights the role that the Iraqi Shi‘i intellectual milieu played in incorporating key Islamist concepts into Shi‘i political thought. Finally, the article demonstrates the different receptions of ḥākimiyya. Bāqir al-Ṣadr uses the ideological repertoire of Islamism to explore in pragmatic terms the parameters that define the state as Islamically legitimate. In contrast, Taqī al-Mudarrisī uses ḥākimiyya to redefine the sovereignty of the state in Islamic terms. He operationalises the concept in a Shi‘i context by arguing that the state must be led by a just jurisconsult (al-faqīh al-‘ādil) who becomes the sole agent of divine sovereignty in the state.
Published: May 24, 2021
Organized by: https://www.doi.org/10.1017/S1356186321000304
Author/s: Oula Kadhum
Description: Iraqi diaspora mobilization and the future development of Iraq – authored by Dr. Oula Kadhum, explores Iraqi diaspora mobilization before and after the 2003 invasion and fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein. It looks at the ways members of the diaspora sought to help in the rebuilding of their country of origin, at both the elite and grassroots levels, as well as investigating changes over time. Importantly, it analyses the obstacles that have hindered diaspora mobilization since 2003 and argues that the Iraqi diaspora is a valuable, yet largely untapped resource for Iraq.
Published: March 22, 2021