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Lecture | LIAS Lunch Talk Series

Embodied Imamate: Mapping the Development of the Early Shiʿi Community 700-900 CE

Wednesday 20 March 2024
LIAS Lunch Talk Series
Matthias de Vrieshof
Matthias de Vrieshof 1-4
2311 BZ Leiden
Vrieshof 3 / 1.04 (Verbarium)


Islam is typically considered to be split into two: Sunni and Shi'i. This view is deeply problematic, obscuring the complexity within and between groups. A key deficiency in scholarship on Islam in its formative periods is the assumption that religion is synonymous with doctrine. This talk will introduce a new ERC Starting Grant project, “Embodied Imamate: Mapping the Development of the Early Shiʿi Community 700-900 CE” which aims to move beyond these simplistic notions.

Although Shiʿi claims emerged early in Islamic history, Imami Shiʿism took a couple of centuries to crystallise. Scholarship on Shiʿism has tended to focus on doctrine, but hitherto there has been little research into institutions and social networks. This talk will address the question as to how, when and why a distinctive Shiʿi framework for leadership – the Imamate – emerged in the 8th-9th centuries CE, not merely as doctrine, but as a set of institutions. To do so, it is argued that we most move towards thinking of social interactions between Shiʿi leaders – the Imams – and the community who venerated them within the broader networks of the early Islamic empire. Key aspects to study will be the networks, actors, institutions, spaces, objects and processes through which the Imamate was mediated and performed within the Imami Shiʿi community and beyond.

About the speaker

Edmund Hayes is university lecturer at Leiden University. His research is located at the intersection of social and religious history of the Medieval Middle East with a particular focus on group formation and boundary making within Shiʿi Islam.

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