Love, Sanctity and Authority: An Introduction to Shii Islam (Boylston)




Though they are minority traditions often overlooked in the academy, the major branches of Shii Islam (Twelver, Ismaili and Zaydi) provide a valuable entry point into the study of those aspects of the Islamic tradition that are most constitutive and most contested. After examining the historical contexts in which these three branches arose, the course will address Shia theologies, rituals, law, spiritualities and notions of authority, comparing views across the three branches and highlighting their internal differences through history. We will inquire into what, if anything, unites the concerns of each branch, focusing on conceptions of Imamate and the central concept of wilāya/walāya, which means love, political and spiritual authority, filiation, sanctity, and proximity to God. In the final unit of the course we will examine the emergence of modern Shii social configurations and state building and their relationships to the doctrines and practices discussed throughout the class, focusing on Twelver Iran and Zaydi Yemen.